Review of Rose of Versailles (1979)
A nobleman in 18th-century France, whose only child is a daughter, names her Oscar and raises her as a boy. Her sex is not a secret, but at a tender age she is welcomed to lead the regiment of soldiers protecting the royal family, especially the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette who practically grows up with Oscar. Marie becomes the queen of France, a lovely woman with no understanding of the world. It dawns on Oscar, who is a little more connected to the common citizenry, that the luxuries of the court at Versailles are costing the nation a great deal. Oscar departs from her original duties, forsaking the doomed glamour and romantic anguish of Versailles to be in the streets of Paris when the revolution of 1789 begins.
Costume melodrama of a type that is deeply significant in the development of manga and anime. Tezuka Osamu was very familiar with a musical theater troupe tradition—the company already had several troupes—called Takarazuka, wherein women play all the roles and form the majority of the audience, as in a much older form of Japanese theater (Kabuki, before it became all male).
Inspired by the gender bending of Takarazuka, Tezuka wrote Princess Knight (1954), about a female prince. It was a hit and became the starting point of shoujo manga (girls’ comics), a tradition that has since grown to dominate anime and manga in place of the less characterful shounen (boys’) tradition. Rose of Versailles, based on a 1972 manga by Ikeda Riyoko, has been enormously successful as a Takarazuka production with many variations. The anime version is fortunately not musical.
It’s too long, wasting many of its 40 episodes depicting dull courtly intrigue, a mistake exacerbated by the crappily expressionistic directorial style of Nagahama Tadao, who was supplanted by the more subtle Dezaki Osamu after 18 episodes. The most interesting aspect of the series is the progress toward revolution as seen from both sides. The main emphasis of the narrative is far less interesting, although one of its chief romantic agents is the most prominent Swede in anime: Hans Axel von Fersen. Unlike many of the French and Austrians, he’s not blond.