What They Say:
General Jarjayes – so desperate for a son to preserve the family name and noble standing – names his newborn daughter “Oscar” and chooses to raise her as a boy. Fourteen years later, Oscar is a masterful duelist, marksman, and the newly appointed Commander of the French Royal Guards. Her first task: to protect Marie Antoinette, who is engaged to the French prince and future king, Louis-Auguste.
But even though the planned marriage should provide both countries with some much needed peace and prosperity, the French court is a dangerous place – and Marie’s youthful naivete makes her an easy target for those who wish to see the monarchy overthrown. Oscar soon finds herself both defending Marie’s reputation from those that seek to discredit her and protecting her life from those that wish to kill her.
The DVD has only Japanese Mono with English subtitles. The sound quality was fine; I noticed no issues with distortion or volume. Background music consists of different arrangements of strings, woodwinds, brass, and harpsichord that evoke the time of King Louis XVI as well as pieces that reflect the 1970s era in which Rose was made (think electric bass).
The twenty episodes are presented 4:3 aspect ratio. Colors are vibrant, and the yellow subtitles are bordered with black which makes them stand out throughout the series.
The twenty episodes are split into four discs. They are housed in a Scanavo four-disc case that has an overlapping 2-disc bed area on each side of the case. The way the discs overlap is clumsy and gives the packaging a low-budget feel. All four discs are simply printed with the anime title, production credits, and disc number. The front cover features Oscar posing with her sword with Marie Antoinette’s face taking up the background. The back cover features stills from the series; the show synopsis; credits; and DVD specs.
The menus feature illustrations of different characters to the left and the selection list on the right. The first verse of the opening theme plays in a continuous loop. Submenus have no sound, and episode submenus feature various stills from the respective episode to the left.
Extras are minimal: clean opening and closing animation and promos for other anime.
General Jarjayes is a nobleman desperate for a son to carry on the family name. When his wife bears him yet another daughter, he takes matters into his own hands. Naming the newborn “Oscar,” he declares the girl his heir and raises him as a boy.
Thus begins Rose of Versailles, a shojo historical made in the late 1970s. The back cover touts the anime as “THE gold standard of ‘shojo’ anime which all anime fans must see.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to put it in the everyone-must-see-category, it certainly is a classic that forged the way for many gender bending shojo titles to follow.
Classic, of course, means that the animation is pre-digital. Thus, there are a lot of zoom in/zoom out/panning of stills, and special effects are primitive by current standards. Character designs also reflect the 1970s with waves of fluffy hair, prominent noses, long skinny legs, and super sparkly eyes with crazy long lashes. Despite the dated artwork, Rose of Versailles is a Louis XVI historical, so the story can be enjoyed as much today as it was thirty years ago.
Oscar is very much a fictional character, but many in the cast are based on actual people, most notably Marie Antoinette. Oscar and the Austrian Princess are the same age, and Oscar is appointed Commander of the Royal Guards at the same time Antoinette arrives in France to marry the Dauphin. Oscar immediately becomes Dauphine Antoinette’s favorite, and the anime follows the parallel journeys of the two women in the years before the Revolution.
In addition to providing a glimpse into and commentary on the French Court, Oscar also serves as a stark contrast to Antoinette. Both women are physically attractive, but while Antoinette is frivolous, weak, lazy, and irresponsible, Oscar is strong, courageous, and dutiful. Oscar is also fiercely loyal, and because she pledges loyalty to Antoinette, the anime does its best to make the Dauphine a sympathetic character. Unfortunately, Antoinette has history against her, and when Oscar remarks how Antoinette is “too true to her emotions” like it’s a good thing, she sounds like she’s making excuses for the airhead royal.
The anime takes an interesting perspective on this period by focusing on women and their point of view. The first five episodes covers Antoinette’s introduction to the French court and her rivalry with Louis XV’s mistress, DuBarry. Their power struggle, however, rather comes off as an amped up high school popularity contest. As Antoinette strives to establish herself as Versailles’ top female, Oscar alternates between dazzling the men and women of the French court and foiling underhanded schemes against the Dauphin and Dauphine.
The tale of Marie Antoinette wouldn’t be complete without representation from the common folk so in Episodes 6 through 10 the focus turns to the impoverished sisters Rosalie and Jeanne. The girls are opposites; Rosalie has an angelic disposition, and Jeanne is like the devil himself. Through circumstances as contrived and ironic as a Victor Hugo novel, both manage to escape Paris’ slums for the upper echelons of French society.
In Episode 11, Louis XVI ascends to the throne, and with it comes the beginnings of tension between Antoinette and Oscar. A trip to the countryside opens Oscar’s eyes to the wretched circumstances of the peasantry and their dismal opinion of the queen. Meanwhile, Antoinette falls under the sway of the conniving Madam Polignac, who fuels the queen’s reckless spending habits.
The final episodes in the collection focus on Antoinette’s obsession with the Swedish Count Fensen, with whom Oscar has also fallen in love. But while Oscar stoically keeps her feelings to herself, the slave-to-her-passions queen launches into an adulterous affair with the handsome Swede. This puts Oscar in the unenviable position of suffering unrequited love while having to shield the queen’s forbidden romance from gossip mongers.
For this anime, entertainment definitely trumps historical accuracy. As such, it takes liberties with details, but at the very least, viewers will come away familiar with the names of historical figures. Characters tend to have a very one-sided quality though. Villains, like Jeanne, DuBarry, and Duke Orleans, are steeped in evil while the good guys, like Rosalie and Oscar, are absolutely pure and noble. Marie Antoinette is in an odd category: goodhearted but too stupid to see she’s destroying her people. Probably the most well-rounded character is Andre, Oscar’s sidekick, who is neither noble nor beggar and provides much of the series’ comic relief.
Despite Rose’s flat characters and simplistic storylines (it’s amazing how easily the bad guys get away with literal murder), the glories of the French Court, Antoinette’s public and private life, and Oscar’s increasing dismay at the decline of France are still captivating. It’s a train wreck destined to end with Antoinette at the guillotine, but Oscar’s path remains uncertain. Whether the honorable soldier continues to stay loyally beside her queen or sides with the suffering people of France should make for compelling drama indeed.
If you’re looking for a classic style anime featuring an androgynous lead, Rose of Versailles, is the way to go. Oscar is a woman who can more than hold her own as a French officer yet so stunning men and women alike fall in love with her. Improbable as this combination is, it makes for an interesting and entertaining perspective on Versailles in the days of King Louis XV and King Louis XVI.
Japanese mono, English subtitles, clean opening and closing animation, and promos for other Right Stuf! anime
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: C-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: February 3rd, 2015
Running Time: 480 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL-V40XBR1 40″ LCD 1080P HDTV, Gearhead Mobile Slim CDSL07U2S DVD-player to Dell Hybrid (Intel Pentium Dual CPU T3200 @ 2.00 GHz, 4.00 GB RAM, 32-bit Operating System, x-64-based processor).