Tag Archives: historical

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?

Strike Witches 2

Strike Witches 2Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 12
Genre: Historical / Sci-Fi / Fantasy
Vintage: 2010

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 22 Mar 2013

Grade: B+

The 501st Fighter Wing is back and even better than before.

Plot Summary
1945. After liberating Gallia (France) from the Neurois threat, thereby saving Europe and the world, Yoshika Miyafuji has returned home to Fuso (Japan) and has graduated middle school. Just as she is getting settled back home, an unfamiliar Strike Witch crash lands in her back yard looking to deliver a letter to Yoshika from her father, which shouldn’t be possible as he has passed away. Yoshika seeks out Major Mio Sakamoto at the nearby air base to see what she may know. As this mystery is being investigated, a new crisis erupts: a wave of more powerful Neurois have invaded Venezia and Romagna (Northern and Southern Italy). The local Strike Witches squadron is overwhelmed by this invasion and troops from Fuso are called in as reinforcements. This time, Yoshika volunteers to return to battle to protect as many people as she can.

The Review
A change in production companies seems to have resulted in a sequel which is more balanced than the original. Strike Witches was produced by Gonzo; Strike Witches 2 is an AIC affair. For me, this is a bit of a welcome change, as AIC was my first favorite studio, responsible for such titles as Tenchi Muyo! and Ah! My Goddess.

Strike Witches 2 picks things up where they left off at the end of the first series. One big difference between the two is this sequel is much more story oriented. The fanservice is still here and in plentiful supply, but this time around the story is much stronger. It’s still meant to be a fun series more than anything else, but whether because of becoming accustomed to it or better writing, the fanservice doesn’t seem quite as blatant this time around.

Other than the strengthened focus on story, there isn’t too much else to be said about Strike Witches 2 which isn’t already covered by its predecessor. Those put off by the fanservice in the first installment may find reprieve here in the second, though if you jump right in at this point, you will miss out on some of the character introductions. Again, the ramped-up fanservice is still here, but the story isn’t sacrificed as much for it as it seemed to be in the first series. There is an episode which, in any other series, would have been the fanservice throwaway; Strike Witches 2 found a way to tie even that into the overall story. (Putting aside for a moment that “Strike Witches fanservice episode” is a redundancy if you really think about it…)

It’s also worth noting that some of the characters who were glossed over in the first series finally get an episode here in the second. With a main cast of eleven, characterization isn’t a strong point in Strike Witches. Given a total of twenty-four episodes over two series, the effort is made to expand each of the characters beyond their archetype; the result is more successful for some characters than it is for others.

Strike Witches 2 is mostly plot-driven and builds to a satisfying conclusion. Like its predecessor, the door is left open for another sequel. Overall, for me Strike Witches 2 is a case of a sequel surpassing the original. Things that many fans want from the series are still here (primarily fanservice, in this case), but the story is handled noticeably better this time around. As a result, I actively enjoyed Strike Witches 2 much more than the original. One thing I can say after watching both seasons of Strike Witches is that the amount of fanservice I can handle in a series has increased a bit. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I can’t say for sure.

Strike Witches

Strike WitchesType: TV Series
Episode Count: 12
Genre: Historical / Sci-Fi / Fantasy
Vintage: 2008

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 02 Mar 2013
revised 20 Mar 2013

Grade: B

A very different take on World War II.

Plot Summary
The year is 1944. Middle-school student Yoshika Miyafuji comes from a line of magic users (known as witches) who use their skill to heal the sick and wounded. Her life’s goal is to take over her family’s clinic once she graduates. There is one thing keeping her from realizing this goal: the war with the Neuroi aliens who have come to Earth. Major Mio Sakamoto of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing has come to Fuso (Japan) scouting Yoshika for her potential as a medic. Yoshika initially refuses because she does not like war, partly because she was told a few years ago that her father was killed in the war. Mio then reveals a connection to Yoshika’s father which causes Yoshika to reconsider: Yoshika’s father invented the device which has kept humankind alive during the war: a machine called a Striker, which, when attached to the legs, allows a human to fly and fight the aliens in close combat. Yoshika finally decides to go with Mio to Britannia (England) to find out how her father has helped to keep the world safe.

The Review
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Strike Witches is a series brimming with fanservice. In this alternate history, girls don’t wear pants (or dresses or skirts… you get the idea). In the case of the girls who are Strike Witches, the argument could be made that since their battle gear requires free leg movement and they must be ready for combat at any moment, that’s why. Whatever the reason, get used to the idea of none of the girls in this series wearing pants; that’s the way it is. If a bunch of girls running around without any pants on wasn’t enough fanservice for you, whenever the girls use their magical powers, they sprout animal ears and a tail. I don’t know why; they just do. Of course, all of the usual fanservice shenanigans that one would expect are here as well in plentiful supply and shouldn’t need explanation. If fanservice is what you seek, Strike Witches has you covered.

Perhaps unexpectedly, there is even something for those interested in military aviation in Strike Witches: the girls’ Striker gear is made to resemble different fighter planes of the World War II era, and the characters are based on actual World War II pilots.

So, is there anything left to Strike Witches after you take away the ubiquitous fanservice? Actually, yes. At its core, Strike Witches is the story of a bunch of girls from different backgrounds and how they get along (or don’t). There is also the overall story of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing battling against the Neurois to save the world, along with Yoshika’s quest for acceptance in the group. Those looking for story over fanservice will be rewarded by sticking with the series past its halfway point. It becomes interesting enough that you almost forget that none of the girls are wearing pants. Almost. The end of the series also hints at a sequel, which of course it did receive.

Strike Witches is another case where dialogue and mannerisms are anachronistic to the historical setting. The only clue that the series doesn’t take place in the present day – or the future, for that matter – is that the year it takes place in is specifically stated. This is definitely an Alternate History. Strike Witches also falls into the Large Cast, Small Episode Count category; with so many characters, many of them get glossed over to give the leads the attention they need. It’s not a big deal in this case, though a few characters exist only as archetypes because of it.

I took a chance on Strike Witches as it lies outside my usual comfort zone; more to the point, it has much more fanservice than I would typically go for. In the end, I did enjoy the series. Strike Witches isn’t for those looking for something serious. It’s silly but fun with just enough story to keep it from being complete fluff. And yes, yes… it’s a show filled with girls who don’t wear any pants.