Rose of Versailles – episodes 1-4

April 17, 2006 on 12:59 am | In Rose of Versailles | 4 Comments

“I was born to a destiny of roses”

I have never made a secret of the fact that I love the work of Dezaki Osamu. 1979’s Rose of Versailles is one of the defining moments for the genres of shoujo and historical. This 40 episode series is the ultra-dramatic tale of Marie Antoinette and Oscar, the woman charged as commander of her royal guard.
It’s a forerunner for Ikuhara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena, and the protege of Tezuka’s Princess Knight, and the romance and style inherent in its execution are palpable.

Fun fact: in consulting sources for this article, I accidentally found out the ending (despite deliberately skim reading).

The story begins in the 18th century, as Count Jarjeyes eagerly awaits the birth of his child. Disappointed that the baby is a girl, he decides that he will not let this stand in his way: he christens her Oscar, and decides to raise her as a boy.
14 years later, Marie Antoinette is to marry into the French royal family to cement the alliance between France and Austria. Oscar is picked as the head of Marie Antoinette’s guard, and is treated with a mixture of respect and condescension.

These first episodes deal with Oscar accepting the role of commander of the royal guard, and with Marie Antoinette’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of Countess du Barry, King Louis’ courtesan.

A better man than I would be able to analyse the gender politics with more depth than I can, but there are many mixed messages inherent in the situation. Oscar, raised as a boy (but in the knowledge that she was a girl) has a spirit far more independent than one might expect, even in her unique circumstances; she’s a woman who entertains thoughts of treason far before treason was fashionable, because she fears that society’s decadence conflicts with her principles.
The way that she is portrayed is both as an ultra feminist and a misogynist; along with the men, she laughs at the vapidity of the women in court and smirks at their petty antics. To these people, Versailles is their entire life; Oscar wants something more than that, but the whims of Louis and her father mean that she will never be able to determine her destiny.

This outsider aspect of Oscar’s character means that she truly fits in nowhere in Versailles, and this is a constant bother to her. She is a quick-witted individual, and one who is unlikely to tolerate the excesses of the era of Versailles.

Marie Antoinette is shown as an easily influenced person, but one capable of becoming unflappable in her resolve. As she is only fourteen at the commencement of the series, it is perhaps understandable that she is presented as a silly little girl, but one must also consider that she is the same age as the incredibly serious Oscar (on that note, one must suspend a little disbelief to accept that a 14 year old of any gender would be allowed to hold a position of power in the French military).
Marie Antoinette is, like Oscar, thrust into her position, but is far more conceited about it: she understands nothing of the real world and is just like the rest of the court. Considering real history, it may be difficult to sympathise with anyone who is in favour of this debauched government. Taking into account Marie Antoinette’s upbringing and environment, I may be able to forgive her as a victim of the system.

Rose of Versailles will eventually turn to a wider-reaching story of both love and politics, but for the moment it is the internal politics of the court that are at the fore. The thoroughly detestable Countess du Barry is portrayed such that the audience can’t help but think that she is an unstable, horrid, manipulative woman.
The fact that the courtiers have nothing to do with their time besides gossip about each other suggests that those who lived in Versailles were completely out of touch with the realities of France, and several shots are in place if only to say “this is what decadence looks like”.
In these early stages, the audience has already been presented with something practically guaranteed to go up in flames; indeed, the revolution is just around the corner.

Rose of Versailles is beautiful, and an example of effective cost cutting. In the past, animators would look for workarounds to convey their message. In Rose of Versailles, minimum cost was applied to maximum effect. In court scenes, only the important characters are given any colouring, with unimportant courtiers etched in black and purple. You get the entire form of the court, but their uniformity serves only to highlight
the central characters’ isolation and the impression that all eyes are upon them.
Dezaki’s trademark matte paintings are all over this as well, but assist in creating an atmosphere of drama and theatricality entirely devoid of cynicism.

I looked at the excerpt of the manga that was printed in Frederick L. Schodt’s Manga! Manga! (1983), and was surprised to find that the animated version is remarkably more “disciplined” in its approach. The court scenes are more free form, with an almost SD look to the issues perceived as comical. I can not really imagine the designs of Sugino Akio in an unserious situation, and so the Rose of Versailles anime is decidedly more straitlaced and, at least in the situation of episode four, the issues have become of more dire importance. This is a double-edged sword, as the anime becomes less visually effective at conveying the sense of lost face, instead relying on the subtle talents of gossiping voice actors.
It’s a trade off.

Rose of Versailles is important anime and, not surprisingly, a huge hit in France. It set many rules back in its day and is unfailing in its romanticism and generally positive message of change and challenge to social norms. The beauty of it is that this period in French history was so wild I could buy just about any drama thrown in front of me in this dress.


  1. This sure brings back memories! Dezaki strikes again (or rather “struck again”)!

    It’s interesting that I was reminded of the Rose of Versailles when I watched the first episode of Ouran High School! There are many similarities even if The Rose of Versailles is a completely serious and tragic story while Ouran is just a comedy.

    I wonder if Oscar was a real historical character?!

    Comment by Mohammad — April 17, 2006 #

  2. This is a series I’ll be watching pretty soon, this, along with one of Dezaki’s other series, Onii-sama E.

    Comment by KT Kore — April 17, 2006 #

  3. I’m saying “no” on Oscar being real, but the rest of history is sensationalist enough that I could understand that people might think she was.

    Comment by Alex — April 17, 2006 #

  4. Lady oscar è il cartone storico per eccellenza…
    nn c’è anno in cui lo trasmettano che io nn lo segua…
    Probabilmente quella di oscar ed andrè,è una storia inventata…ma ogni volta che si parla della rivoluzione francese appartiene a loro l’immagine che si forma nella mia mente…e nn c’è modo di sviare la cosa…perchè quello che questo carone ha lasciato in me,è qualcosa di davvero profondo,d’inaffondabile…e se oggi ho pieno rispetto della legge,senso dell’onore e della giustizia,e cerco in tutti i modi di aiutare e difenere i più deboli o chi è in difficoltà,in parte lo devo ai cartoni,e a lady oscar in particolare…
    grazie per avermi fatto crescere,maturare,e diventare quello che sono!!!

    Comment by Hachico — July 4, 2007 #

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