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.