Let’s take a brief look at the influence of The Rose of Versailles had on two popular shojo series of the 1990s! Mild spoilers for Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Part 6: Interlude: Riyoko Ikeda and The Rose of Versailles Franchise
Before I get back to The Rose of Versailles, I want to make a quick note that the manga The Window of Orpheus (1975-1981), which also features a girl being raised as a boy for the sake of being an heir, but is very different than Oscar. Julius von Ahrensmeyer is the daughter of her father’s mistress, who later becomes his second wife. Because von Ahrensmeyer’s first wife had two daughters, when Julius was very small, her mother began dressing her in boy’s clothes and passing her off as a boy; when she married von Ahrensmeyer, Julius became his heir. Julius has to keep up the disguise as long as her father lives so she can inherit.
Unlike Oscar, who enjoys her work and her unusual life for the most part, Julius does not. She wants to wear dresses and be allowed to express her romantic interest in her crush Klaus, which she can’t do partially because of her all-boys music school’s strict “no homo” policy and social norms, as well as a desire to be true to herself. Additionally, she has to deal with the doctor who delivered her blackmailing her mother and threatening to out her. It’s a different take on the women-performing-masculinities genre in that, instead of being freeing or transgressive, Julius is unhappy in her role, a predecessor in some ways of the manga that would explore trans identities and social dysmorphia.
While many manga in our discussion had anime versions released, The Rose of Versailles stands out from the crowd with 40 years of continual media adaptations and marketing. In the years after the manga wrapped, The Rose of Versailles became a cultural force unto itself. First, let’s take a brief look at how The Rose of Versailles has become as recognizable and referenced in Japanese culture and media as Star Wars before we delve into the other media the series inspired.
On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless–until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.
Keiko Takemiya, Trailblazer with Stars in Her EyesKeiko Takemiya is famous as a pioneering artist in the genre of shônen ai (now generally referred to as “boys love” or “BL”) and known for her sensitive and nuanced portrayals of androgynous characters and fluid sexualities. Takemiya’s dark and explicitly homoerotic manga The Song of Wind and Trees (Kaze to ki no uta) became a major cultural force as it was published in Shôjo Comic magazine from 1976 to 1984. Takemiya has since stated in various interviews that she was using her beautiful boys to explore issues relating to sexuality that the mainstream media at the time wouldn’t touch. In fact, she had to fight with her editors to get Wind and Trees published, and it was partially because of the support of her fellow artists, primarily Ikeda and Hagio, that she was finally successful. Continue Reading »
Like Ikeda, Moto Hagio’s work deals with themes of gender identity, political upheaval, and class issues, themes that she often refracted through the lens of androgynous young men in love with each other.
Although she was born in 1947, Riyoko Ikeda is included in the Year 24 group along with Moto Hagio and Keiko Takemiya, whom we will discuss later. Best known as a manga artist, Ikeda also worked as a scenarist; in 2001, she enrolled in and later graduated from music school, where she studied opera.
Ikeda’s works include Berusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles, or BeruBara), Oniisama e (To My Elder Brother), and Orufeusu no Mado (The Window of Orpheus). Many of her manga are historical fiction that examine topics in gender and sexuality; some feature queer or gender- nonconforming characters. While she does focus somewhat on coming-of-age romances, which are topics typically featured in shojo manga, Ikeda wrote about adult relationships, particularly in The Rose of Versailles, as well as gender identity, political upheaval, and class issues.
The Rose of Versailles is arguably one of the most famous and most influential manga ever. Continue Reading »
Origins of Shojo Manga
Manga historians tend to identify the prolific and influential artist Osamu Tezuka as the creator of shojo manga, but the true origins of the genre are somewhat more complicated – and interesting!