Anime Reviews

Adieu, my beloved Oscar: The Rose of Versailles anime review

Watching anime is like connecting the dots of a picture; one leads to another, forever changing the picture’s shape. Some dots are out on their own, but others are connected to everything else, making the overall picture that much clearer in my eyes. One obvious example here is Mobile Suit Gundam, the first real-robot anime, another is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Anime such as these I’m proud to say I’ve seen, because they forever shape my understanding of the medium today. I realise what I’m doing here is advocating watching anime for educational purposes, which might not seem fun (I mean, this stuff is supposed to be fun, right?), but if a series is as revered today as it was in 1980, I find it’s safe to assume that it’s also pretty good.

In October of 2009, I started watching Revolutionary Girl Utena. One year later, almost to the day, I started watching Star Driver. In my mind, these two are connected. Although Star Driver is a much less serious (and, if truth be told, inferior) series to Utena, there are some obvious similarities. By way of the process described above, then, in April of this year, I also started watching 1979’s The Rose of Versailles. Utena led me forwards to Star Driver, but also backwards, to The Rose of Versailles. Such is the journey of an anime fan.

To understand where Utena’s masculine energy came from, one need look no farther than the amazing rose of Versailles herself, Oscar François de Jarjayes. Born a girl, but raised boy by her aristocratic father, Oscar’s destiny in The Rose of Versailles is intertwined with France’s bloody revolution.

Being the new commander of Versailles’ royal guard, she begins the series as our main character, ingratiating herself into the French nobility (including the ill-fated, spoilt Queen Marie Antoinette), but as the series goes on, she comes to represent the tainted innocence of the French people and the lost paradise of the nobility, her world coming apart around her, everything torn to pieces.

Trained as a peerless military leader, Oscar’s loyalty to the institution is at odds with her womanhood. Can she admit her feelings to the man she loves? Or honour the oaths of her father as a soldier? This is not even a question early in the series, but as her heart begins to waver, France’s own landscape seems ready to transform, too: it’s a country ready to remake itself.

All that’s left, then, is revolution, and a tragic thing it is, too. We see the old France fall in carnage, but not the rise of the new: things that are broken should remain broken? The Rose of Versailles was never about revolution itself, but rather, its causes, so it’s fitting, then, that it should end with the sacking of Versailles, I just wish it wasn’t as cruel.

Oscar became an amazing character. Became is an important distinction to make here, because for the first half of the series, she’s so composed and strong as to seem invincible, yet as the 20 years of story pass us by, weaknesses begin to appear. She was granted the loyalty of royal guards by birth-right, but later has to earn the hearts of France’s public. She manages just that: in the end, she’s a true commander, inspiring her troops and leading from the front, but just as crucially, a proud woman. It’s amazing to see her standing there at the Storming of the Bastille, organising the canon fire: Oscar is a giant at this point, a fragile, brave person, standing in-front of everyone else, her life burning brighter than ever before.

So, I’m proud to have finally seen The Rose of Versailles because it’s an important landmark in the history of the medium, yet as I start again to map the constellations of anime, such things suddenly seem like more a concern for tomorrow. As for today, at least…

I’ve discovered a new shining star…

…and I just want to marvel.

18 replies on “Adieu, my beloved Oscar: The Rose of Versailles anime review”

This post makes me want to go back and finish ‘Rose of Versailles’. (I only saw a few episodes.) I liked the concept behind Oscar’s character — a girl being raised as a man, especially in that time period and society, paves the way for a potentially interesting examination of gender and an equally interesting exploration of character. I’d assume that she would feel like something not quite male or female (in regard to expected behaviour or her ‘role’ in society), instead occupying a strange territory between the two. It feels like there would be a lot of dramatic potential in that, so I’m glad that you note that she goes through development and displays weaknesses.
I like that concept of ‘connecting the dots’ too — I haven’t experienced it much in regard to Anime/Manga, but I know what you mean, and it’s very interesting to explore the ways different works have impacted and influenced one another over the years. ‘Hajime no Ippo’ is supposedly very influenced by ‘Ashita no Joe’, and even something outside the realm of Anime/Manga, like the ‘Rocky’ films. Naoki Urasawa, on the other hand, has directly stated that he still thinks of Osamu Tezuka as the sort of mark of the highest possible quality, a level to aspire towards, so it’s no surprise that Tezuka’s influence is apparently all over Urasawa’s work. It’s an endless process, really. I normally like looking at stuff in isolation, but I also enjoy being reminded (as I am now, after reading your post) of just how much it owes to what came before it.

Yeah, the ‘constellation method’ is a fun way of choosing what to watch next: I’m actually considering having a look at Space Adventure Cobra since it seems to be the series that director Osamu Dezaki (who, incidentally, passed away this year) followed-up The Rose of Versailles with.

I’ll have to second what hearthesea said, I watched the first couple of episodes in college but never finished the series. On the other hand I also haven’t finished Utena. Would you recommend seeing Utena first, given the interconnected nature of the shows?

I don’t think it’s particularly important which series you watch first: a big part of Utena is revelling in just how weird and avant-guard it is, and maybe understanding that Utena’s personality is rooted in Oscar’s might rob the series of some of its mystique? What I would say about The Rose of Versailles is that it’s a series that improves as it goes on, so, patience is needed at first. Its best episodes are the last 10.

Became is an important distinction to make here, because for the first half of the series, she’s so composed and strong as to seem invincible

Actually, Oscar was a bit of a brat at the very beginning of the show. It was a pleasant surprise, as I expected the composed/strong/invincible stuff from beginning to end.

I don’t remember her being a brat, more just strongly opposed to a bunch of spoilt noble’s wives. I liked how she’d often just cut through all the bull-shit subtext and straight up say something like, “No, stop poisoning people you bitch!”

This was waaaay back in the beginning when she refused to join the royal guard and skipped the duel and stuff. I’d look it all up again, but I can’t for about 9 more months.

I really should watch this, partly because it’s an important piece in the anime puzzle (I guess that’s my take on your constellations metaphor), and I consider myself a student of anime, and used to write about it. But also because I hear nothing but good things about it. Also, I loved Utena.
And, maybe because I’m growing older, I’ve developed a fondness for older shows that might have bored me in the past. It’s easier for me to forgive cruder animation and more leisurely-paced stories. Bubblegum Crisis and Kigamure Orange Road have an 80’s vibe that makes me smile. Tenchi Muyo (I’m told this is a harem series prototype) has some fun characters. But Maison Ikkoku, alas, defeated me. I’m told it’s a classic, beloved series, but the eps I watched were so slow and tedious that I dropped it.

What I’ve found with the older anime is that there needs to be a period of acclimatising yourself to the aesthetic of the time and style of characterisation. There were times when I didn’t want to watch any more of this series, and it also took me something silly like a year to see all of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but it always tends to pay-off in the end. Votoms and the original Gundam trilogy+Zeta are others that took me a while to warm up to, but that suddenly got under my skin.
One day, I’ll try Macross again, too! I tried 2 episodes of the original series and it broke me 🙁

Galactic Heroes is another on my “must watch one day” list. The closest I’ve come to that style of show is Tytania, which is almost a satire.
I watched the original Macross while watching the then-running Macross Frontier. I had never watched any of the franchise before. Thus I was able to pick up on the references and in-jokes (pineapples, etc). The series enhanced each other and I wound up enjoying both. Since you’re not coming at the original from that angle all I can say is that there are rewards to the series if you give it time, maybe not as many as the original Gundam, though.

yay for rose of versailles! There’s definitely similarities between utena and oscar, although I wouldn’t say utena was exactly inspired by oscar assuming the director’s being truthful when he’s constantly denying it in interviews. ‘Kanashimi no Belladonna’ is one of my favourite anime movies (inspiration for yuasa’s Mind Game imo), and it seems like the strong woman character there seems to be his source of inspiration.
Like you say, for series like this you kind of need to get acclimatised. In fact, queen Antoinette bugged the hell out of me, but later evolved into much more sympathetic character. And wow, the level of emotion in this anime is incredible. Definitely a rewarding experience for the patient.

I’ve always felt a bit hesitant with Kanashimi no Belladonna. It looks almost too arty, but I’m intrigued now that you’ve compared it to Utena and Mind Game. Is it really as coherent as those series? Does it actually have a story?

Oh it definitely has a story. A great story. BUT yes…it is VERY artsy, as artsy as it gets, BUT it’s not artsy for art’s sake like some of those Genius Party shorts. Also, the main female character is sort of based on Jean of Arc, who epitomises the strong female archetype. It’s made in 1970s with low budget, but for me it has timeless quality to it. Highly recommended!

Spoilers ahead 🙂
While I enjoyed Rose of Versailles more than Utena [which I dropped about half-way through – so if it improved, I missed it], despite its bad animations, what somehow irked me was the relationship between André and Oscar. It’s not so much that Oscar falls in love with someone – I had no problem with her liking Fersen – but the way it unravels. But the fact that André essentially tries to rape her not really having any impact on the whole matter renders it either unbelievable or unappealing to me.
Sorry for commenting on such an old post, but somehow I felt the need to get that off my chest…

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