The Rose of Versailles is one of the most influential works of manga and anime that shaped the industry into what it is today. The anime, which aired from 1979 to 1980, represented a massive shift for the shojo genre, opening it up to more variety in characters, settings, content and relationships. However, does The Rose of Versailles still hold up today after over 40 years?
The Rose of Versailles was a product of the women's liberation movement in Japan in the 1970s. The story is set during the French Revolution, where the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity were held above all others. Young girls were suddenly shown a world in which women could be equal and oftentimes better than men, refusing to conform to old patriarchal ideas in favor of a life of freedom and choice.
Lady Oscar François de Jarjayes became the symbol for this drastic change. Oscar is intelligent and headstrong, and many fans were either attracted to or saw themselves represented by her character. While Marie Antoinette, the other key female figure, is shown as rather superficial, Oscar is concerned with social matters and ends up switching from a guard of the palace to a soldier of the Revolution.
Oscar rejects traditional femininity in many ways throughout the story. She has a man's career as a guard and dresses in a man's uniform as well. When her father attempts to hold a party for her to find a husband, Oscar shows up and flirts with the women instead. Her relationship with André subverts gender expectations in a way that paved the way for other non-conforming couples. André is a servant who can never marry Oscar, and who has a somewhat feminine appearance and demeanor. A sex scene in which both characters are depicted as androgynous gave way to more freedom in the manner in which sex was approached in manga and anime, without the need for one character or the other to take on the 'male' or 'female' role. Naturally, the lack of gender roles in the bedroom led to more representation for same-sex couples as well.
The existence of the sex scene here is notable. It occurs when Oscar knows she might die and therefore won't get pregnant, and is therefore based on passion and love instead of the biological drive or societal duty to have children. Because sex had been synonymous with reproduction for so long, the idea of a woman having sex out of love was a new message to women and girls, and part of a significant societal shift when it came to sexual relations.
The Rose of Versailles still maintains obvious influence today. Women who dress as men have become beloved characters, such as Haruhi from Ouran High School Host Club, Kashima from Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun and recently, Mayumi from Pretty Boy Detective Club.
The connections between The Rose of Versailles and the iconic 1997 anime Revolutionary Girl Utena are impossible to ignore. Utena also dresses as a man and is considered a 'prince' with many female admirers, and the similarities between her clothing and Oscar's are numerous, complete with the frogging on the shoulders to the same style of sword. Revolutionary Girl Utena took freedom of female love a step further, however, with the romantic relationship between Utena and Anthy. This is the ideal example of a show using the building blocks that The Rose of Versailles set down to create something that dared to go even further.
Does The Rose of Versailles still hold up today? Although there have been many amazing shows made over the past 40 years, The Rose of Versailles holds its own with an iron grip. Lady Oscar is a timeless hero. She represents the fight against old systems that have kept society trapped in place. She is someone who does not feel at home in her gender and wants to love outside of societal boundaries, rejecting her prescribed role. In a world with so many still struggling for their rights, The Rose of Versailles continues to hold valuable messages of liberty, equality and fraternity.