The Rose of Versailles helped define shoujo manga when it was originally published in 1972. Creator Riyoko’s original plan was a biographical manga about Marie Antoinette, but this historical manga tells the story of Oscar Francois de JarJayes, the last of six daughters born to a nobleman of France, raised as his heir—educated and trained as a man in military and weapons, to serve the French king at the Court of Versailles. Lady Oscar is serving as her father’s successor in the royal guard when 14 year-old Marie Antoinette arrives to marry the king’s grandson, the dauphin. Oscar is brave, intelligent, and loyal to the new dauphine, who is fated to become the future queen of France.
Shoujo manga, geared towards young, teenage girls and featuring large, sparkling eyes and lush character design, finds its full bloom in The Rose of Versailles. The young, flighty princess is thrown headfirst into the cutthroat world of royal intrigue as she runs up against the first of many historical characters who will shape her future, the king’s royal mistress, Madame du Barry. Oscar, raised in the French court, is astute and protective of the young queen. She does her best to advise and protect Antoinette, who is honest, sweet-natured, and chafes at the strictly enforced etiquette in the royal palace. They are outnumbered by the grasping nobles, scheming courtiers, and courtesans.
Udon Entertainment is releasing three deluxe, hardbound omnibus versions of The Rose of Versailles, translated into English for the first time, starting in January of 2020. These books feature colored pages and include the original covers from the 1972 serialization of the manga in Margaret Magazine.
The artwork on this 48-year old work holds up. The classic shoujo style and effects are simple but gorgeous. Oscar is androgynously beautiful. The story flows from one chapter to the next with decent historical accuracy, although the context is entirely unnecessary. This could be any intense teenage drama. The main characters are literally teenagers, so their actions and feelings are entirely relatable to their audience. The first volume covers the first years of Antoinette’s time in court and introduces some important historical characters, including the Cardinal de Rohan, Jeanne de la Motte (a conniving lost heir to the House of Valois), and Count Axel von Fersen.
These volumes seem made for library manga collections. They are historically important to the medium, and their binding makes their high price worth it to circulating collections and manga collectors in general. It seems to be a recent publisher trend to release new versions of classic manga, like VIZ Media did with Kazuo Umezz’s Drifting Classroom and Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, and I would encourage libraries to take advantage, if their budgets allow.
There is no publisher age rating on The Rose of Versailles. The steamier historical details are glossed over in volume 1 and this is age appropriate for middle-grade through young adult manga collections.
The Rose of Versailles, vol. 1
By Riyoko Ikeda
Art by Riyoko Ikeda
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)