Take one tough French Commander named 'Lady Oscar,' Marie Antoinette, a court full of intrigue and then a bunch of assassination plots that seem to lurk around every corner... and you’ve got the stepping stones this gender-bending, French revolution-era melodrama, THE ROSE OF VERSAILLES. With a heroine like Oscar - - a young woman whose father chose to raise (and train) her as a man and submit her to the royal guard - - and the added fun of historical fiction, this story could have either been a whole lot of fun or a outright campy mess.
Luckily for me, it turned out to be a lovely mix of both.
In case you’re not up on your French history, this show gives a full recap of the events leading up to Marie Antoinette’s introduction to French society. As head of the Royal guard, Lady Oscar is assigned to protect Madame Antoinotte from danger. For the sake of this series, 'danger' includes brooding, bloodthirsty royals, a vengeful mistress, dastardly assassination plots and, worst of all, court expectations.
So here’s the thing about ROSE OF VERSAILLES - - it’s silly. And I mean really, really silly.
Nearly every situation is presented as a life-or-death predicament. Marie irks the King’s mistress and accidentally inspires a devious game of cat and mouse that is, of course, played out at grand balls and in hushed voices behind closed doors. Everyone uses flowery, dramatic languages and the narrator mentions “destinies intertwined” about every other minute.
What makes this show a real trip to watch is that it's historical that's kind-of a historical artifact in its own right. As I watched the first episode, I noticed that the illustration style reminded me of two animated movies I watched when I was younger: THE LITTLE MERMAID and THE LAST UNICORN. With psychedelics colors, a distinctive “retro” style and characters with perfectly feathered hair, I realized that this show was straight out of the 1970s.
With that in mind, the rest of the show instantly became an experiment in style. I giggled at scenes of Marie Antoinette running down a path of cascading stairs, with the giant evil cackling silhouette of her mistress nemesis gleefully superimposed behind her. Every man has his own coiffed curls and giant lashes. Shocking moments are punctuated by the dramatic smashing of piano keys… and a ton of glittering sparkles.
Like I said, silly.
Part of ROSE OF VERSAILLES' appeal lies in the nostalgia factor, but it’s more about the show’s unwavering, ridiculous theatrics. I mean, c'mon.... everything flashes turquoise and lavender. It would be a sin to take this sort of romp seriously.
This brings me back, yet again, to EMMA. Take everything I loathed about that show - - its dull characters and its snail’s pace, most notably - - and THE ROSE OF VERSAILLES kind-of does the exact opposite.
The show's lead is a take-charge heroine who would do anything to protect the princess. Lady Oscar has absolutely no desire to get mixed up in the court politics, only do to her duty and serve with honor. And actually, I’ll admit - - I sort of wanted Marie and Oscar to fall in love, but beggars can’t be choosers (Tom says I should check out REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA for that, though). Clearly everyone and their mother is a little bit in love with Oscar, anyway. I mean, c'mon - - she defies the patriarchy and sticks it to the man!
The show whips through other story lines at a brake-neck speed, as well. While it introduces a multitude of characters with different agendas - - from André Grandier , Oscar’s best friend from childhood, to the vindictive King’s mistress, Madame du Barry - - the show does take the time to lay the groundwork for future romances. I feel like there'd just be oodles of 'shipping' possibilities if I got even further into the series.
THE ROSE OF VERSAILLES is worth a watch for the animation alone. Luckily, the story is so outrageous and the characters so histrionic that it makes for a light-hearted adventure through the trials and tribulations of 18th century France. If you're like me, and you loved LAST UNICORN or LITTLE MERMAID, then you definitely owe it yourself to check out this trippy blast from the past.
Rachel Heine is an anime novice, film buff and food blogger based in Los Angeles. She writes and edits for arts & culture online magazine, Buzzine, and runs her own personal blog at PopandSizzle. Follow her Twitter: @RachelHeine