Rose of Versailles is an anime from 1979 based on a manga from 1972 by Riyoko Ikeda that started out as a Biography of Marie Antoinette as a shoujo heroine.
On it’s own this isn’t a great idea, but there was an original character Ikeda created who usurped the story because of her popularity and became the main character of the manga (and is the main character of the anime from the start): Oscar François de Jarjayes. Oscar is the fifth daughter of General François Augustin Regnier de Jarjayes (An actual historical figure). So distraught is the general that he still has no male heir that he decides to raise Oscar as a boy to succeed him and she comes to command the Imperial Guard of Marie Antoinette.
Oscar’s gender isn’t a secret, she just wears men’s clothing, is a trained soldier, and functionally lives in society as a man (except for occasionally wearing a dress and sometimes falling in love with dudes.) Importantly though, Oscar is the best, serves multiple functions within the story and is main reason Rose of Versailles works at all.
The highlight of the series is technically still the part Ikeda was the most interested in: Marie Antoinette’s time in court and the catty drama than unfolds between her and the likes of Madame Du Barry and the Duchess of Polgnac. Rose of Versailles only deals with emotions at the ends of the spectrum (The deepest love, the greatest despair) and it’s much more amusing seeing that applied to ladies getting pissed over being snubbed at a party than actual drama of everyone dying in the French Revolution.
But the problem is that Marie Antoinette isn’t a likeable enough protagonist and without Oscar the series would be unbearable. Oscar serves as both an author surrogate (In that she genuinely likes Marie and sees something worthwhile in her) and an audience surrogate (in that she can show up tell everyone their an idiot and be the only voice of reason).
Basically history is too much and it needs a fictional character to come in and make the narrative bearable.
Oscar also goes on to basically become the conscience of the burgeoning French Revolution, but again that part is where the show starts to wind down.
Rose of Versailles is a super influential show, with Oscar in particular being a character well ahead of her time. There are references to it all over anime, most notably with Revolutioary Girl Utena (The top ranked show on this list). But it also holds up surprisingly well on its own merits considering how old it is, and the obvious animation restraints it was working under, (This is a show that barely had the budget to have two people fight that then has to try and animate giant riots and the Storming of the Bastille.) it’s certainly rough in spots. The show uses a lot of sparkles, like, a lot.
I was sold on the series at the end of the first episode when Oscar and her best friend André get into a fight and just punch each other until neither can stand. That’s 10/10 stuff right there.
Final Rating – Tier 5
Thank You For Your Time.