"Aishite mo...ai to yobenai, boku no me ha mou kimi wo miru koto ga dekinaku naru...aa...Oscar...OSCAR!!!!!!"
Rose of Versailles is transcendent. It's a must-watch for any fan of animation. As a testament to its staying power as a classic favorite in Japan that isn't a long-running Shounen Jump title, let me mention two things: this show aired from 1979 through 1980, and when I visited Japan to study abroad in 2007, weekly re-runs of it were playing on TV (my host family was naturally surprised that I was like, "Oh my god, Berusaiyu no Bara!!!"); and last fall a drama aired called Haken no Oscar about an OL who loves RoV (I mean, really loves it) and uses it as inspiration for dealing with her everyday problems. Search for "Rose of Versailles" (or rather, "ベルサイユのばら") on Amazon JP, and you'll see enough sparkly merchandise to make your typical otaku-pandering show that pimps out its characters for body pillows and stripper-statues turn green with envy.
Well...you get it.
Based on Ikeda Riyoko's 10 volume Rose of Versailles manga, which ran from 1972 through 1973 in Shueisha's Margaret magazine, the story follows Oscar, a girl born into the aristocratic de Jarjayes family who is raised as a boy by her father and becomes the Commander of the Imperial Guard at the court of Versailles. She befriends Marie-Antoinette right after Antoinette arrives in France to marry the Dauphin, and becomes entangled in the day-to-day intrigue and skulduggery at the court, while unrest continues to grow outside of the aristocratic bubble. (You know where it's going eventually.)
One episode of RoV contains more quality than most series can muster in their entire run. It starts on a small scale, dealing with relatively mundane problems like Oscar screwing up her audition for the Commander's position and Antoinette's refusal to address Madame du Barry, but the series continues to expand on itself, weaving a labyrinthine tapestry of characters embroiled in a delicious hodgepodge of relationships and power struggles- Jeanne leaving her family to climb up the aristocratic ladder, Antoinette's slowly blooming affair with the visiting Swedish noble Fersen, poor girl Rosalie living with Oscar so she can learn the ways of the court and murder the woman who killed her mother, etc. The most pivotal change in this stretch of episodes involves Oscar becoming aware of the poverty that exists outside of Versailles.
And of course I will cover the yuri. Even knowing that Oscar is a woman, the ladies at the court still get fluttery over her, sometimes very amusingly. (Especially when they get jealous over Oscar bringing Rosalie to a ball.) Rosalie also develops an infatuation towards Oscar. (Most evident in a certain uniform-hugging scene.) RoV also influenced later yuri series, most obviously Shoujo Kakumei Utena.
Art: B (Good for its time. I like the hand-drawn old school look.)
I'll review the second half of this series in a later post.