Rose of Versailles – episodes 14-19

May 2, 2006 on 11:52 pm | In Rose of Versailles | 5 Comments

I was going to make fun of all of the lesbian subtexts that are, in this day and age, supertexts. Then episode 19 came along and punched me in the kidneys. Rose of Versailles proves itself a great source of sympathetic villains: complex characters from history, that bring into sharp relief the fact that the fictional characters are little more than decoration.
The interest largely springs from characters such as Madame Polignac and Marie Antoinette, relegating Oscar at this point in the story to more of a reactionary role: a prism through which the series can take turns in tone.

Here we cross into spoiler territory

Madame du Barry having been exiled, the new bane of Marie Antoinette’s existence is Madame de Polignac. Polignac manages to become the dearest friend the Queen, swindling her out of hundreds of thousands of the taxpayers’ livres. Oscar disapproves of all of the scheming, and even more so when she becomes inveigled herself.
Rosalie is brought to the fore when Polignac’s carriage runs over the sisters’ mother, killing her; Polignac shows no remorse, and races off. Rosalie vows revenge, which brings her into the training of Oscar.
Having gained entry to the court, Polignac and Rosalie recognise each other at once, and thus it’s on for one and old … until history steps in.

(Also, almost as an aside at this point, Fersen comes back and he and the queen declare their love for one another.)

Madame de Polignac is a woman that you initially want to punch in the face for all of her evil scheming. This changes greatly with the (somewhat foreseeable, yet bizarre) revelation that she is, in fact, Rosalie’s birth mother. Suddenly she becomes vulnerable, the shame of having had a baby in her teenage years and out of wedlock outweighed by the reality of the person that she sees before her. In this scene Rosalie’s humanity shines, as she cannot bring herself to kill another person.
Oscar tells Rosalie that it was the right choice not to continue the cycle of grief, but Rosalie is ambiguous as to her motives at this point.

All of this changes with the events of episode 19, which had possibly the most impact out of any part of the series so far. The noble’s pursuit of status is embodied by Polignac’s arrangement of the marriage of her eleven year old daughter, Charlotte, to a 43 year old Duke. The turn that this episode takes is anything but expected, and I was deeply affected when Charlotte became convinced that she had been dirtied, which grew into madness, which culminated in her throwing herself off of a tower. The series didn’t touch on the socially acceptable pedophilia of the time, and has in prior episodes ignored the lacklustre sex life of Marie Antoinette (one that has in eight years failed to produce a child), so it is a surprise that it takes all of the stops out to produce a suicidal child who not only considers the act, but succeeds in its performance. Rosalie’s reaction to that was definitely moving, and an extremely brilliant patch in an already tight and excellent series.

The suicide has forced me to take everything more seriously, as I had been enjoying the decadence and soap-opera bitchiness at a remove. I can’t really bring myself to laugh at the lesbian tones (“Oh, Lady Oscar, why did you have to be born a woman?”), because one of the people who had a crush on her is now dead by her own hand. I’ll get over it, but for now the somewhat wild emotions of the characters have been validated. See, I had originally laughed at the idea of “Duke von Pedo” (despite acknowledging his inherent horridness) … and then it turned out as it did.

Oscar and Andre, for centrepieces of the series, are presently underutilised on a personal level, but their official levels are more than satisfactory. I was surprised that the blame that Polignac leveled upon Oscar for the miscarriage of Marie Antoinette’s (fictional) baby never really caught up with Oscar, unlike every other piece of gossip that has been tossed around the courts of Versailles.
Oscar’s problem, of course, is that she is too progressive. Her father slaps her down and says “you are a member of the court; you don’t have to think about such things”, effectively summarising the thought process of that lofty 4% of the nation’s populace. So who has to think about such things? Those who die of them? This is precisely why nothing got done in Versailles and everyone starved then rose.

As for Marie Antoinette herself? She’s barely worth mentioning, a puppet of the whims of her favoured courtiers. That she would take up gambling in such an irresponsible way, and as an affront to the nation of France itself, speaks volumes of the extent to which she can be lead.
The narration makes a fine point when it says “Marie Antoinette was convinced that if she was happy, the people would be happy. That was her first mistake.” The narcissism sets in, and I fear it can only get worse from here: the affair with Fersen is going to be some kind of Hell.

Rose of Versailles is truly excellent historical drama that at once makes you want to pick up a history book, and then put it down so that one may see a version of the truth unfold upon the screen.


  1. I’m curious as to how old this series is – the animation looks like it’s from the 80’s or so.

    Historical drama isn’t something done all that often in anime (well, Rurouni Kenshin OVAs, Peacemaker Kurogane…), at least not in countries other than Japan, so it’s nice to know that there’s something out there worth watching. Do you know enough about the historical facts to comment on the accuracy of the show?

    Comment by Michael — May 3, 2006 #

  2. rose of versialles aired in japan in 1979/1980.

    Comment by hi2u — May 3, 2006 #

  3. Well as for historical accuracy… did you happen to catch the part about Oscar being female?
    Really, it’s a shoujo romantic fantasy taking place in a historical setting. Yes, many historical characters show up, yes knowing the history of the period increases your enjoyment of the storyline, but for the most part don’t expect much historical realism.
    That said, it is a wonderful series, both the anime and manga are beloved by many. My friends who laughed at the dated animation and far fetched plot line, were silenced by the second or third episode. One this show hooks you, you’ve GOT to see it through : )

    Comment by gingersoll — May 4, 2006 #

  4. actually the major events with actual dates , follow very closely with france history.

    some chars like oscar/rosarie are obviously fictional but event like jeanne’s necklace trial (and her disapearance) really happened.

    i turned into a french revolution history maniaic after watching this anime when i was young lol..

    is there any dvd on sale for this ?

    Comment by randomlurker123 — May 4, 2006 #

  5. you can find some dvds in ebay or download the episodes with bittorrent 😉

    i’d like to leave a comment about oscar being a woman AND in a high position. actually, there were some real women throughout french history (and in other coundtries as well) who may have inspired R. Ikeda to create a chara like Oscar, take for example Jeanne d’Arc. so don’t think it was that impossible 😉

    Comment by lulu — May 17, 2006 #

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