The End of Rose of Versailles
Just in case the title isn’t clear enough: there will be SPOILERS!!
This manga is complex, no doubt about it. Compare the ends of Oscar and Marie Antoinette. Both characters die tragically, with dignity. And yet the deaths are acts on opposite sides of the political divide: the new egalitarian regime and the old aristocratic one. Does Ikeda have an ultimate political message to convey? Does she favor one side over the other? In the end, I don’t see that she does.
To tell a tale focused on the French aristocracy in the 1780s you must be of course prepared for a lot of tragedy. History ends badly for these people. What’s interesting to me is that even the fictional characters in Rose of Versailles, the ones who are not doomed to die from the very beginning, are still dead by the end. Ikeda sets up a great Götterdämmerung, and we can’t just say that the subject matter required it. How hard would it have been for her to have Oscar and Andre ride into the sunset?
To highlight this, Ikeda moves ahead 16 years to Fersen’s death in 1810, so thematically bringing it forward to Oscar’s and Marie Antoinette’s own deaths. At the beginning we expected this to be an epic love triangle and it ends up being an even more epic triangle of death.
I was recommended an article by Deborah Shamoon called “Revolutionary Romance: The Rose of Versailles and the Transformation of Shojo Manga” earlier, and I found it a very informative read. Ikeda was forced to switch her focus from Marie Antoinette to Oscar due to the latter characters’ popularity with the fans. I actually found Oscar to be a great character to center on, because she was the ideal window into pre-revolutionary times. Ikeda was so historically conscious that relying on Marie Antoinette to expose the story would have constrained her immensely (because there’s so much Marie didn’t know and didn’t care to know). By using the fictional Oscar, she could really let us see and hear all sorts of things and happenings.
I was disappointed when the love triangle faded off, but here again, Ikeda’s historical consciousness must be praised. Fersen’s vigorous attempts to save the Queen are eloquent proof of the man’s undying devotion to Marie, and it would have been too much of a historical falsehood to have him hesitate between her and Oscar.
The Götterdämmerung at the end pretty much guarantees that this manga will be very memorable for me. Thinking about it now, I can almost see Dear Brother as a drama of reincarnated Versailles characters, where the pace of modernity effectively accelerates the destruction and we end up with 2 volumes instead of 9. There’s even a Saint-Just for crying out loud!!!
P.S. There’s an extra volume on a side-story involving a countess. I have yet to read it.