The wounds and divisions in country becomes more pronounced as everything starts to fall apart.
What They Say:
The French royalty’s indulgences have taken their toll on the common folk. While nobles live in opulence, children starve in the streets. Counts and countesses attend masquerade balls as families unable to afford medicine are forced to bury their loved ones. What were once pleas for equality are now enraged demands for radical change…
Just as the times have changed, so has Oscar’s heart. Looking to challenge herself further, Oscar leaves the Queen’s side. She enlists with the French Guards, common soldiers who put their lives on the line every night as they patrol the streets and keep the peace. However, Oscar soon finds that an anti-noble sentiment resides everywhere, even amongst the guards that grudgingly follow her orders.
As the flames of revolution begin to spread, she soon finds herself torn between her loyalty to the crown and her loyalty to France itself.
The audio presentation for this release contains only the original Japaneses language track in stereo encoded at 192kbps. The series is one that doesn’t have a lot to stretch itself with because of the age of the materials and design, but that’s pretty much expected. With a full sounding feel to it, the audio presentation is pretty much solid throughout in that it performs well and does all the right things, but it’s not one that will stand out all that much. Whether it’s dialogue or action, it all moves through well and comes across well, but it doesn’t have anything noticeable with directionality or depth. It’s definitely representative of the shows of the time and the mix as a whole comes across clean and clearly without any dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 1980, the twenty episode for this series are presented in their original full frame aspect ratio. This set has the twenty episodes spread evenly over four discs with five to a disc as only the fourth disc has any extras on it. Animated by TMS, the series is one that definitely looks good here and is very representative of some of the better shows of the time period. It’s a darker show in general with lots of deep blues in the backgrounds that generally hold up well, though there’s some noise to be had here and there. The character animation works well, though fluid in a different way than modern animation, and the transfer has a good look about it overall with little in the way of line noise and very little when it comes to cross coloration and even that’s hard to really isolate. This is a very good looking transfer overall, especially when you realize how poorly so many shows from this period have been treated.
The packaging for this release is quite good and definitely a very welcome presentation for a long sought after classic. The heavy chipboard box has some great pieces of artwork for it, especially the front panel with Oscar dominating it and the men in her life blending into her along the bottom. The back cover gives Antoinette as the primary with one of her more problematic areas blending into the darker background. Similar to the front, there’s just some really appealing material here, especially just because the designs themselves have such unique looks about them. Inside the box we get the four clear thinpak cases which uses some of the same artwork as the box itself and looks very appealing. The back covers are kept simple where it’s mostly white which has the episode numbers, titles and episode summaries along with a listing of the extras that’s on the final package. There’s a simplicity about it but also a lightness that does balance against the material itself.
Also included in the book and completely worth making the early purchase rather than waiting for a slim set later is the full color book that’s included. Clocking in at fifty pages, there’s some great bio material that fleshes out a lot and a fantastic multi page chronology of events that makes things clearer about what’s going on. There’s also a two page spread that delves into the truth of the Necklace Affair storyline that’s a fascinating read. But what really sells it for me is the series of full color pages of artwork that’s just gorgeous. Some have been used for the covers of course, but having it all here in one place is definitely worth it. There’s also sevearl pages worth of character design sketches and data that lets you just pore over everything.
The only extra on this release is on the fourth volume where we get a seventeen minute video piece that deals with the series director, Osamu Dezaki. It’s light in a lot of ways as one might expect, but it’s one of those rare chances to see such an esteemed creative man talk about his work and even if it doesn’t go into a lot of depth, it just has some great little nuance about it.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first half of Rose of Versailles certainly covered a whole lot of ground with what it did, introducing us to the foundations of the time period, the setup of the characters and classes and the larger class struggles that are coming along. A good amount of the focus was on the way the king ascended to the throne and his marriage to Antoinette, which was greeted well and brought a lot attention to how a population in a monarchy can really rally around certain events like this. Of course, the central focus on Oscar was a big thing, but as it progressed, and especially after the first few episodes, it didn’t cover much of anything about the gender side and it became less and less of something that you’d notice or deal with. There are times where it comes up, even in this set, but it’s not even much of a subplot when you get down to it.
In fact, for a good chunk of this set, Oscar is lower on the scale here as the focus is elsewhere, though she does at times provide a bit of a different view on things. The series covers several years as it progresses and there’s a lot of time spent with Antoinette. Her life as queen has not been going well in general and she’s struggling with a number of things. One of the events that creeps into it is the way that Jeanne is continuing to manipulate events so she can gain favor and finances, which includes working over a cardinal that’s in disrepute. Because of the way the nobility works, she’s able to keep him at a distance and work as a go between for them since the cardinal is really interested in her in a number of ways. While it’s a simple plot, one that the queen is largely unaware of, it goes spiralling out of control in a huge way that’s just weird to watch at times but highly engaging. A lot of it ,comes down to Jeanne as she tries to manipulate so many things and stay ahead of being caught, that even when she’s on trial, she finds ways to push it back towards the queen and even Oscar. The whole thing is convoluted in its own way, but because of the subplot involving a very expensive necklace, it becomes another one of those instrumental moments that sets the common citizenry against the nobility and royals with the way they use money, even though it hadn’t actually happened.
Antoinette’s focus also turns in another way that helps to create more division among the ranks as once she does end up pregnant a couple of times, she opts to spend more and more time with her kids rather than with matters of the state. She was always poor when it came to this and it caused a lot of problems with the few audiences that she actually took with people, but it gets even more problematic when she starts pushing even more of the nobility away by going to one of the summer mansions in Versailles where none of the nobility can call on her. It’s all to play and spend time with her children, but when nobody can call on her, even Oscar is unable to really get her to see what the scale of the problem is. It’s another notch in the belt of problems within the monarchy and the disconnect from what needs to be done as the people continue to suffer in such a huge way.
When the storyline involving Oscar starts to take more focus again, it moves in some ways that sets her down a darker and more dangerous path. Because of the way the commoners were starting to rise up and the monarchy was trying to stifle them, she ends up in her position of the royal guard command to having to put down a number of people, which she refuses to do since it would only make the situation even worse. But in doing so, that sets her apart from Antoinette because Antoinette is becoming even more unhinged about everything going on and Oscar ends up going through a few twists before finding herself in charge of regular military command outside of Versailles itself. Andre naturally follows, though it was unwanted because of the rift that the two were exposed to when Andre tried to make a move on her, unable to really hold back any longer after all they had been through. Though things do soften between the two as it progresses, the tension between them exists amid everything else that’s going wrong as the uprising intensifies.
Andre’s story takes some sad turns along the way beyond just his relationship with Oscar as he ends up losing sight in an eye, which could recover to some degree, but he just makes it worse in order to accomplish his goals. But over the years that take place, even his other eye starts to falter and that makes things even more difficult for him, but also makes Oscar a lot more sympathetic towards him after time passes from their own bad encounter. Andre has been a good character from the start, flawed in his own ways, and seeing him fall like this across the set is definitely one of the harder things to watch. Though not exactly innocent in some ways, he’s one of the few that has truly played life in a positive way, even as the hits kept coming. Getting a bit more time and development on his relationship with Oscar as the years go on, it’s definitely tragic and unfortunate, leaving you with some profound sadness over how it all works out.
While my knowledge of French history is minimal to be sure, there’s a lot to like as the years go on here and you see how far pushed the commoners are. With a lot of instances hitting along the way that creates more division, the effects of it are covered from a few different angles. With Oscar being moved out of the royal side and into the common military, he gets to know more of those of not noble birth and her views shift slowly but surely. Her attempts to fix things slightly within the royal walls was admirable, but she was always too cautious of rocking the boat, which makes sense since beheadings do happen here and there. The agitators outside of Versailles are making things worse as time goes on, but so much of it is caused by the nobility and the royals that it continually just comes across as self inflicted that you cringe repeatedly from what they do.
With the nature of the series building steadily over the years towards the inevitable revolution, the final episodes come down to wondering more about how the stories for individual characters will play out. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of death and things go down badly for many of those that were in power, especially as many of them abused that power heavily. I did like that they at least mentioned that those nobles who had lived their lives right and did right by the commoners under their jurisdiction weren’t killed, though it is a kind of throwaway line. With the growing mob mentality that takes place over the individual days leading up to the Bastille event and the way the royals were treated, it’s fascinating seeing the way it unfolds with all personal stories mixed in. It’s heavily focused on Oscar of course, and the ties with Andre become more important, but there’s also some welcome time with Antoinette that shows just how far and hard her fall from grace was. Though things have its positive moments along the way, it is a fairly dark ending that shows that even after the revolution, it’s not a happily ever after time.
After a good amount of buildup and foundation setting in the first half of the series, the Rose of Versailles has all payoff here in the second half. What really gets me with this show, especially in the midst of watching so many other shows out these days, is that they manage to get so much done in each episode, moving various stories forward and enacting change on a regular basis. While the series is largely told for Oscar and what she experiences and interacts with, it also makes the others as realized as can be considering the fluid nature of events and the time periods it skips in order to get to the larger story points. But it always ties back to the characters, their motivations and the way they move through such epic times in the history of France. This series has long needed a release here and Nozomi has done an excellent job of giving it the treatment it needed.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Director Interview With Osamu Dezaki
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: July 9th, 2013
Running Time: 480 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.