|> Articles||Lady Oscar ~ The Rose of Versailles|
You probably know that young Japanese girls are fond of exotic (!) French history and culture. It's not so amazing then, that the major work of Riyoko Ikeda, pioneer of the shoujo manga, tells us about the tumultuous life of Marie-Antoinette!
Created 23 years ago now, Versailles no Bara (The Rose of Versailles), has had so much success that it opened the way for CDs, a live movie (avoid it), an animated movie, an animated TV series and even an opera!
It arrived in France in 1986 and was shown in "Recré A2" (a kid's show) on Monday afternoons under the name of "Lady Oscar". The TV series, 40 episodes long, was a hit with young girls. Understandably, due to its great quality. The story, for a beginning, is quite captivating.
In 1755, Oscar Francois de Jarjayes was born, a lovely... little girl whose destiny will be to live as a boy because of a whim of her father, faithful servitor of His Majesty, who was destined to only father girls. Oscar is raised with the intent to be, one day, the head of the Royal Guards.
She spent her childhood with André, the grandson of her nurse, who quickly became her friend for life. The story begins with the arrival of Marie-Antoinette (daughter of Austria's empress) in France, and her arranged marriage with Louis XVI. Oscar quickly becomes close to her, and for a long time, will be by the side of the future Queen of France.
"Lady Oscar", through its episodes, tells us about the adventures of Oscar, Andre, Marie-Antoinette and others, following, quite faithfully, the progress of the manga. The first episodes will also allow us to meet Rosalie de La Molier, daughter of a poor family, actually unwanted child of a Great Lady in the Court circle (Madame de Polignac, a friend of the Queen), who will become a close friend of Oscar, but also of Jeanne de La Motte, raised with Rosalie. At last, we'll meet, in the last part of the series, some obscure revolutionaries (like Alain, who will appear in the last manga of Ikeda, Heroica, which tells us about the life of Bonaparte) or more well known, like a certain Robespierre...
The series goes through the life of Marie-Antoinette, the death of Louis XV and the coronation of Louis XVI, his foolishnesses in the Court circle, the Necklace Affair (in which Jeanne de La Motte will be involved), the French Revolution, which will lead to Marie's fall, and finally her death in the final episode. Oscar, at her side, will become conscious of the misery of the common people, and will become closer to them, first by leaving the Royal Guard, then by turning against the one she served all her life. She will play a role in the Take of Bastille, but will find her death on the battle front, as the ultimate martyr of Freedom, soon after her lover, Andre, who loved her silently during more than twenty years and succumbs because of a simple stray bullet, not without making her forcefully admit her love. As if he was ablaze at the contact of his loved one.
The only major difference between the manga and the animated version are the last words of Oscar at the edge of death. In the French version, she smiles to her Andre, who she at last will join in the after-world. In the Japanese version, she whispers a last farewell to all of the people who followed her until then, not without thinking about the happiness of her found-again love. Unfortunately, this bears no link with the manga, which is far too serious, where she gives up her soul with a damning 'Vive la France!'. What about romanticism?
That's one of the reasons that makes me prefer the animated version over the manga. Also, the series benefited from one of the best staffs: Tadao Nagahama (who participated, just before his death, in Ulysse 31) and Osamu Dezaki (director of Cobra, Ie-naki ko, Oniisama e, and several others). But also Michi Himeno (Saint Seiya) as a character designer (her work was absolutely wonderful), Shingo Araki (his partner, also involved in Saint Seiya) as director of animation, Kouji Makaino (Creamy Mami, Vanessa, Bubblegum Crisis) for the background music, Toshiharu Mizutani (Cat's Eye, and noticably Akira) at the art director, and Yutaka Fujioka, chairman of the TMS (Lupin 3, Ulysse 31, Akira) as a producer. Dezaki was involved in the series starting from the nineteenth episode, and I think that this change was very good, since the first eighteen episodes do not have the greatness of the following ones.
But why the name "The Rose of Versailles"? Simply because the rose is a magnificent flower you can only admire, but its fate is to wilt one day and lose all of its splendor... Oscar is a rose, who gave all her life long to the glamour of the Royal Guard, and sacrificed her life to liberty, giving up life in all of her beauty. Marie-Antoinette will eternally keep the youth of her mind, her beauty and her love of life, and it is with dignity she will face her execution. The ascension to power of Jeanne de La Motte was as quick as her falling, her death in the back area of a church making her closer to The Lord that much quicker. It is the fire in her which makes her as beautiful as a rose. The desire to take her revenge on life. That fire that consumed her entirely and the scene that leaves us wordless, as if we witnessed again the wilt of a rose.
The TV series of "Lady Oscar" aired in Japan between 1979 and 1980, seven years after the manga came out, and was followed by a special episode, in which we meet the different heroines of the series. But Versailles no Bara, before the animated series, had two other adaptations.
The first one was a theater play, sung and performed by a very well known women's group in Japan, the Takarazuka (it's similar to the No Theater, more modern and with women instead of men). The second one, more mediatized if I can say it that way, was a live movie adaptation, directed just before the TV series by... guess who... Jacques Demy, the well known French musicals director. It had Japanese funding, a French/Japanese staff for the production, and English speaking actors...for a more than awful result.
The movie, which benefited from a very nice soundtrack by the great Michel Legrand (Jacques Demy's and Albert Barille's partner), quickly flies over the more interesting points of the story, and even worse, changes the ending ! Ah.. you think, a happy ending ? No, not even that! We see Oscar and Andre being separated by the dense crowd on its way to the Bastille. Oscar goes in search of her loved one, who walks in the direction of the famous prison. When there, the unfriendly welcoming of the soldiers gives him the not so glorious idea to run away and he will die...killed by a bullet in the back. Lamentable. For Oscar, she will survive him (horror !!) and will spend the last seconds of the movie desperately looking for Andre in the middle of the crazy crowd, and, doing so, will forget to play her role in the Take of the Bastille!! The only good thing that can be said about this movie is that it has never been showed in France as I speak. Whew. For the suicidal, you can find it on video dubbed in Italian and it has been showed in Germany on TV.
There's another movie of "Lady Oscar", which was released in 1990. Produced by Kenji Kodama (Cat's Eye, City Hunter, Reporter Blues) and Yoshio Takeuchi (involved in the TV series and co-director of Cobra), it's actually 90 minutes of chosen extracts of the TV series, showing the main parts of the story. The good news is that you can see the whole story about the death of Andre. The bad news is that it lacks most of the tragic scenes, and above all, the dubbing has been reworked. Only Marie-Antoinette, Rosalie and Monsieur de Jarjayes kept their original voices! Because of that, many fans despised the new version, which is not so bad, seeing how difficult it is to produce that kind of movie.
One can find also about "Lady Oscar", a very nice CD of very long playtime, containing most of the background music, all of the songs, with the opening and endings songs and some...disco themes, which will surely surprise the French - even more that you can hear some French words in the lyrics. All in all, it's very well done, and the songs will be appreciated by those who like that kind of music. There is also a box of 5 CDs, filled mainly with dialogues extracted from the series, each one centered around a main character. Recommended also.
We hope very much for a comeback of "Lady Oscar" on French Television. It was rerun, two or three years ago, on the cable channel Canal Junior; that series benefited from one of the best French adaptations ever produced to date. One should know that the original version got a lot of attention with the dialogue, filled with poetry of the XVIIIth century. The French version, not only kept the original spirit, but also improved that poetical aspect, which explains partly its success down here. The perfection can be sensed also with the voices: a great effort had been done with the casting, and we applaude notably the performance of Eric Legrand (Seiya in the French version of Saint Seiya), who, in Andre's role, gave the best of his talent and made his parts unforgettable. Thus, in the last episodes, while Andre is progressively becoming blind, his voice becomes his only link to the outside world and it's as if it gained maturity. That very same maturity that "Lady Oscar" reached with so much energy, with a TV series that will stay carved forever in the history of Japanese Animation.
You can also visit David Simmons' Rose of Versailles page...
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