Japanese Title: Versailles no Bara
Similar: Revolutionary Girl Utena
Watched in: Japanese
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.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)