Rose of Versailles
During the later years of the reign of Louis XV, the household of the French General Jarjayes welcomed the birth of a sixth daughter. Hoping for a son, the General remained undeterred by what fate had dealt him, and raised this child as a no nonsense, strong, prideful, and arrogant “man”, Oscar François de Jarjayes.
As a young adult, Oscar dismisses the chance to compete for the honor of serving the young Marie Antoinette, not wishing to spend her military career as a lackey for a spoiled little girl. However, the shame of looking like she would run from a fight being too great to bear, Oscar challenges her rival, Captain Gerodère, to a duel, outside of the competition. Displaying a fencing technique which far exceeds that of any man, Oscar easily wins. But, Gerodère, being a true and noble warrior, recognizes that her great skill surpasses his own, and asks the King to choose Oscar over himself. Pressured by her father, and unable to turn down the Royal Family’s request, because to do so would bring disgrace to the name of the Family Jarjayes, frustrated Oscar beats up on her faithful servant, André, in a heart-to-heart fistfight; and accepts the appointment as Captain in the Royal Guard.
As Oscar guards Marie Antoinette, she becomes enamored of the soon to be queen’s inborn trusting, caring, and nurturing nature, as well as her sweet, flippant, and carefree character. Oscar gallantly protects Antoinette by exposing the conniving, power grasping plots of the lower nobility (including those who married into the upper class), and the lower class plebeians who use deceitful lies to assume positions of authority (those who seek to use the upper aristocracy and starving poor for their own gains). However, Oscar’s unrequited love for the only man for whom she would ever wear a dress, Marie’s Swedish lover, Count Axel von Fersen, drives her from the Queen’s direct service. Without her trusted friend and servant to guide her, Marie Antoinette’s rule is tainted and corrupted by the schemes of evil courtiers, while France’s downtrodden public take up arms against their arrogant oppressors.
“A rose can never become a lilac.
Oscar it’s impossible for you to become someone else.
For twenty years, you were the only one I saw and thought about.”
After years of playing lapdog for Oscar, including losing an eye to protect her, ever faithful and present André becomes fed up with being ignored as Oscar moons over von Fersen, so… he attempts to rape her. Fortunately, André stops himself… after tearing off her top. Oscar moves on to become a Company Commander in the French Guard, and André joins her unit to continue to be near her. She discovers her true feelings for André, as the two of them together learn of the poor, miserable lives of France’s ordinary citizenry, while the whole country heads toward revolution.
Though set in France, “Rose of Versailles” showcases a cool Asian fighting code that comes straight out of Bushido (or more likely Chanbara); and has that Confucian idée fixe that the lower classes are meant to be ruled by their “benevolent” betters and that evil comes from those taking a position higher than the one to which they were born. This gives the show a really unique and interesting interpretation of the French Revolution. As a guy, I found this Shojo/Girl series’ use of gender stereotypes fascinatingly odd.
The women of Versailles are shown as fad-conscious, petty, duplicitous and/or backstabbing, while most of the men, including Oscar, are depicted as brave, straightforward, and down-to-earth. And, as such a “man”, Oscar has only to draw her sword and proclaim wrongdoing, to foil evil deeds. But the best thing about “Rose of Versailles” (“Versailles no Bara”) is the drama. The 1979-80 TV Series’ first half was directed by Tadao Nagahama (“Combattler V”, “Voltes V”, “Daimos”), and its last half by Osamu Dezaki (“Tomorrow’s Joe”, “Aim for the Ace”, “Golgo 13”, “Kasei Yakyoku”, “Black Jack”, “Hakugei”), as a flat-out, emotionally larded, over-the-top melodrama that is great fun to watch.