The Rose of Versailles

The Rose of Versailles Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 40
Genre: Historical / Drama
Vintage: 1979

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 20 Nov 2013

Grade: A

One of the pillars of shoujo. The twenty years leading up to the onset of the French Revolution as seen through the eyes of one of its Royal Guards: Oscar François de Jarjayes.

Plot Summary
Having had no son, General Jarjayes of France names his sixth and youngest daughter Oscar François de Jarjayes and raises her as a boy. Upon reaching adolescence, Oscar has mastered the sword and is ready to follow her father’s footsteps in the French military. She is soon appointed to the Royal Guards with the duty to protect the young Austrian princess Marie Antoinette, who is to marry into French nobility and one day rule France as Queen. The turbulent years to follow are seen though Oscar’s eyes.

The Review
The Rose of Versailles is everything I had hoped it would be and more. This is a series which comes from a different time (in more ways than one), but it has aged very well. Before all of the tropes which are commonplace today came to be, storytelling was the primary focus. This is also a character-driven series, so while story is indeed important, how the characters are affected by it is equally so, if not a bit more. Character relationships are a crucial part to good shoujo, and being one of its pillars, The Rose of Versailles demonstrates this in the highest order.

Though the story is fiction, the events which take place in the series are mostly based on real events during the years leading up to the French Revolution. Oscar and some of the primary characters may be fictitious, but a significant portion of the cast are characters representing their real-life counterparts. Marie Antoinette, Hans Axel von Fersen, King Louis XV,  The Duke of Orléans, Maximilien Robespierre… all of these and other actual historical figures are in The Rose of Versailles, played as close to historically accurate as possible  within a dramatic fictional retelling. It’s very easy to forget that The Rose of Versailles is a story based on real events and not an actual account of the prelude to the French Revolution.

Being a series made in the late 1970s and airing into 1980, The Rose of Versailles has its own unique atmosphere representative of this era of animation. Most obvious is the fact that everything is hand drawn and animated with painted cels. The restoration work done on the series is nothing short of astounding; it looks absolutely fantastic. Character designs are definitely of the era (that is, of a late 1970s production), and it is very easy to see how they influenced Revolutionary Girl Utena, a series which draws heavily upon The Rose of Versailles for certain elements. The high production values for a series of this era really shine through, and it still presents itself very well in this age of digital animation.

The story is also presented very well, even if at times the drama comes very close to being over the top. It’s not distracting though, but rather a convention of the genre. Story arcs are quite delineated and rarely intersect, so a few plot threads seem to end suddenly with no further reference made to them, only to be picked back up in a later episode. At times, The Rose of Versailles is a fictional history focusing on the events of the time, and at other times it is a character drama highlighting Oscar or one of the other characters’ lives. Overall, there is a balance, so the series doesn’t feel like it’s being pulled from one focus to another too much.

The Rose of Versailles is a series I was drawn to because of the Utena factor. Rose is one of Utena’s influences, and for the first ten episodes or so, all I could see were the things that were taken from this series for the other. Once I got that out of my system, I was able to enjoy The Rose of Versailles on its own merits, of which there are many. I’ve also taken a bit of an interest in the actual French Revolution as a result of watching this series. This is definitely a period piece which makes every effort to convey late 1700s France. If you enjoy historical series or character-driven drama, The Rose of Versailles is a must see.

And where else will you be able to see Marie Antoinette as a happy-go-lucky fifteen-year-old girl?

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