- Genre : Historical, Drama, Romance
- Episodes: 40
- Studio: Tōkyō Movie Shinsha
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?
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…
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.
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.
And what practical lessons did Chibiri get from Rose of Versailles:
- The outfit makes the man – literally!
- If I dress up like a dude, every woman in the room will instantly fall in love with me!
- There is no paperwork involved in ruling a country
- 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
Day 3 of 12