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Oscar is the name on everyone’s lips in the court of Versailles. The dashing young commander  has won praise and respect with his impeccable swordsmanship and unmatched marksman skills, not to mention his charming gentlemanly manners. Every nobleman wants to be a bit more like him (without the mandatory military service) and every noblewoman wants to hang on his arm at the next ball. But Oscar’s unwavering devotion is aimed squarely at young Queen Marie Antoinette. That is, until the stirrings of revolution bring to light the failings of the aristocracy. How will Oscar deal with his increasingly divided loyalties. Is there anything to be done to avoid bloodshed, and should it be? Also, Oscar’s actually a chick dressed like a guy. It’s not a spoiler, it’s in the intro.  The song lyrics in French are “ Lady, Lady Oscar, she’s dressed like a boy…

Rose of Versailles (Lady Oscar in French), is one of the first animes I remember watching. This was way before I had any idea what an anime was. I think I understood they were drawings and not real people but I’m pretty sure I still thought it was a documentary. Let’s just say it made an impact. I’m not going to rewatch it because I have a feeling it will get on my nerves and I’d hate to sully that precious memory, so instead I bring you a review based on 4-year-old Irina’s impressions of the French dub (with France localization). Where are you going?

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Oscar don’t need no dresses

This anime was made before even I was born. I assume the animators had to work by candlelight. So, you know, it’s not exactly state of the art here. “Animation” mostly consists of close ups and oddly slow horse gallops. Particularly intense scenes often result to detailed stills or manga panels to let you know something important and exciting is happening. Needless to say – 4-year-old Irina (let’s call her Chibiri) was mesmerized.

I seem to recall really being into the intro song and the voices in general. To this day I favor husky female voices, and, at the time, I associated French ladies pretty much exclusively with the nuns at school, so any words our of Oscar’s mouth made me snap at attention immediately.

OK guys – this is the French intro. Just amazing right:

Bottom line is that Rose of Versailles hasn’t exactly aged well. It’s extremely melodramatic, its tenuous grasp on the French revolution would qualify more as a fantasy than a historical drama and the lack of subtlety made even Chibiri occasionally go “I’m watching this ironically”. But it’s also a classic of shoujo anime and manga for a reason. The dramatic narrative structure is surprisingly solid, tying up all the loose ends and giving satisfying emotional resolutions to all plot points. The character arcs are certainly a bit exaggerated but nevertheless logical and show a tremendous amount of growth, and the ending was spectacular. At least Chibiri firmly thought so. For us European/Americans, it’s also really fun to see cultural appropriation go the other way for once!

If you are actually thinking of watching this series, I would say it’s worth it if only to see where titles like Revolutionary Girl Utena got their start. It should be noted that a lot of what could be considered major plot points are treated with surprising nonchalance. Although the secret of Oscar’s gender does come up on several occasions, it is by no means the central conflict and is treated more as a “z” subplot than anything else. Similarly, although ostensibly a Romance title, what romance there is tends to be rather unromantic, all things considered. Or as Chibiri would say, she gets to wear cool clothes and it’s not yucky. Man, I have not changed at all…

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Rose of Versailles cosplay – why didn’t I thin of it sooner?

Whether deserved or not (Chibiri votes deserved), Rose of Versailles is a classic and there are a ton of reviews out there. All better and more informative than this one. They will give you an actual idea of the show, and you should probably google them. What I want to talk about instead, is how this show fits in with the fact that so many years later I’m still watching anime and writing daily about it, just for fun.

When Chibiri discovered this show, it was the first (and for depressingly long, only) time a female heroine took center stage and wasn’t a small child or animal. Most of the media I consumed had led me to believe that my main options down the road would be to be beautiful and wait for some guy to do stuff and maybe tell me about it – or not be beautiful and be very evil. I’m not getting on my feminist high horse or anything, I’m just describing how it was. I didn’t really think there was anything wrong with it but because I favored action oriented shows or sci-fi, I never really resonated with the characters that much. I’m impatient and independent (the nice way to say antisocial) so the waiting around and being loved thing wasn’t super attractive to me either. Lady Oscar was a grown woman who got to do all the fun stuff herself (Chibiri had some questionable ideas on the concept of “fun”, but riding horses seemed cool) and all she had to do in exchange was wear pants. I was psyched because I knew I could wear pants! Somewhere, deep inside of me, I decided that anime was what I could turn to for strong female characters. I am still occasionally saddened at traditional Japanese views on gender roles, but I would not find those out until many years later.

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it’s actually pretty cool how her hair gets gradually longer

The other aspect of this series that stuck with Chibiri for many years was how brutal the series often was with its characters. Ok, so maybe Chibiri as a little young to watch and fully comprehend the show. Notions of gender identity and sexual orientation for one went clearly over my head. But happy endings here were in short supply and yet somehow it all seemed fair. Or rather, expected. To Chibiri, this looked like “maturity”. The narrative wasn’t sugar coating anything and boy did I ever feel grown up and sophisticated for being able to appreciate this sort of story. The show felt honest to me and I appreciated it.  

So, once I finally understood what animes actually were and the dim realization that Rose of Versailles was an anime came to me, I immediately associated them with honest, deep narratives, personally crafted just for me. I still feel a kinship with the medium that I have not felt elsewhere and that’s why I go back to it again and again.

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no wonder no one guessed Oscar was a woman

And what practical lessons did Chibiri get from Rose of Versailles:

  1. The outfit makes the man – literally! 
  2. If I dress up like a dude, every woman in the room will instantly fall in love with me! 
  3. There is no paperwork involved in ruling a country 
  4. The best romantic partners or bound in servitude to you in some way

Favorite character: Graf von Fersen, I think

Beer is now cheaper than gas, do drink, don’t drive!

Suggested drink: The Aristocrat

This is not likely to be the best game I’ve put together:

  • Every time the show cuts to a manga panel – take a sip
  • Every time anyone sparkles – take a sip
  • Every time Oscar gets annoyed – take a sip
  • Every time you hear piano music – listen
  • Every time you see a horse – raise your glass
  • Every time someone gets murdered – pour some out
  • Every time we close up on emotional eyes – get some water
  • Every time André is obviously full of feels – take a sip
  • Every time you start sympatizing wih the revolutionaries – put the drink down

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Day 3 of 12

 

22 thoughts on “Nostalgic review: Rose of Versailles – My first anime – 12 days”

  1. Wow, the French intro is great. I really enjoy the original op, but I wouldn’t mind trading it out once in a while. Is the French ending good too?

    Still only on episode six right now, but that’s only because of all the fall season anime I’m watching. I can’t wait till the seasons over and I can focus on all the old shows I was enjoying.

  2. Chibiri sounds like a lass with her head on straight.

    But, wow, color me surprised that you remember the show so vividly. AND you have engaging life lessons to share with us all to boot. Wearing pants sure is great!

  3. Maybe, just maybe, if start watching anime at age 4 you stick with it for life? In my case, it was Heidi, Girl of the Alps, when the show and I were both pretty new. When they made Rose, I was 8, and it finally appeared on TV around here, I was 24. Anime took a little longer to come to the West in those days. Anyway, I couldn’t watch it, since it aired in the afternoon, when I was rarely home (University), so I saw very few episodes (the dub would have been German).

    I was very, very used to anime being about non-Japanese settings. Anime set in Japan didn’t come over until the early 90ies, I think. There were always exceptions, but the anime I’ve seen as a kid? World Masterpiece Theatre, Sindbad, Kimba the White Lion, Robin Hood… see a trend? It’s really, strange though, if you think about it: Heidi is a Swiss novel. I’m Austrian. Switzerland is right next door. But the only real Heidi little Dawnstorm would accept came all the way from Japan.

    I’m not sure I appreciated that they came from Japan at 4 years old, but at some point child me learned about that. I’ve always loved “Japanese Cartoons”, and then, in the late eighties/early 90ies, I suddenly had this strange but handy name at my disposal: “anime”. Fancy that. Sounds cute, is easy to say, fits perfectly.

    I still think I should watch “Lady Oscar” some day (that’s what it was called around here; it took me some while to make the connection when I learned about “Rose of Versailles”).

  4. Haha, 4 year old Irina already seemed to have great taste. I’m honestly a big fan of old school and classic anime, even though some of them might not have aged very well. I don’t really know if I would like this one, but I really enjoyed your review for it as always. And that sentence” where are you going?” really cracked me up. Your humor is so incredibly funny, never change that 😊

  5. Wow, that’s a blast from the past! Major props for reviewing some super old-school anime. I knew that it was a huge influence on Utena, but I also heard that this anime was also inspired by Princess Knight by Osamu Tezuka. Don’t worry, I know Rose of Versailles isn’t a ripoff. Good work on the review!

    1. The same as Taku’s, rather. This didn’t reply where I wanted it to. It was a bit show from time to time, but when the drama kicks in, it really kicks in.

  6. I first saw the Versailles gif and I was like, “Aww yeah, bonus points for today.” Then I clicked the link and was directed to a full on retrospective review of the show, so it’s more like “ALL THE BONUS POINTS.” It’s never been a competition, but I’m calling this post as my favorite of your 12 Days!

    I suppose the sum of what I want to say is this: I wish I grew up with The Rose of Versailles, or Lady Oscar, if you will. It just matches up with everything that the childhood shows I watched had in them. Knights and castles, princesses and princes, struggles of selfishness vs selflessness, you get me. And it’s arguably one of the most historically accurate anime out there that doesn’t revolve around the Japanese culture, which makes it, however fantastical, a very enlightening piece. Having just watched it myself for the first time about a year ago, I remember falling in love with the dramatic animation style and the dark realism. It may look a bit dated, as you say, but clearly, it’s lessons and virtues will last lifetimes. I honestly can’t recommend this show enough to people, and I’m so glad you featured it today!

    (that French op was lit BTW)

    1. You know – maybe I should rewatch it. I honestly have nothing but warm feelings about it. (Yeah the French OP is a masterpiece in its own right!)
      Thank you so so much for the kind words. Since I’m such a huge groupie of your cafe, this comments means a lot.

  7. Literally, I rushed here as soon as I saw the article on reader. Rose of Versailles was my addiction when I was a child, I had all the VHS (now I feel old) and I would watch them again and again. Just like Chibiri, I thought it was the epitome of cool and developed a weakness for uniforms.
    Even if the series did not age very well (it IS a little too dramatic at times) Oscar is still an interesting character and the plot is consistent and engaging, as you point out. Also, discourse on the series is still pretty relevant as it tackles gender issues and is connected to Orientalism but, well, the other way around…

    1. Honestly if a person can get past the visuals it’s definitely still very much worth seeing. Maybe one day I’ll tackle the anachronisms in this show

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