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Rose of Versailles First Impression

Rose of Versailles, for those unfamiliar, is a classic shoujo manga and anime series from the mid-’70s.  Actually, it’s pretty much the classic shoujo series from that era, if not ever—kinda defined the genre.  Akemi (the real person, not the site mascot), like a whole lot of people, was a big fan.  When I asked her if there was anything she wanted to see, that was the answer I got, so…

A few episodes in, and I can see the appeal.  The story takes place shortly before the French Revolution, and centers on Oscar, a girl who, on account of a very disappointed father with one too many girls born, slapped his daughter with the unconventional name and spent her youth training her in swordfighting and generally manly arts.  Everyone is quite aware that Oscar is a she, and though (even knowing this) a lot of ladies are smitten by her, I’m told she’s pretty straight.  She’s also brusque, manly, and a little on the violent side, which makes for an interesting character; she’s got a rather cheerful male retainer/sidekick who’s the obvious love-interest, though their relationship is pretty man-to-man thus far.

Anyway, Oscar, being a skilled swords(wo)man, quickly gets picked to lead the guards in charge of protecting the young Marie Antoinette, an Austrian who’s just been married off to the crown prince of France as part of a peace deal.  Historical fiction, obviously, though I assume the general politics, historical flow, and at least some of the principle figures are real people (Oscar, of course, isn’t).  Wikipedia will be helping me not learn a completely confused version of French history at some point here, I sense.

So the history is interesting, the characters are thus far broad but also pretty interesting (Marie Antoinette is established thus far as nice enough but a complete ditz, which sort of lines up with what little I know about reality), acting is expectedly broad but the casting is interesting.  And, the first episode features a knock-down-drag-out fistfight between Oscar and her potential love interest.  That right there was enough to keep me interested in where it’s going.

Otherwise raging shoujo, for both good and bad.  Art is ’70s-style but decent (typically detailed eyes, which are the best part); heavy on the abstract backgrounds, and sparkles everywhere, offset by some not-bad backgrounds and a bit of nice architecture.  Also some passably dark settings for something from the garish era of coloring.  Character animation is of course pretty stiff, but not awful.  The faces are mostly above-average in expressiveness for the era, which is good, although Oscar seems to have only two expressions:  Studly and angry, and studly and slightly smug, though the latter doesn’t seem to match very well with what she’s saying or doing—seems more like “she’ll look coolest with this expression” than anything.

Subtle, it’s not.  Villains are obvious within about a second and a half, and the social “battles” (amounts thus far to Marie slighting the king’s mistress pointedly) are far more overkill than the swordfights—dramatic freeze-frames, musical flourishes, plenty of internal-monologue scheming and screaming.  That music in general is somewhere between overblown and outright ridiculous—not a strong point, and when you add in the somewhat harsh audio from way back it’s kinda grating.

The court battle isn’t particularly holding my attention—seems hugely petty, and frankly I can see why you’d have a revolution brewing even if everybody else wasn’t starving or oppressed.  Oscar wants nothing to do with it, so I maintain hope that she’s going to pull things back in a more interesting direction.  (And it’s not that I only find swordfights dramatic or something, I just don’t much care for petty social bickering between characters I dislike on all sides.)

Only other comment so far is that all the characters start out at about 14.  While I assume this is to have Oscar be the same age as Marie Antoinette, who by necessity would be that age when she was married off to France, she and her sidekick look, act, and sound at least 20.  Again, it’s hard shoujo, so I’ll just let that slide, and at least the royals act their age (both the young crown price and bride and the more interesting looking older ones).  Oh, on that note, there are a lot of older folks, and surprisingly enough a lot of them aren’t ridiculously skinny (Oscar, of course, is); the Austrian Empress is downright big-boned.

Of course, everybody is going to die tragically by the end.  The genre demands it, although anything set a few years before the French Revolution and starring a bunch of French nobles is pretty much guaranteed to end badly for those involved.

Closing non sequitur:  The second episode left me absolutely unable to resist the urge to blurt out an Austin Powers, “It’s a man, baby!” reference.  (Not because of Oscar, there’s a cross-dressing saboteur.)

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