So Bastille Day occurred this weekend, and with all of the terrible news that came out, I decided to celebrate July 14 with a rewatch of the first few episodes of the anime The Rose of Versailles, which has only recently been released on DVD.
I never thought that I would love this series so much. First off, it was an anime, and I’ve never been able to get too much into anime. The whole series is completely character driven, and it features historical figures from a time and place with which I’m absolutely in love. I can’t tell you how much my geeky little heart palpitated when Louis XV and Marie Antoinette (with whom I am mildly obsessed) were mentioned.
Episode 1 of The Rose of Versailles, “Oscar, the Destiny of a Rose,” details the birth and early life of Oscar de Jarjayes. Her father, General de Jarjayes, after receiving news that his wife has given birth to a sixth daughter, names the girl Oscar and decides to raise the girl as his son. Oscar is raised as a boy, alongside her servant and best friend, AndrÃ© Grandier. General de Jarjayes urges Oscar, who is a skilled swordswoman, to fight the son of General de Girondelle as the king has commanded; the winner will be the head of the retinue commissioned to guard the dauphin’s fiancÃ©e, Marie Antoinette. Oscar refuses, but then ends up waylaying young Girondelle on his way to Versailles. She challenges him to a duel, and the winner will win the post as the captain of the prospective dauphine’s guard. Girondelle refuses him at first, but Lady Oscar tells him, “Please accept. I may be a woman, but I am still a warrior. This is the only way to protect my honor!” At this, Girondelle accepts her challenge to a duel, which culminates in her victory.
Both Girondelle and Oscar arrive at Versailles later than expected, and Girondelle explains what has happened. Louis XV declares that Oscar should be the captain of Marie Antoinette’s guard, but Oscar refuses to don the uniform because it would only mean babysitting a young girl. Louis is incensed at this, and he warns that Oscar’s refusal of the post would be treasonous. Later, Oscar overhears her father urging AndrÃ© to talk her into taking the position, but AndrÃ© only wishes for Oscar to follow the path she chooses, whether or not it is to live as a young noblewoman or to act as captain of the dauphine’s guard. Oscar chooses to don the uniform and act as the dauphine’s guard to prove her own honor, and she and AndrÃ© set out to Versailles.
One of my favorite things about this series is how it ventures beyond the gender binary. Oscar is a young woman who has been raised as a man her entire life and everyone at court knows this. She is regarded as something of an anomaly because of this, and every woman at court is curious about her. However, when it comes to whether or not she will be able to fulfill her duties as captain of the queen’s guard, the judgment lies not with her gender, but solely on her abilities, which clearly surpass those of her peers. She chooses to take the post because she more or less earned it and because of the fealty she owes to her king. She is open about being a woman, but also strives to excel at the duties she would perform were she a man.
The series has become available on DVD as of this year, but episodes can also be found on You Tube. There is also a film based on the manga called Lady Oscar, which is also on You Tube.
If you would like me to write any further about the series, please let me know in the comments.