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.
The 1990s: Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena
Sailor Moon is a cultural force in and of itself, but it’s greatly influenced by The Rose of Versailles in a number of ways, particularly in the character of Haruka Ten’oh (Sailor Uranus), an androgynous queer woman* who fights with a sword. Her character is also inspired by Takarazuka otokoyaku. Like Oscar, all the thus-far straight-identified senshi are totally in love with her when they assume she’s a man and she doesn’t correct them–and attraction to Haruka knows no gender boundaries. (head canon: all the inner Senshi are bi/pan/queer)
Side note: do you know how many people have cited Sailor Moon as their root (lightbulb moment for realizing they are queer or trans)? Two of my favorite pieces are “Comics Made Me Queer” by Lena H. Chandhok and “Sailor Jupiter, Gender Expression and Me” by Becky Chambers.
Additionally, both series deal with self-determination and offer alternative options for women other than the cisheteronormative cultural norms, though neither series addresses that perfectly. In Rose of Versailles, we see a masculine-of-center woman kicking ass, having a career, being admired by a variety of people, and learning about her own privilege. In Sailor Moon, we see young women who embrace sensitivity, tears, and friendship while fighting monsters. While the “girl power” branded Third Wave feminism associated with the 1990s has a lot of problems, the embracing of having emotions and being sensitive as a means to fight to save the world reflects some of Oscar’s Second-Wave introspection but takes the concept in a different direction.
Revolutionary Girl Utena uses stylistic elements of The Rose of Versailles. In this series, a so-called “tomboy” transfer student at a prestigious private school gets a mysterious new roommate, Anthy Himemiya, who is at the center of a (I kid you not) dueling ring at school, where the student council fights each other for control of her, the Rose Bride.
Utena wears a gender-neutral school uniform, which is neither like the girls’ nor the boys’ (although she says it’s a boys’ one) and is athletic; she wants to be a prince when she grows up. She has a very strong sense of justice and morals, will fight for those who need protection, and, of course, catches the eye of students of all genders at school. When she is inducted into the Student Council’s contests for the Rose Bride, she fights with a sword. Roses are a motif in the show, both in terms of the way dueling for the Rose Bride works, as well as a floral shojo backdrop.
Some of the early plot elements also pay homage to The Rose of Versailles: Anthy and Utena are sent gowns to attend a fancy party on campus, and not unlike Oscar and Rosalie, they attend together. One of the students tries to embarrass Anthy by destroying her dress, and Utena tears her own dress off Superman-style to reveal her uniform (modified blazer and shorts). The ball, the Student Council as the “nobility” of the school, and the laws of dueling all reflect Oscar’s life at court, as well.
Utena is a series that is incredibly complex and has one hell of a surprise ending. Yet, while Oscar is, in many ways, the prince that Utena wants to be, Utena’s other main similarity other than personality has to do with the sentiment Oscar expresses at the end of manga of feeling like a “cog in a wheel.” (And that’s all I can say without spoilers.)
In the 1990s, the influence of The Rose of Versailles on other major series was based on either the similarities of a protagonist (masculine-of-center sword-fighting woman) or of the depiction of women grappling with gender expression and sexism in the Third Wave as Oscar represented the struggles of the Second Wave audience. In the 2000s, however, the influence Oscar had continued in these veins, but the protagonists’ connection to Oscar was also played (respectfully) for humor.
Next time: the influence of The Rose of Versailles on media from the 2000s.
*Who may also be read as genderqueer, nonbinary, or bigender, though these identities are not referenced specifically. See here for a trans take on Haruka and here for another look at Haruka’s gender. I should also note that Oscar and Haruka were both my “root” for both my sexual orientation and gender identity!