This week’s column covers what has to be one of the most popular and influential anime series made, but unfortunately it is relatively unknown in English speaking nations. The series has only just been given a release this year and only in Region 1, and the original manga has never been given a proper English release.
This is a tragedy because The Rose of Versailles, animated between 1979-80, is one of the greatest and most important anime series made. It was one of the first manga made for girls (shojo manga) that was actually made by a woman. The original manga has been constantly in print since it was created in 1972-73, and it features the first “bed scene” in any manga. Not only that but it was still able to produce a great series even after the original director died about half-way through the series.
The series is set 18th century France in the period before and up to the French Revolution. The story starts with a man called General Jarjayes who is so fed up of only having daughters that when his last daughter is born he decides to raise her as boy. The girl is thus named Oscar François de Jarjayes and is trained in various manly disciplines such as sword fighting and horse riding with the help of her friend and servant André Grandier.
Oscar eventually is enrolled into the army and soon joins the Royal Guards. Her job is to protect the royal family and Oscar develops a strong relationship with a new arrival to France, the young Austrian Princess Marie Antoinette. The story follows the relationship between Oscar and Marie Antoinette, who later becomes Queen, but soon Oscar comes to discover the poverty that the citizens suffer and finds her loyalty tested between her monarch and the masses.
There are many reasons for watching this series. As already mentioned it has much critical acclaim. In Japan Oscar is one of the most popular anime characters created, and the series has been shown in many countries and translated into many languages – just not English. There has also been live action film versions of the series, with one 1979 film, Lady Oscar, starring Patsy Kensit as a young Oscar.
Another reason is the historical accuracy. On the whole the series is pretty faithful to the actual events that occurred in this period. There are stories about Marie Antoinette’s love of the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen, the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Robespierre’s plans to gain power and the Storming of the Bastille. Having watched the series, the only historical inaccuracy I could spot, if you don’t count the obvious relationships the fictional characters had with the real ones, is when Oscar is fleeing from a scene down a Parisian backstreet and knocks of a metal dustbin, which so far as I know were not invented back then. You do learn a lot from watching The Rose of Versailles – did you know Louis XVI was a keen locksmith for example?
Then there is Oscar herself. She is such a wonderful creation and somewhat full of contradiction. She wants to help the royal family, but as the series progresses she begins to experience doubts as to whether Marie Antoinette is doing good or not. At times she wants to come out and be more feminine, while at other times she is proud of her manly upbringing. There are also her relationships romantically. At times she seems to express feelings for Fersen, but then she will also feel love for André. Ultimately her relationships become tragic, which in turn differed from most shojo manga which were much more fantastical.
This is a series which is most thoroughly recommended to all, whether you are new to anime or a die-hard fan. It is one of the most important anime ever made. All it needs is the much higher profile it gets around the rest of the globe.
The entire series is on Region 1 DVD across two box sets released by Right Stuf under the Nozomi Entertainment label.