The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Rose of Versailles

Title: Rose of Versailles
Genre: Drama
Company: Tokyo Movie Shinsa
Format: 40 episodes
Dates: 10 Oct 1979 – 3 Sep 1980

Synopsis: Oscar Francois de Jarjayes is raised from birth to live as a man in pre-Revolution France. She is the toughest person – man or woman – in the country, and she is tapped to command the palace guards of the future French queen Marie Antoinette. But amid the scandal and scheming of Versailles’ inner court, Lady Oscar finds herself pulled in several directions at once: torn between loyalty to her queen and duty to her countrymen, and between her identity as a man and the femininity she has always denied.

The Highlights
Visuals: The absolute height of director Dezaki Osamu’s visual style.
Characterization: Doesn’t take the easy way out with many characters.
Melodrama: Surprisingly addicting in the first half and provides an excellent thematic contrast in the second half.

There’s a certain beauty to the way many shoujo series carry themselves. They walk on the precipice between genius and madness that comes with heavy melodrama; one wrong step, and everything falls apart. But when a pure melodrama hits all the right notes and taps every primal emotion within the viewer, it creates a rush that is unmatched by nearly anything else fiction can offer. Rose of Versailles is a series that achieves those lofty goals.

The series makes it clear from the start that it deals in heightened emotions. Its most famous visual cue – director Dezaki Osamu‘s pastel freeze frames that he termed “postcard memories” – takes individual moments and stretches the emotions involved until they reach their apex. While many series could take this visual trait and pound it into the ground until it loses all meaning, Rose of Versailles consistently earns every drop of drama it wrings from its story, because the visuals and story play off each other so well. The story builds the situations, and the visuals unleash the built-up feelings in a powerful blast.

But if the story were simply about a series of melodramatic situations, it would not be as good nor as memorable as it is. The conflicts in the show’s beginning are quite silly – they follow the schemes of several people in the court of Versailles to gain more power and influence in the kingdom, and is essentially a group of high-class cat fights. Goofy as they are to those on the outside, however, the power grabs are played straight and have a distinctly soapy, vicious appeal to them. It’s great trash. Then Rose of Versailles elevates these happenings by slowly expanding Oscar’s world. She and the viewer are trapped inside Versailles; and once she and we get out, the meaninglessness of the nobility’s existence and the disconnect between the nobles and the starving masses hits hard.

While the emphasis on that soap opera atmosphere may give off the feeling that the series relies solely on trashy, convoluted plot developments, the real meat of the show is in the character development, particularly that of Oscar. She is someone who is easy to get behind: Oscar is strong, intelligent and good-hearted, but try as she might to be a perfect soldier in service to the queen, she is unable to fully lock away her emotions and her sense of duty to the rest of France. The way she wrestles with conflicting identities and emotions is consistently fascinating.

Other characters – from Oscar’s friend and confidant, Andre, to Rosalie, the daughter of a poor French family – are put through the same emotional wringer as Oscar and through their eyes the many sides of Revolution-era France are revealed. Even the villains, who could easily be stock, black-hearted fiends, are developed in ways that make them almost sympathetic; if only they weren’t all such horrible people.

Rose of Versailles has a well-deserved reputation as an anime classic. Far ahead of its time with its striking, unique visual style and intense melodrama, Rose of Versailles is a show that can be thoroughly enjoyed in the modern era, and could frankly still teach many shows a thing or two about how to spin a truly emotional, tragic tale.

The Rating: 10

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

Top of page