The Rose of Versailles

Alt title: Versailles no Bara

Vol: 14; Ch: 98
1972 - 2018
4.24 out of 5 from 288 votes
Rank #630
The Rose of Versailles

Since General de Jarjayes of France’s Royal Guard always wanted a son, he brings up his only daughter Oscar to dress, fight, and behave like a man. When Oscar’s excellent swordsmanship wins her the honored position as bodyguard to Louis XVI’s new bride, Marie Antoinette, the Jarjayes household believes it can finally be proud. However, what nobody realizes is the pit of thorns the royal court in Versailles has become – with all its excessive opulence, it attracts not just those with status and wealth, but also those with ruthless ambition. To confound matters, Marie Antoinette turns out to be an airhead whose selfish actions are turning the starving population against her. Amidst the sordid schemes and terrible tragedies, and with the tide of history sweeping against the nobles, can Oscar protect her new King and Queen whilst upholding justice for the oppressed peasants of France?

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The Rose of Versailles is one of those rare manga series that has become ingrained in Japanese pop culture. For starters, it is referenced in several manga and anime, and was a direct inspiration for later works like Revolutionary Girl Utena. Its popularity is in large part because of the Takarazuka Revue's popular stage adaptation, but the original work deserves a fair amount of credit as well. It is the most famous series by Ikeda-sensei, a member of the Showa Year 24 Group which includes other shoujo manga pioneers such as Moto Hagio and Keiko Takemiya, and has been continued in the years since with side stories and spinoffs. The "Rose" of the title is Marie Antoinette, an Austrian princess who has been sent to France to wed the future king, Louis XVI, while still in her teens. She is cheerful, carefree, and slightly mischievous, which causes those around her, including her Empress mother, some headaches. When she arrives in France, one of the first people she befriends is Oscar, a young member of the Royal Guard who has been assigned to Marie's security detail. Oscar is a cisgender woman who has been raised as a masculine-presenting soldier by her father, a high-ranking general in the Royal Guard. The story follows Marie, Oscar, and several other characters throughout the former's life in France, from her leaving Austria up until her death during the French Revolution. One major focus of the story, particularly early on, is on the love triangle between Marie, Oscar, and Swedish nobleman Fersen. Marie and Fersen embark on a chaste, angst-filled affair, while Oscar quietly pines for the latter from afar. Oscar herself has no shortage of admirers, from the many ladies at court; to Rosalie, a young woman which her family takes in; to Andre, Oscar's oldest friend. Granted, it's easy to see why so many characters-- and readers-- have fallen in love with Oscar. She is nuanced and complex, brave in some ways and timid in others, and is charming, witty, and occasionally impulsive. Although Oscar and some other characters are strictly fictional, many others, and the incidents in which they get embroiled in, are inspired by real historical events. Besides Marie and Fersen, some other real-life characters who appear are the revolutionary Robespierre and even, briefly, the future emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Perhaps the most striking thing about this manga are the page layouts. Even compared to much of the shoujo manga which came along later, inspired by The Rose of Versailles and its contemporaries, many of the collage-like layouts are phenominal, with drawings of characters, objects, buildings, and mood-setting imagery such as sparkles and flowers flowing into and around each other. The linework is delicate, blacks and screentones are applied judiciously, and, although there are some noticeable mistakes in perspective, anatomy, etc. here and there (especially early on), they rarely detract from the manga's overall beauty. On another note about the art, one thing I didn't expect going into this story was how Tezuka-esque some of it would be. More than in other Year 24 Group works I've read, The Rose of Versailles' gag panels share some the same stylistic touches that I've seen in Black Jack and other Osamu Tezuka works. Even some of the earlier chapters' horses reminded me a lot of Tezuka's. Ikeda doesn't break the fourth wall nearly as much as Tezuka does (though it does happen!), and her Oscar is a much more convincing genderfluid character than Princess Knight's Sapphire, but the influence of the "God of Manga" is clearly there. The art supports a story that is both dramatic and melodramatic, with occassional breaks for action or humor. Some of the interactions between the men and women (particulary a certain scene between Oscar and Andre) are dated by modern standards, and some assumptions about her own gender plague Oscar in ways that would've been written somewhat differently today, but otherwise, the story holds up reasonably well. For the most part, Ikeda strikes a good balance between historical footnotes and keeping the adventures of the cast rolling right along. At the end of the series is a two-part short story which introduces a new character, Oscar's niece Loulou, a precocious little girl with a talent for unraveling mysteries. The tone of this story, set sometime around the "Black Knight" arc, is quite different from what has come before-- it is more lighthearted, sometimes bordering on silly-- but it is unmistakebly a tale set in Oscar's world. (It's worth noting that ten years after The Rose of Versailles concluded, two volumes' worth of Loulou stories were written; these stories comprise Volume 5 in Udon's English-language localization of The Rose of Versailles.) If you're at all interested in the history of manga, The Rose of Versailles is a must-read. Even if you're not, this series has a lot to recommend it: gorgeous 70s-style shoujo artwork, an intersting story, and (mostly) wonderful characters.

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