Is she woman or man?
Would a rose raised as a thorn
still smell as sweet?
There are a few things that I tend to obsess over. (Okay, more than a few, but still.) Anime is one of them. 80s movies and 80s music are two more. And I constantly research the French Revolution as though I were getting paid for it. (If only!) So when I heard that there was a famous shoujo anime from the 80s that takes place at Versailles in the years just before the French Revolution, well, you can imagine my excitement. Actually, it debuted on television just a couple of weeks before I was born! Talk about a sign. And so today I bring you my first impression of the gender-bending classic The Rose of Versailles.
Here’s the skinny on episode one: General Jarjeyes is pissed off that he gets a daughter instead of a son, and so, on the very night that she’s born, he declares her name to be Oscar, and she will be raised as the son he never had. (Of course, if gender roles were seen for the ridiculous social restrictions that they really are, the sex of his newborn wouldn’t be an issue. Oh well, in a perfect world…) Flash forward fourteen years to 1769, and we see teenage Oscar fencing with Andre, the grandson of Oscar’s nursemaid. Meanwhile General Jarjeyes hopes to secure the position of Commander of the Royal Guard for his son/daughter, which entails protecting Marie Antoinette. The King of France states that if Oscar can defeat Gerodere, the rival son of another nobleman, at fencing, then she will indeed have the job. However, Oscar refuses her father, stating that she has no wish to babysit some girl. They fight, and as Oscar stalks away General Jarjeyes yells that the duel is set for noon the next day, and she better be there.
The day of the duel arrives, and the entire court waits with bated breath to finally catch sight of Oscar, the famed beauty. Oscar, though, has other plans. Instead of appearing before the court, she waits for Gerodere to pass by in the woods. Once he appears, she tells him that she has no wish to be the Commander of the Royal Guard, but just so he doesn’t think that she’s scared of fighting him, she challenges him to the duel then and there. He scoffs and does the expected blustering about not wanting to harm a girl, then quickly gets his ass handed to him. The King and Oscar’s father are both furious, but instead of being punished, Gerodere explains to His Majesty that Oscar really is the best person for the job. Now all General Jarjeyes has to do is get Oscar to accept. He implores Andre, her best friend, to convince her to take up the position.
Andre takes Oscar horseback riding, but unbeknownst to him, she heard her father’s conversation with him and is expecting Andre to beg her to do the right thing. Yet Andre truly wants what is best for Oscar, and thanks to his grandmother he understands that her reluctance isn’t just about “babysitting a girl,” but choosing to live her life as a woman or as a man. Oscar yells at Andre and he baits her into having a fist fight. After they both release some aggression, Oscar rides away in a rush with Andre shouting, “Now is the time to become a woman again!!” When Andre returns he and the rest of the household are greeted to the sight of Oscar walking stoically down the stairs in the Commander of the Royal Guard’s uniform. With her father’s blessing, she and Andre ride off to go and meet Marie Antoinette, as well as Oscar’s destiny.
There was nothing I couldn’t love here. As I mentioned before, Versailles in the years before the Revolution is a period in history that I just can’t get enough of, and it was well represented in the surroundings as well as the outfits of the characters. Speaking of which, the characters, while not entirely fleshed out yet, have the potential for some extraordinary storylines, especially the Lady Oscar. Several aspects reminded me of the singular episode I saw from Revolutionary Girl Utena: the dated yet fantastic artwork (though Rose isn’t quite as angular and pointed as Utena), the youthful and rebellious protagonists, the elaborate duels, the totally rad 80s theme songs (even though Utena is from the 90s, it still has a very 80s vibe to me), and of course, the gender-bending. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: all the best anime series have gender-bending, and from the tiny bit of Rose that I’ve seen, this one is ripe for some truly excellent comedic mix-ups, dramatic issues, and romantic problems. I only wish it were more widely available to English-speakers! Besides being expensive, all of the DVDs of this series that I’ve found for sale are either subtitle-less or in French. While I’m sure that forty episodes would improve my elementary French-speaking skills, I’d rather absorb the story in my native language before taking on such an endeavor. Ah well, c’est la vie. I’ll continue to search the web for any and all episodes that I can, because The Rose of Versailles is a series that I definitely need to see more of.