Monday, January 1, 2001

Rose of Versailles (Berusayo no Bara)

Genre: Period / Drama
General Audience
Credits: 1972. Ikeda Riyoko (story and art)

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Skysenshi's Description:
Riyoko Ikeda's classic tale of romance and tragedy, Berusayo no Bara / Rose of Versailles is set right before the French Revolution and is centered on the life of a young general's daughter known as Oscar Francois de Jarjeyes.

Oscar is a beautiful woman, but was raised to act, live and fight like a man due to her father's frustration that she was born female. Many believe that Rose of Versailles was Riyoko Ikeda's way of uplifting the role-playing mentality of Japanese women in the early 1970's. Perhaps it can even be said that RoV was a direct challenge to the male gender.

NOTE: There is a follow-up fiction on the 10th volume that seems to be based on the misadventures of notorious Elizabeth Bathory, the vampiric 14th century Hungarian noblewoman.

NOTE: This description was written sometime in 2001 and was recorded in the classic Otaku Fridge as ??.??.2001. Unfortunately the database would not accept non-numerical values, so this review is now dated January 01, 2001 by default.

Make sure you have a French history book with you... >>> by skysenshi
...That is only to ascertain that you can segregate fact from fiction. This manga is so 20th century that a modern reader might find herself immersed in every dramatic detail and confuse these with what actually took place in 18th century France.

Forget for a while that it seems unbelievable that Oscar, who is not male, leads the Palace Guards and becomes Marie Antoinette's friend and bodyguard. While it is in fact true that during those days, women were supposed to be more confined to embroidery and would never be allowed to hold a sword, Ms. Ikeda was able to weave a golden thread of twists and turns, loosely intertwined with historical fact, that are reminiscent of a decade long lost (*ahem* I was born in that decade).

Most astounding is the way she developed a fictitious character, Oscar, and let Oscar live in a world where real historical figures have actually existed. She also didn't let the supporting characters be mere decorations for the main protagonist. Each of them has a living, breathing persona, brought to life by beautiful artwork and sheer poetry. The biggest of them all is the flighty Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette, who popularized the phrase "Let them eat cake," has since been labeled by many of our history professors as a butterfly who has no mind of her own -- an insect that drifts from flower to flower. In modern terms, we would call her an airhead. However, RoV was able to show us a vulnerable Marie Antoinette who teaches Oscar the happiness that cannot be found in work and duty alone. She preaches of happiness and yet ironically wallows in loneliness. This was the kind of emotional play that tugged at the heart of many shoujo fans in the 1970s. Such was also what made RoV a timeless piece of artwork that has been retold time and again through animation, film, and various theater performances.

A word of caution for those who are weak of constitution: almost every volume spells tragedy. It is because of its soap operatic nature that this has been dramatized, turned into movies, and even portrayed in stage plays (I caught the Takarazuka Theater performing it once on WOWOW). That is how classic Rose of Versailles has become.

Individual Rating: Art 9; Story 9; Characters 10

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