Anime reviews generally feature the latest and greatest from Japan, but occasionally, we get a blast from the past. Nozomi Entertainment’s release of Rose of Versailles definitely falls into that category with a shojo title that was considered “classic” back when I was growing up. Read on for my review of Part 2 of the litebox DVD set. (For my review of Part 1, click here.)
Back Cover Blurb
The French royalty’s indulgences have taken their toll on the common folk. While nobles live in opulence, children starve in the streets. Counts and countesses attend masquerade balls, as families unable to afford medicine are forced to bury their loved ones. What were once pleas for equality are now enraged demands for radical change.
Just as the times have changed, so has Oscar’s heart. Looking to challenge herself further, Oscar leaves the Queen’s side. She enlists with the French Guards, common soldiers who put their lives on the line every night as they patrol the streets and keep the peace. However, Oscar soon finds that an anti-noble sentiment resides everywhere, even amongst the guards that grudgingly follow her orders. As the flames of revolution begin to spread, she soon finds herself torn between her loyalty to the crown and her loyalty to France itself.
In the interview included with this DVD set, the director mentions that he took over the anime halfway through the series, and there is a definite shift in these last twenty episodes of Rose of Versailles. Whereas the first half had more to do with Oscar’s relationship with Marie Antoinette and the frivolities of Versailles, the second half focuses on her relationship with Andre. Indeed, Andre, who was mostly loyal sidekick before, gets a stronger voice and a chance to air his opinion. The change in tone is also because the story leads up to the turmoil of the French Revolution. Oscar’s a noble with a noble’s perspective while Andre is in a position to understand both the old regime and the rising tide of the new era. He provides the outlet to expound the new ideas of Robespierre’s movement, which is crucial for our heroine to comprehend the desperation of the revolutionaries.
Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette becomes less an intimate associate of Oscar and more of a distant figurehead. The second half begins with the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which is based on an actual incident. The Queen’s popularity plummets as a result, and shortly thereafter, Oscar’s and Marie Antoinette’s paths diverge when Oscar leaves the Royal Guards for the French Guards, a regiment of commoner roughnecks. After that, Marie Antoinette appears only occasionally, and usually for the purpose of highlighting some historic event. Marie Antoinette wasn’t too sympathetic to start with, and the final episodes portray her in a way that all but justifies her end at the guillotine.
So in contrast to the sparkly opulence and petty cat fights of Versailles, the second half of the series lingers in the dangerous streets of Paris and the barracks of Regiment B. In short, there’s a lot less dancing and a lot more brawling. Oscar’s commoner subordinates hate nobles, and the fact that she’s a woman makes it worse. However, Oscar being our heroine, she wins their respect and loyalty in a manner that for the most part stays true to character.
Aspects of Andre, however, do suspend belief. His unswerving love for Oscar rises to the forefront in these episodes, but it’s not enough for him to counter the twin challenges of class difference and Oscar’s obsession with Fersen. On top of all that, he starts going blind. Even so, he functions ably among the ranks of the French Guards AND keeps his growing disability a secret from Oscar. While the Versailles episodes get overdramatic with the intrigues of the court, these final episodes get overdramatic with Andre’s and Oscar’s personal angst.
Still, Oscar finishes her part well in this series. She is in the thick of it when the French Revolution erupts, taking part in the storming of the Bastille. The actual final scene, however, feels more weird than satisfying. As if needing to complete a history lesson, Rose closes with a summary of the five years following the revolution. While it seems appropriate to show what happened to the French royals, the final note is about Fersen, and his ultimate fate seems a very strange way to end this story about a heroic woman.
Rose of Versailles reaches its dramatic end. The second half has a distinctly different tone as the setting shifts from Versailles to the discontent in Paris. Whereas the early part of the series concentrated on the problems of the bubbleheaded young Marie Antoinette, these episodes focus on Oscar’s personal turmoil in love and identity as the French Revolution draws near. While it does get overdramatic at times with characters going blind and contracting tuberculosis, these later episodes of Rose have more substance and definitely flesh Oscar out as a character.
Japanese 1.0 Language, English subtitles, interview with Director Osamu Dezaki, and promos for other Right Stuf! anime.
First published at The Fandom Post.