Today we dive deep into the stream to uncover an old treasure only recently licensed stateside, the classic historical romance:
The Rose of Versailles (Versailles no Bara)
Studio: Tokyo Movie Shinsa (now called TMS Entertainment)
Based On: The manga by Ikeda Riyoko (Oniisama e)
Available On: Crunchyroll, Hulu (listed as “The Rose of Versailles”) (subs only)
Episode Count: 40
In a Sentence: Set in 18th-Century France on the eve of the revolution, The Rose of Versailles chronicles the life of Oscar François de Jarayes, a young noblewoman raised as a man, as she struggles with personal and national unrest alike.
Here There Be: Historical fiction, romance, court intrigue, characters challenging traditional gender roles, and more shoujo sparkles than you can shake a sword at.
…And the Pitch!
So fun fact, RoV is actually on my summer watchlist, too. (I have read most of the manga though, so I can talk to you about the story in broad strokes, at least.) One of the main reasons I’m so keen on watching it is that RoV is basically the grandmammy of shoujo anime. Just about everything that’s come after it has, in some way, been influenced by it, and given my love of the shoujo genre it really just makes sense that I watch the show for artistic/historical reasons if nothing else.
Of course, RoV is the grandmammy of shoujo for a reason, and that reason is a simple one: It’s a fascinating story. Surprisingly progressive for its time (the anime began its run in 1979), the series deals with issues of gender fluidity, sexual orientation, and social hierarchy, using its characters and their interactions to ask bigger questions about culture and society as a whole.
While it’s a bit heavy on the melodrama, it’s also a layered study of characters both original and historical (the royal family, particularly Marie Antoinette, plays a major role in the story). Really, probably my favorite element of the manga was the line it walked between the personal and the public, showing how these characters (particularly Oscar) struggled with their identities as individuals and their identities as people of France.
And to be honest, the soap opera elements work WAY better than they should, too. I went from rolling my eyes at the start of the manga to being practically in tears by the end of it, because dammit if you won’t find yourself drawn into the world of these magnificently melodramatic individuals. It’s shoujo in its earliest form, and proof that the genre’s magic as been there from the start.
Why This Summer?
Shoujo anime adaptations have been tragically sparse in recent years, but that could change if Sailor Moon Crystal becomes the international hit you’d expect (hope?) it to be. And with that future stretching before us, isn’t it about time we watch the series that had (and continues to have) such a massive influence on the genre as a whole?