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.