Japanese Title: Versailles no Bara
Similar: Revolutionary Girl Utena
Watched in: Japanese
Genre: Historical Drama Romance
Length: 40 episodes
- Great use of French history.
- Complex characters and arcs.
- Good soundtrack.
- The Affair of the Diamond Necklace plot line.
- Oscar being a woman is barely a plot device, despite pitch.
- Dated animation.
- Missed conflict opportunities in the first arc.
The Rose of Versailles takes key moments in the lead up to the French Revolution and adds its own twist to such a pivotal time in French history. Desperate to have a son and heir, a nobleman decides to raise his final child (mother dies in childbirth) as a man, dubbing her Oscar.
Oscar grows into a fine adult, famed in beauty and fawned over by the ladies of the court. Though reluctant at first, she accepts her position as royal guard to Marie Antoinette, who is but a young girl freshly married from Austria to the prince of France. Here we have the first bait and switch: Oscar’s acceptance of her position as decreed by her father is resolved too quickly. She is introduced to us as a rebel, a spoilt brat, but that idea evaporates within an episode or two. Similarly, her being a woman pretending to be a man is of no relevance – it hooks you deceitfully. I would think that someone would see this as reason to gossip; instead, all the nobles find it amazing. The fawning is overdone and a missed opportunity at conflict. It gives the feeling that they made Oscar a woman just to fit the shoujo target audience.
Oscar becomes a side character – almost background – shortly into the plot, which was a good move, as Marie Antoinette’s story is more engaging after they squandered Oscar’s early conflicts. In fact, Oscar was created as a supporting character, but due to popularity, became protagonist. Marie Antoinette has no shortage of gossip in the court as she faces the king’s current favourite, a prostitute who fancies herself queen. The drama, though a tad melodramatic, is engaging from episode to episode. The story spans many years and it is a thrill to watch Marie Antoinette grow into the queen of infamy, mired by politics, gossip, and romance, with Oscar at her side. (Despite what some promotional art may imply, there is no intimate relationship between the future queen and Oscar.)
One subplot follows a dead nobleman’s daughter who seeks to regain her status, leading to the anime’s best story arc, ‘The Affair of the Diamond Necklace,’ based on a real event in Marie Antoinette’s legacy. This arc pushed Rose of Versailles from a good anime to a great one. Furthermore, Oscar eventually retakes the reins as protagonist with a much better story arc and greater development than that which she started with. Oscar is simultaneously a woman of the people, a man of the military, and a friend of the royalty, tearing her desires and emotion in all directions as France falls into ruin, the people in an ever-growing state of unrest. She at last proves her worth in the story. Events become more intense, the conflict more meaningful, the engagement kept up high.
Rose of Versailles is not all serious drama, though. Moments of humour punctuate the politics, and the action can elicit several chuckles with its dramatic pauses and sparkling eyes. I find the olden style charming, though it won’t be for everyone in this age.
At first, Rose of Versailles didn’t impress me with its baited hook and weak protagonist. However, once the plot got rolling and the drama deepened, I couldn’t stop watching. How, particularly as a Frenchman, did it take this long for me to discover this anime?
Art – Medium
While Rose of Versailles boasts an elegant design, the animation is far from elegant. Too few key frames hinder the action; the most intense scenes rely on well-drawn stills with sound effects rather than animation.
Sound – High
Sounds a bit old, but it still works. The acting is good, albeit stiff on occasion. The violin and piano soundtrack carries the audio department.
Story – Very High
A woman raised as a man becomes a royal guard to Marie Antoinette of France and is set to play a crucial role in France’s history. The ‘woman as a man’ device bears no relevance, but the characters are great and the plot takes several interesting turns.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch unless you can’t stand old anime. The Rose of Versailles does justice to French history, creating a compelling tale from start to finish.
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12 thoughts on “The Rose of Versailles – Anime Review”
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Hm, I thought this was a short series and therefore kept putting it off. Now that I know it’s a good length I have more interest in it……that and I totally forgot that this existed. Cool, I’ll have to put it on my to watch list.
Also….seriously? Dated animation is a negative? You can’t help when they were made and say it’s a negative. I’m sure it was good for the times.
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No, even for its time it’s not great. Also, I am writing this for a modern audience and many people are put off by this stiff animation. If it doesn’t bother you, then great – it hardly bothered me, yet it is an important factor.
Believe me, they try to make it work using the budget and time they have, but detailed stills don’t compare to full animation.
I have a question. Do you know if this got dubbed in French? And if so, is it any good? I know most anime gets dubbed in French, even some that didn’t get dubbed into English, and when I was planning to rewatch it with friends someone brought up how it’d be nice to watch this in French for the authenticity. Do you have any idea about this?
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No idea. I would love a good French version. I’ll have to look into it.
Yeah I would love it too. It would be pretty neat to watch French characters speak actual French. Although I’ve never watched an entire anime dubbed in French before. I have heard that both Gankutsuo and Le Chevalier d’Eon have been dubbed in French and that piqued my interest, as the language would suit both of those settings. How is French voice acting in general? Does it sound fluid and good?
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I found an audio clip and it does sound good. France has the whole series dubbed (called Lady Oscar), though it is difficult to find now.
Despite its poor production values and the fact that it sometimes dips too far into melodrama, “The Rose of Versailles” really is one of the best animated shows out there. Interestingly enough, its portrayal of Antoinette seems to be in line with scholarly consensus. Its somewhat sympathetic portrayal of her only adds to the sense of hurtling towards the inevitable that the best tragedies have. The monarchy had to go, but perhaps the bloodshed could’ve been avoided. Emotion is the key to all great storytelling, and the second half of “Rose” is hard to beat in this regard. The drama and intensity just keeps ramping up.
Only its age (middling animation, though I like the aesthetic, the show’s a bit too stiff and melodramatic at times) and a weak first act are the caveats here.
Out of al the internet anime reviewers, yours seems to be the taste that aligns with my own the most.