The Rose of Versailles, which first began serialization in 1972, helped revolutionize shojo manga and has influenced the genre ever since. Now the series is finally coming out in English, packaged in beautiful hardcover omnibus editions that include many colored pages. This review looks at the first two volumes.
The series opens with the births of historical people Marie Antoinette and Hans Axel von Fersen, and the fictional Oscar Jarjayes. The men in the Jarjayes lineage protect the royal family and command the royal troops, so when six daughters are born to Mr. Jarjayes, he dubs the youngest Oscar and decides to raise her as a boy and his heir.
At first Marie Antoinette is the most important character, but over time Oscar takes up more and more space. Oscar is a great literary gimmick for the historical shojo story, because she’s a female who lives as a male. In other words, she knows what it’s like to be a woman at the same time she’s granted access to worlds and opportunities other women in eighteenth century France would be denied.
The Rose of Versailles starts out kind of like a manga biography and feels fairly standard. Then you keep reading, and it gets better and better and it becomes clear why this manga has been so popular. The characters mix real and fictional people, just as the story mixes real history and pure invention. For instance, there’s a theory that Fersen and Marie Antoinette were lovers, and this manga goes full throttle on that. It also uses real people in made-up situations, like how Rosalie Lamorlière, who was a real person, falls in love with Oscar. The art is elegant, detailed and Rococo-infused.
The story grows increasingly complex and gripping as interconnected storylines and characters merge, much in the style of older classics. There is more than one tale of forbidden love, and the specter of the French Revolution haunts in the background. Highly recommended.
Story & Art: Riyoko Ikeda
Publisher: UDON Entertainment
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, and its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, with professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.