Having first seen this series as a child of nine or ten in Germany, it was an enormous pleasure to revisit Rose of Versailles with an adult mindset. I remember it being one of my favourite childhood anime but was surprised to find that it exceeded even my adult expectations; it isn't for children at all! Told from the perspective of gender-switched Lady Oscar Jarjeyes of the elite Royal Guard, who is subsequently caught between duty and justice, we don't get a simple ‘rich baddies against poor goodies' kind of tale, but an epic and complex weaving of backgrounds and personalities.
Anyone with even a marginal understanding of history will understand that there's a rather important revolution coming at the end, so that in itself cannot be the hook. Instead, what drives the plot are the frenzied actions of the cast as they try to make the best of a stark situation. While the poor live in fear of starvation, the rich live in fear of becoming like the poor and, despite their superficial differences, each group is portrayed as drowning persons flailing against the inevitable. That's not to say everybody is flat and self-explanatory - far from it, the entire cast is a colourful pic'n'mix of personalities, with both good and bad intentions which do not necessarily lead to their predicted consequences. Let's take the aristocracy's treatment of the poor as an example. Just like the ordinary human, the rich aren't one-dimensionally selfish, but rather they make bad decisions or simply suffer from misfortune, or they realise the true nature of the situation too late to rule effectively, or all of the above. The plot is thus far from predictable, twisting and spiralling (mostly downwards) as the relationships and antagonisms develop.
Plenty of subplots are on offer too, from Marie Antoinette's stumble towards ultimate doom to the ambitious Jeanne's cut-throat grab for power; and if that's not good enough, there's always Oscar and her best friend Andre's heart-wrenching romance.
Although dated, Rose is still very watchable. The pretty character designs and bright hues, reminiscent of series like Escaflowne and spoofed in productions like Ouran, make me suspect that Rose is the anime that set the bar for my tastes later in life. Hair is golden, eyes are like lakes, tears sparkle, men are beautiful, and grass has never been greener. On the downside (for those who care about such things) there is much reliance on still shots and repeat frames but, to be fair, the sketch-like still frames are the gaming equivalent of cut scenes - they add more drama to the events and act as visual treats. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised by the relative competence of the combat sequences, which were detailed in movement and flowed nicely.
The sound quality leaves something to be desired; it occasionally has that shrillness which accompanies old videotape footage. However, when it comes to other things like voice-acting and soundtrack, Rose of Versailles doesn't disappoint. Although the entire cast performed well, Oscar has by far my favourite voice because she achieves a difficult balance between the feminine and masculine, meaning whether in a dress or in a soldier's uniform she is believable as the same person. The soundtrack has plenty to offer for all the different moods and settings, with my favourite being the slow harpsichord version of the opening theme used during touching or harrowing scenes. The OP is suitable, although even now I prefer the German version (hoorah for youtube!) because the Japanese vocals just seem too high and soft to set the tone for the episodes.
Oscar, the centrepiece of it all, who like the opening image in the credits suggests, is a lone rose blossoming in a rather thorny place. Her main driving motivation seems to be protecting the honour of the state of France and the people she loves no matter whom the opponent. My biggest fear with characters like hers is that creators too often fail to deliver on their promise of someone just, heroic, and kick-arse whilst being simultaneously female. Fortunately, Oscar is not one of those cases, managing to match every guy sword for sword and pride for pride.
Also, rather than ignore or destroy Oscar's femininity, the series grapples with it through her inner turmoil. She's not a transvestite or someone who particularly wishes to be sexually a male; her adopted masculinity was initially for convenience. However, later in life, it becomes apparent that she doesn't quite know what to do with the part of her that traditionally should be in a dress. Men still fall in love with her but then so do the women, who see in her the dashing hero so different from the conniving gentlemen of the Court. Watching her frustration through the relationships she develops, for instance with Andre, is a fascinating experience indeed.
Then there is the infamous Marie Antoinette, portrayed here as someone so innocently hedonistic, gullible, and incompetent, that within minutes she pissed me off something rotten; there wasn't one episode that went by with her in it that didn't make me want to pull out my hair in frustration, shouting ‘Baka!' Surprisingly, she is also one of the more complex and well-characterised personalities. In fact it's difficult to judge most of the characters one way or the other because they prove subtle in unexpected ways. I'd argue the legacy of this kind of characterisation exists in series like Nana, where behaviour is painful to watch but which, in the end, is actually a reflection of the nature of life.
Rose of Versailles, where love is tragic, greed is rife, and loyalty is absolute - it's great fun to watch but I certainly wouldn't want to live there. If you're looking for an anime where nobody gets a break and the personal and the political become intertwined in a downward-spiralling path of destruction, then this is it. It really delves into what it means to struggle and fall, providing a twisty plot with great cliff-hangers and superb characterisation.
Before you read this I will ask of you to not judge it solely on the high ratings. I feel like I have explained the reasons for giving them quite well. Please in your rating, let me know the way to improve on it and I will promptly do so. The high animation rating is based on what could be accomplished at the time the anime was made as I realise that it would be sub-standard if it were made nowadays.
This anime is one of my favourite and I have seen many in 15 years but only a couple have managed to come close in delivering like this one does.
The animation is not the best nowadays but I am giving it a high mark because for its time, it is a remarkable achievement. I am sure that many people will agree with me on this, some of the budget episodes of Sailor Moon or Pokemon and Naruto look worse. This is because Rose of Versailles is not a show that takes shortcuts in its presentation. Unlike Naruto and Sailor Moon, the same high standard is kept through its entire run.
For its time, this anime was very ambitious and it does accomplish what it sets out to do. A scene that reflects the animation capacity (in its iconic form) of this series can be seen in the last episode. It is just stills of pencil drawings and the symbolism and emotion is so strong, one can't help but be moved.
Just that scene reflects what you have seen in emotion and intensity for 40 episodes and blows you away. The drawing style is also another one of its strengths as the characters look very elegant and royal, which fits the bill here perfectly. The character design is also great as it allows the character to grow within a time period, and slowly changes and matures them in their drawing style over time.
The sound is excellent in this series as it helps to show the range of emotion characters express. The theme song is atmospheric and also very fitting with the emotive notes and the beautiful music. The theme music is used quite often within the episodes and it is surprisingly efficient to portray the rainbow of human emotion. The best part of it is obviously the seiyuus' work here.
Main characters like Oscar, Andre and Marie Antoinette and minor ones like Mme DuBarry and Charlotte are brought to life extremely well. Even though these characters are on conflicting sides of the social spectrum, one understands their motives and sentiments to a touching degree.
The story is still one of the most engrossing I have seen in anime since I first watched it. Taking real historical figures and some fictive ones, this anime tells the story so well that you can understand why the characters acted the way they did, and the drama is strongly expressed.
Some historical events are also used as plot devices here (the affair of the necklace, the bastille, the revolution) and the result is brilliant. These are given enough detail for us to fully appreciate the situation, while letting characters shine through as the driving force. There are also plenty of heartfelt moments of yearning, loss, love, obedience and death that are so well-executed - they move you to tears.
As mentioned above the characters are amazing as were it not for them, the story would not be nearly as successful. To fully enjoy this experience one has to connect with the characters and this cast makes it extremely easy.
I felt a lot of emotions when the romantic story between Marie Antoinette and Fersen was explored and was moved to tears to see its conclusion. Same goes with the Oscar and Andre story. There are rarely animes that make you feel the way this one does and this is very much due to its affecting cast. The reason the characters seem so great overall is because their feelings are explored very convincingly and unlike other shoujos, they are not overplayed for emphasis.
The value of this anime is just excellent as I frequently revisit it for some great entertainment and it still delivers. It also paved the way for other great shows like Utena and Princess Tutu (Utena more obviously than Tutu with its theme but the detailed backgrounds of Tutu are definitely influenced by some settings here.)
I still enjoy this anime immensely even though it is 25 years old and have seen it many times over as it really aims for the heart. My guess is you will feel the same way.
Rose of Versailles starts strongly. Aside from introducing a likeable set of characters, the show sets the stage in a promising setting: France, in the years leading up to the French Revolution. Unfortunately, some absolutely asinine directing prevents the show from being anything but mediocre.
The major problem with Rose of Versailles is not the general story in and of itself, but the delivery. Over the course of the anime, the show is sure to include several (repetitive) segments that focus on the desperate cries of the underprivileged, the tragic oversights of the ruling class, the hungry children dying in the streets, etc. Given the setting of the show, this is a perfectly fine and probably even expected approach to take. The error, however, is that the show then focuses heavily on the largely trivial activities of Marie Antoinette.
The result is a weirdly hypocritical juxtaposition that can best be compared to some of the material found in mecha and hentai. With certain mecha, the audience must listen to heartfelt anti-war monologues in between bouts of long, drawn out battles. In hentai, many works will firmly state that rape is a Very Bad Thing, but not bad enough to actually stop animating it. Rose of Versailles, on the other hand, shows more and more forcibly that the upper class is ignoring what's REALLY important, all the while making exactly the same mistake.
Some of the most interesting episodes involve the characters on the lower rung of society. Rosalie, a thoroughly unlucky and ultimately endearing peasant, has an unexpectedly poignant quest for revenge. Her extremely ambitious sister is also an immensely interesting character, and her personal story arc is probably the best of the entire series. Unfortunately, the time spent on these stories is minimal when compared to Antoinette's longwinded tales of ballrooms, dinner parties and gossip. When all is said and done, more than half of the show is filled with meaningless shoujo that I cared absolutely nothing about. By the time the second, infinitely superior half finally rolled around, I had already lost most of my personal investment in any of the characters. Interesting things began to happen, but I was no longer interested.
That said, the series is a bit too grandiose in its sheer ambition to completely dismiss. There are moments of excellent drama, and the originality of the entire project definitely boosts its overall merit. However, in the long run, there are better works out there.
Excellent character designs contrast with some occasionally shaky action scenes. Overall, this is a top-notch job given the show's age, and a decidedly below average one when compared to titles made today. Either way, the quality of the animation was largely irrelevant to how much I enjoyed the anime as a whole. The series doesn't depend on the animation to entertain, instead relying primarily on its storyline and characters.
My impression of JPop up until this point was that the farther back on the timeline you went, the more awful the music became. Rose of Versailles' OP, while not necessarily proving this belief wrong, is at the very least a welcome exception. The song is surprisingly catchy, and actually does a nice job of setting the mood of the show.
The rest of the music is largely instrumental, and generally quite well done. While some of the songs become a tad repetitive near the end of the show, for the most part they work well with the story.
Voice acting ranges from good to excellent.
The everlasting dilemma when you choose a historical setting for your story; is it more beneficial to aim for historical accuracy or inaccuracy? Pretentious historians would most likely point at "accuracy" and label it obvious while I personally think that a tone of creative liberty allows the narrative to soar into more admirable levels of grandeur. Rose of Versailles is not only famous for being among the first titles ever produced in the Shoujo genre and its strong female lead but also for the fact that it takes place before, during and after the French revolution using non-fictional characters like Marie Antoinette and Maximilien Robespierre as key figures. The inevitable ending is thus spoiled by one's standard knowledge of history, but the ride itself and the terrific characterization is more than enough to still make the 40 episodes an entertaining ride.
The story takes a closer look on Oscar Francois de Jarjeyes, a tragic character born as a woman but raised as a man in an environment of fencing, horseback riding and responsibilities. I'd never dream of calling Rose of Versailles story driven in comparison to the amazingly portrayed characters, but the narrative still boasts a pretty impressive combination of twists, melodrama and dialogue. Many historical events like the infamous diamond necklace affair are used as plot devices, though in slightly altered ways, ranging from heavily changed to slightly modified.
My interest for history aside, the excellent transitions between accuracy and inaccuracy are one of the reasons that I derived so much entertainment from this watch. You could argue that the show dwells a little on its melodrama, or that a few repetitive scenarios (like Rosalie crying in front of Oscar while stuttering her name) turns the task of watching it into a tedious one, but if you look for a somewhat educational, though not entirely trustworthy, story about the tragic life of a woman pursuing honor and the fundamental facts about the revolution, then this might be right for you.
Compared to its temporary opponents like Galaxy Express 999, Rose of Versailles radiates extremely high production values for its time. It has since then faded into insignificance, but the relatively detailed character designs as well as a few decent moments of action are definitely impressive. Keep in mind though that this is more than thirty years old, and that you cannot expect the same quality as it's natural to do in modern times. Most moments of a more swifter haste tend to be slowed down to the point of abnormality in attempts to lower expenses so it takes several seconds for the apple Andre throws to Oscar to reach her hands and whenever someone jumps a longer distance the same phenomena can be found.
Another aspect of the visual frontier that I relished was the creative and occasionally beautiful art direction. Chocking revelations are followed by equally dramatic facial expressions complimented by metaphorical cracking mirrors that burst onscreen. In each episode there are at least more than two dramatic close-ups (though likely many more) and while this reaches serious depths of annoyance on a few occasions, you'll get used to it.
The opening theme was designed to be used in the show as well in a variety of instruments and works equally well in all cases. Worth to bring up though is that the show usually makes sure to decapitate the melody right before the chorus is about to make its entrance which seriously ruins the mood it has been so eager to establish. The soundtrack in itself is also good though nothing that deserves to be praised. What does deserve an endless amount of compliments, on the other hand, is the voice acting of Reiko Tajima who portrayed the protagonist Oscar. Her voice radiates the kind of authority and dignity that will have women and men alike experience delight and appreciate the powerful potential in her character. Other voice actors are competent in most cases, but nobody is near the most impressing vocal performance of Reiko.
In the initiating paragraph of this statement, allow me to emphasize that I'm by no means a feminist. Not only has feminism reached the state in my nation where it's associated with the bizarre will to place women on pedestals and oppress men, but I also doubt that the female gender has as much to complain about as it does. No offense intended, but that's how it is.
However, if there's one thing that gets to me in Anime it's when female characterization is successfully made. Shows like Kino's Journey, Haibane Renmei and Rose of Versailles where female protagonists exist for purposes that do not include fanservice or anything alike. And that's why I heavily enjoyed watching Oscar develop throughout this show. She struggles to live her life in honor and masculinity, confronts her womanhood and attempts to oppress it in favor for her military and patriotic way of life and ultimately ends up falling in love. Likewise, the rest of the show is heavily influenced by powerful, yet usually malicious, ladies who yearn for nothing more but power and wealth. Rose of Versailles explores corruption in its most unpleasant form and does so through a large variety of characters. Not to mention its infamous portrayal of queen Antoinette who's luxurious and wasteful ways attracted public hate which made the bloody revolution possible.
Historically significant and a prime example of strong female characterization, Rose of Versailles entertained me while simultaneously making me realize that I should watch more shows from this era. It enjoys spending its time observing flowers, sparkles and beautiful dresses, but fulfills its grander ambitions by exploring the many obstacles of royalty, the struggle of sexual identification and most fundamentally; love. On its way it throws in characters who long for democracy and glory, only to end with the inevitably grisly revolution followed by the executions that we all know lie in the future. A most pleasant watch!
Before this anime, the term “interesting scenario” was still science fiction because all shows that preceded it had a story that could fit in 2 episodes and all the rest was just filler. Not only that, but Rose of Versailles (ROV) happens to be amongst the top (if not the top 1) best historical anime ever made. And just think that it is over 30 years old by now and still not many can get where it did.
So just from the description alone we have a highly interesting historical backdrop; that of the times before and during the French Revolution, when the world was changed forever. You immediately feel that you are watching events that shake the world and that it all happened for real. It is not a fictional story of aliens invading Earth and a huge robot goes to stop them with a magic sword. I mean, Captain Harlock had an equally engaging setting but as I wrote in my review it was too heavily based on technology and the hero could summon a hundred different deus ex machina means to win, which mad the whole thing superficial and highly unreal.
It is an interesting topic of how anime were never meant to be historically accurate and that they are to the most part a form of escapism where we expect to see unrealistic situations, simplistic stories and superficial characters we can identify with. But that does not mean there can’t be an attempt to marry the real with the unreal and still be entertaining, as with the case of this anime. In fact, having a historical backdrop makes the drama of the story all the more powerful as nobody can reject it as far fetched. Or that even someone who already knows how things turned out to be like, will still find the inevitable fate of the characters to be highly tragic. All that without the need for the author to even foreshadow anything; it is all there from the beginning.
The thing with this anime is that it is not the first historical but the first historical with a very interesting setting. All previous works were mostly about a generic situation in some rural area, where the heroes were kids, usually poor and orphan, trying to live a happy life with friends and romance and the likes. A favorite of mine from a previous entry is Candy Candy, which encompasses everything a good historical story should be about. But as cute as all that may have been, the setting still remained overly simplistic and devoid of action or anxiety. No wonder the genres were divided in a way to have super robots with brain dead action and simplistic stories to be aimed at boys, while historical based ones with lots of everyday lives of normal people were aimed at girls.
So then ROV comes along and somewhat merges these two polar genres. The setting is now more exciting, there is some action, there is some romance, and there are tragic historical personalities. And if you so much want some poor peasant girl in a very dramatic story, well here you go, it has one in quite the grim situation. It also has many nobles and aristocrats, in full glamour and selfishness, blind to the needs of their people. Plus it has a gender bender.
Yup, as I foretold in my Ribbon no Kishi review, this anime took the next step at the topic with the case of Oscar, a woman raised to behave as a rather feminine looking young man because of social demands once again. As fun as it was back in the time Osamu Tezuka had his hero being a boy in a girl’s body doing something similar, after awhile the whole thing felt flat out silly and too heavy on unrealistic magic. Oscar is a far more down to earth character, striving to be a good swordsman in order to protect his/her noble friend/superior, as well as the peasants from the greed of the nobles and the ruthlessness of the military.
It is very graphical from time to time, showing murder and death and lies to frame someone, even cases of rape and pedophilia. The animators were not too scared to show the inhumane side of the nobles and of the dark side of humanity in general. Again, although Captain Harlock had done something similar with its setting, mankind there always ended up being conquered by aliens and then begging the hero to save them with his ship alone. Highly unrealistic before this setting where villains and victims are all normal people living in the same country and where the solution is public uproar and not super energy beams and indestructible spaceships. It makes the whole thing feel a lot more familiar and easier to identify with.
Another very good feature is how the story is not entirely focused on one character alone. Although Oscar is the main hero/ine, in reality the story continually shifts to numerous others and allows us to see things from various different perspectives. And I don’t mean filler scenes with the villains plotting their next move or a side character doing nonsense; I mean essential stuff to help you grasp the situation of the world. In fact, the first half of the show is mostly about Maria Antoinette rather than Oscar, as we see her gradually turning from a scared girl amidst the intrigues of the royal court into a snobby woman, indulged in the riches and the coldness towards the very emotions she once cared about. Frankly speaking, this was never done before in such an extent.
But it is not like I consider this anime to be perfect. Its animation has several problems around proportions and many characters do seem to be similar looking. Also, the pacing of the show seems to be terribly slow in the middle and terribly rushed in the ending, with the finale being nothing but narration to fill in all of the stuff the animators failed to show properly. But it still is quite the feat for its time and worthy to belong in the top ten best retro anime of all time, as well as the top five historical.
And it’s not like its themes were never exploited in the future, like in the case of time traveler Go Nagai’s works. Many later anime had great touches of royalty and French Revolution feeling to them, such as in the cases of Legend of Galactic Heroes, Revolutionary Girl Utena, The Count of Monte Christo, and Chevalier D’Eon. There are also some other child oriented anime around the three musketeers, such as Wanwan Sanjushi and Anime Sanjushi.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (interesting)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (French beauty)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (artsy)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 4/4 (catchy songs)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 9/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 2/2 (goes back and forth in many ways)
Plausibility 2/2 (I don’t remember any internal logic problems)
Conclusion 2/2 (solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 10/10
Presence 2/2 (extravagant)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (it’s there)
Development 2/2 (you betcha!)
Catharsis 2/2 (full house)
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you skip the boring parts)
Memorability 4/4 (too good to be forgotten)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 7/10
Some parts are boring and slow but overall it is a great work.