Berusaiyu no Bara article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 4, No. 1, December 2000
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
To say Berusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles) is a classic is almost an understatement. For twenty seven years men and women all over the world have fallen in love with this dramatic tale of a woman raised as a soldier in pre-revolutionary France. The Rose of Versailles is cherished not only for its compelling characters, engaging plots and unique portrayal of this historic period, but for its artistic value as well. The creator, Riyoko Ikeda, is responsible for a number of graphic storytelling techniques which have since become staples of shojo comics and manga in general.
Oscar Francois de Jarjeyes is born the sixth daughter of General Jarjeyes who, unwilling to accept his fate, declares her a boy. Raised as a General's son, Oscar grows up to be well educated, dutiful, and a world class swordsman. While still a teen, she becomes Commander of the French Royal Guard, responsible for protecting Princess Marie Antoinette as she leaves Austria for her future life as Princess and eventual Queen of France. At the tender age of fourteen, Marie is a charming but undisciplined twit; her fiancee, Louis XVI, is an uncharismatic recluse. Not a good combination. Life in the French court is not easy for lonely Marie, upon whose narrow shoulders rests the continued peace between Austria and France. This problem is initially compounded by Madame Du Barry, King Louis XV's commoner mistress who slept her way to the top of the noble court. With encouragement from the King's daughters, tensions rise as proud Marie refuses to recognize the low born Du Barry. Intelligent and compassionate, Oscar becomes Marie's confidant and aids her in her struggles to deal with the unhappy web in which her political and personal life have hopelessly trapped her. As the story progresses, Oscar becomes increasingly aware of the plight of the poor and other conditions which will lead to the French Revolution. Because of her compassion and sense of justice, Oscar must wrestle with the conflict between her conscience, duty, and personal loyalty to Marie and the noble class. It is these qualities and conflicts that make Oscar one of the most beloved manga characters of all time.
Through the dramatic lives of these two women -one historic, one fictional- Ikeda allows her readers to peer into many events and meet many characters of that period. Romances, tragedies, intrigues, nefarious plots and amusing anecdotes are all woven into the vibrant tapestry of The Rose of Versailles. Combined with insightful glimpses of characters ranging from street urchins to the King of France, the diverse human drama of The Rose of Versailles brings this historic era to life for its readers.
Riyoko Ikeda is one of the pioneering women who broke into the boys club of manga and helped change the face of shojo comics forever. The Rose of Versailles, her first and arguably best work, inspired a thirty nine episode TV series, an international live-action film, and a Takarazuka* production which was performed hundreds of times to an estimated 1.5 million viewers. The original ten-volume comic has had dozens of reprints in multiple formats, including two English volumes translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, Dreamland Japan) and published in 1981 by Sanyusha. Considering the story revolves mainly around the French court and culminates in revolution, I hope it isn't giving anything away to say The Rose of Versailles is a tragedy. But don't let that stop you from trying this remarkable story.
*Unlike traditional Japanese theater, which is performed by all male casts, Takarazuka is an all female theater group.