The Rose of Versailles is the Best (Only?!) Anime about the French Revolution, Ever
Hurry, the anime that’s a feminist interjection into the history of the French Revolution is going offline!
The Rose of Versailles cast from Riyoko Ikeda’s manga. Image © Riyoko Ikeda • TMS
The French Revolution was very grisly and all, but have you ever wondered what if Marie Antoinette had a feminist, genderqueer icon for a buddy during all of that to-do? You should know where I’m going with this, which is that yes, there is an anime covering that angle, and not only does it exist, it’s a classic. Based on Riyoko Ikeda’s 1970s manga, The Rose of Versailles takes an epochal moment in French history and, as if the times circa the late eighteenth century weren’t exciting enough in France, spices it up with the tale of a noble baby girl raised to be a royalty-serving young man.
Our hero/heroine is Oscar François de Jarjayes (based on the real François Augustin Regnier de Jarjayes but embellished by Ikeda in part as a tribute to Oscar Wilde) who is born to the commander of the French royal guards as a girl. Her father needs a son though, so she is raised masc and trained to grow into his place at the monarchy’s court, arriving just when Marie Antoinette is fresh off the carriage from Vienna. Oscar becomes a close friend to and protector of the Dauphine, and even gets caught up in the queen’s supposed affair with the real Swedish count Axel von Fersen, falling in love with him herself—which is one of the more delightful instances, to my mind, of historical fan fiction gone legit. Since The Rose of Versailles is a shojo manga though, that is but one of many competing subplots of love and intrigue—some taken straight out of history, such the Madame du Barry and Marie Antoinette rivalry—running throughout the story. Oscar struggles with both her responsibilities as a male, and her feelings as a woman, along with a growing political consciousness that leads her to eventually take up arms with the anti-monarch insurgents. The story gives the contours of her heart equal weight with the mounting tensions against the French government, and the melodrama of all the characters’ romantic affairs and teeming dissatisfaction with or intense loyalty to the state keep the show moving along at a brisk pace for forty episodes.
If you’re intrigued, then I warn you there’s no time to waste, Versailles is going out of license in the US: it will move off of YouTube by the end of this week and Crunchyroll by the end of the month. Set yourself up with some fine roses (for atmosphere) and soft tissues (for the tears) and tell your friends they’ve been canceled, this is a journey into the past, but with a bit more sparkle.
And note: It’s also essential viewing for segueing into the best anime ever made.