Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.
Andre’s prior confession to Oscar demonstrated the loss of control for love trope Ikeda has established, but the purpose of the scene was to show Andre’s mental anguish and instability rather than to prove to Oscar how much he loves her. The main theme of love in the latter half of the manga still relies on loss of reservation as proof of love, but when this trope results in a successful confession of love, it is because Oscar and Andre have begun to see themselves as equals, bringing in a new and complex element to the love story which sets it apart from many other shoujo manga.
One such crucial development is Oscar’s becoming more and more aware of her social position as a noble. As she sees how the other half—namely Rosalie and her soldiers—lives; reads Rousseau and other famous thinkers of the time who encouraged a higher degree of social equality; and meets the supporters of the Third Estate—the lawyer Maximilien de Robespierre, the journalist Bernard Châtelet, and the defector to the Third Estate Comte de Mirabeau—she gains self-awareness and begins to sympathize with the commoners. This puts her in direct conflict with her superior officer, General Bouillet, and her father, General Jarjeyes. Bouillet has been ordering the French Army, comprised of mostly commoners, to prevent the Third Estate’s elected representatives from meeting by doing things like barricading the meeting room’s doors (leading to the Tennis Court Oath of 1789). Oscar refuses to help, and then Alain de Soisson, the de facto leader of her troop, also refuses; Bouillet calls them traitors and sends Alain and eleven other of her soldiers to the Abbey Prison to be executed by firing squad. Thanks to help from Andre and Bernard, Oscar is able to free her men, which makes her a traitor in the eyes of Bouillet and her father.
Oscar returns home to find her father waiting.
General Jarjeyes: Take off your decorations and your rank insignia, you disgrace!
Oscar: I will not take them off until I receive an official discharge from His Majesty.
General Jarjeyes: Well, I won’t wait for it to be official, you traitor!
You listen here! I don’t care if all the nobility desert the king and become the allies of the commoners! The house of Jarjeyes—only the house of Jarjeyes will remain loyal to the king until the very end! We have a duty to protect the royal family!
General Jarjeyes: This house harbors no traitors. As head of household, I will see to your punishment personally.
General Jarjeyes: Argh–! Let me go, Andre.
Andre: I can’t do that, sir.
General Jarjeyes: I’ll say it one more time. I told you to let me go.
Andre: I won’t!
General Jarjeyes: Then I’ll run you through, too!
Andre: Fine! But before you do that, sir, I’ll kill you and run off with Oscar.
General Jarjeyes: So that’s how you feel…
You’re a damned fool..
Andre: I know.
General Jarjeyes: Do you think it’s possible to overcome difference in station?
General Jarjeyes: There are some who have gotten permission from the king to marry into the nobility.
Andre: I know.
I know—but I’m not interested in marriage. Just—even if I had ten lives, it wouldn’t be enough–but please, I beg of you, take my life in exchange for hers.
General Jarjeyes: If I killed you, Nanny wouldn’t be able to go on living. You clever bastard…
Oscar! Get your orders from the king. Go to the palace and get your deed of military service.
General Jarjeyes: Understand? You won’t be punished.
Andre has repaid an old debt to Oscar. In the first volume of the manga, Oscar saved Andre’s life when he was blamed for a riding accident at the palace by taking the blame and offering her own life in exchange for Andre’s—but she did so as his master. Yet, more than just repaying that particular debt, Oscar and Andre feel like they have equalized their status to each other. Oscar was willing to throw away her rank, title, and even her career to save her commoner soldiers and has sided with the Third Estate and the principles of the (early) Revolution. Andre has stopped looking at Oscar as a bride, an object to be possessed, and has decided that he just wants to be with her and love her for who she is. Their relationship has become one of liberty, equality, and fraternity, a phrase which enraptures Oscar from the first time she hears it at a rally of the Third Estate (Vol 4: 16).
From the “my Andre” incident, Oscar has slowly but surely confronted her growing feelings for Andre. Interestingly, Ikeda rounds out her feelings for Andre in a way that none of the other characters in relationships have—sexual desire. Although it’s safe to assume that Antoinette and Fersen are sexually attracted to each other, the idea is never explicitly voiced. The two spend a lot of time talking about soul mates and fate, but not about physical attractiveness. Andre has already (extremely poorly) voiced his feelings about his desire for Oscar, but Oscar, unlike the other women of the manga, gets equal sexual agency. After coming in from an exercise in the rain, she accidentally walks in on a half-dressed Andre toweling himself off (4: 87-9). Although she yells at him for being half-naked in the officer’s quarters, she is surprised to find herself thinking about how attractive he really is and how she had never noticed. Women are often encouraged to voice their attraction to men in terms of facial features, height, general body type, but there Oscar is, daydreaming about Andre’s bare chest. It’s refreshingly honest. She also thinks of how beautiful his remaining eye, his hair and his face are, but the bare chest is the focus of this new-found physical desire.
This desire, compounded with her memories of his passionate kiss and his lips, not only rounds out her “spiritual” desire for him (personality, interests, mental attraction), but, more importantly, serves to show the readers that women as well as men experience desire for others on multiple levels. This voicing of her physical desire for Andre is markedly different from the way her desire for Fersen was presented. Oscar is not an ordinary woman, of course, but I feel like Ikeda’s decision to include Oscar’s thoughts about Andre’s body not only makes her love of Andre seem more adult and more realistic, but encourages, in some way, the largely female audience to consider physical desire for a partner as normal.
To return to the scene, after rescuing Oscar, Andre prepares to leave the room without asking for anything in return for saving her life. This is not the same Andre who accosted Oscar in her room and demanded she love him back. Andre has realized that no one can possess Oscar; she has to give her love freely, as an equal.* He feels he can’t love anyone else, but he can’t make her love him with words or with force, so he has decided to wait for her to decide for herself.
However, his loss of control with her father—his own master, someone with control over his life and livelihood—and his behavior afterward—no awkward confessions, no demands—seals the deal for Oscar. She sees in full the extent of his love: that he would give anything for her, even his life, and ask nothing in return, and finally, she decides to tell him how she feels.
Oscar: I’m helpless. I can’t even protect my own men. I was spared from punishment because of the mercy of the queen. I escaped my father’s sword thanks to you.
Oscar: I–love you.
Oscar: I’m powerless! Surely you can see that. I can’t do anything by myself.
Oscar: My existence is nothing before the giant cogwheel of history. I want to rely on someone. I want someone to support me. Someone who will always indulge my heart’s desires.
Do you still love me? Can you still love me?
Oscar: Will you love me and only me for the rest of your life? Do you promise?
Do you promise?!
Oscar: Oh, Andre!
Andre: Shall I promise a thousand times? Ten thousand times? My answer will be the same.
Andre: (Holding you in my arms, feeling you breathe–sometimes with passion, sometimes shutting your eyes, trembling as you exhale.)
Andre: I’ve risked my life to tell you this. Shall I say it again? I love you.
Oscar: (How wonderful life is!)
Oscar: (In this unending dream, you’re frozen eternally, a sepia-colored fossil.
Those lips I know… Burning with passion, supple… Gently pressing against my lips, fitting together in a kiss… This familiar kiss—)
Oscar: (How wonderful life is!)
In BeruBara, the way Oscar and Andre express love for each other is largely through losing control of their emotions, but the trope evolves as the characters develop. From their first inklings of feelings for each other to Andre’s mental anguish and depression at the possibility of separation, to equality, the circle ends, in a way, where it began. At nineteen, Oscar threw away all reservation and begged Louis XV to take her life instead of Andre’s, but she saw it in the capacity of her role as his master. Fifteen years later, Andre finally repays her by saving her from her father’s sword, but this time, it is as her friend and her equal.
I started this series with the intent of exploring Ikeda’s theme of the expression of love as loss of control, but what I discovered in the end was that, while this theme does influence every romantic and sexual interaction between Oscar and Andre, it does not bring them together until they have a more equal relationship. Oscar, of course, is still nobility and Andre’s superior officer, but their attitude toward each other has changed completely over the course of their lives, most notably over the course of the two years between the Black Knight Incident and Oscar’s confession. Ikeda, then, has taken the idea of “desperate acts are love” to a different level—desperate acts are still out of love, but the love cannot be fully realized without equality. Equality functions on multiple levels—not just the rejection of rank and class for equality, but the equality of Andre’s and Oscar’s participation in the trope and in their fully developed, complex feelings of love. Both Andre and Oscar lose control out of love, and both Andre and Oscar fight to protect each other at any cost. Both Oscar and Andre experience love on a spiritual level and acknowledge their physical desire for each other. Andre stops seeing Oscar as a bride, and Oscar stops seeing Andre as her servant or her soldier. When the trope “works,” resulting in a successful and mutual confession, it is precisely because the characters have been developed equally and have come to see themselves as equal: love without falling into the cultural roles of master and servant, of noble and commoner, of man and woman, or of husband and wife.
That is to say, this is love without a power differential. Although the trope of “desperate acts are love” and “rape is love” show up time and time again in shoujo manga, and despite the fact that many of them result in characters falling in love, I feel that BeruBara is a ground-breaking work on this front precisely because the desperate acts that lead to the characters’ falling in love don’t work until the characters see each other as equal. This is so easily overlooked in the narrative, and the anime completely ruined this point. However, the manga version of BeruBara stands firm on its stance about equal love. Liberty, equality, and fraternity, a phrase that captivates Oscar in the manga, is the message Ikeda has written into the romance of BeruBara. And this love based on these three principles is revolutionary in and of itself.
*See especially 4: 113-9. A very distraught Alain forcefully kisses Oscar; Andre pulls him off of her and prepares to punch him, but Alain doesn’t resist. Andre backs off—partially because he understands Alain’s feelings and partially because he knows that Oscar can fight for her own “honor”—she isn’t his to defend.)