License Request Day: The Rose of Versailles

versaillesharlotI thought that by now I surely would have devoted at least one License Request Day to a work by one of the members of the Year 24 Group of pioneering shôjo manga-ka. It’s time to rectify that, as their works are sorely neglected. Vertical has done a great service by publishing two of Keiko Takemiya’s science-fiction shônen works, To Terra… and Andromeda Stories, and, if you have the tenacity and the resources, you can probably still find copies of Viz’s out-of-print A, A-Prime (Moto Hagio) and Four Shojo Stories (by Hagio, Keiko Nishi and Shio Satô). But someone somewhere would earn a lot of goodwill (with me, at least) were they to license and publish Riyoko Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles.

versaillesAs near as I can determine, two English-language volumes (translated by no less than Frederik L. Schodt) were published by a shop called Sanyusha in the early 1980s. Schodt included a sample in Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, but that’s the largest quantity that’s even close to readily available. The book has been published in South Korea (Daiwon C.I.), France (Kana), Germany (Carlsen Comics), and Spain (Azake Ediciones), so basically we’re behind just about everyone.

versailles2Originally serialized in Viz co-owner Shueisha’s Margaret magazine, the comic has seen all kinds of prestige printings since its original run. It’s been adapted into an anime, a movie and a stage musical. Now, lots of comics have been turned into animated series and motion pictures, but a musical? That, my friends, is hardcore. So what’s the appeal? Let’s start with noted shôjo scholar Matt Thorn’s description:

“The genre of shôjo manga really burst into the popular consciousness, however, in 1972 with the huge success of Ikeda Riyoko’s Berusaiyu no bara (“The Rose of Versailles”), which features a woman, Oscar, who was raised to behave and dress as a man. A captain in the French army, Oscar manages to draws the romantic interest of both Andre (a man who is a subordinate in the unit she commands, as well as a childhood friend) and of Marie Antoinette, whom she serves as personal bodyguard.”

Deborah Shamoon of the University of Notre Dame noted that the series “began as a frothy romance for girls, but by the end had become a serious examination of gender roles and political issues. This transformation encapsulates the larger changes in shôjo manga in the 1970s, when authors used melodramatic conventions received from earlier shôjo magazines and novels, to create stories that explored the psychological interiority and sexual agency of girls.”

I don’t usually single out an English-language publisher in these pieces, but I’ll make an exception here. Viz, your Signature imprint has become perhaps the go-to purveyor of deeply satisfying, commercially risky material. Go a step further and fold some more classics into the mix, starting with a handsome, library-friendly, hardcover edition of The Rose of Versailles. (And you could put the Hagio books back in print while you’re at it.)

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16 Responses to License Request Day: The Rose of Versailles

  1. [...] Here’s some weekend reading for you: David Welsh reminds us of Matt Thorn’s excellent essay The Multi-Faceted Universe of Shojo Manga and sings the praises of The Rose of Versailles. [...]

  2. JennyN says:

    Definitely seconding this, David: I have both beautifully produced volumes of RoV in the French translation, and once you’re past the first chapter or so (which represent Ikeda working her way through and beyond the received cliches of shojo manga), it is indeed a graphic *novel*, with the complexity Matt Thorn describes generated by the tension between romantic melodrama and the implacable force of history. Could I also put in a plug for Ikeda’s later, longer and more uneven but also more mature work, THE WINDOW OF ORPHEUS (Orfeo no Mado)?

    As for Takemiya and Hagio, it’s criminal how little of their work is available in any Western language.

  3. JennyN says:

    Re my comment above – sorry, I was actually referring more to Deborah Shamoon’s quote.

    I’d also be interested to see the reaction to Ikeda’s long short story, CLAUDINE. The heroine here is a cross-dressing lesbian in early 20th-century France. Like so many of Ikeda’s protagonists, she comes to a tragic end – but it’s because of her *superiority* to the petty, conventional world and people that surround her, and her inability to find a lover who equals her integrity and passion. Perhaps it could make up a volume together with her modern school story, BROTHER, DEAR BROTHER.

  4. Sara K. says:

    Rose of Versailles is my favorite comic book ever. There, I said it. I am in the fortunate position of both owning the French edition and beings able to read French. It is in dire need of an English-language license. And to me, your review only begins to touch on what makes Rose of Versailles great. It has actually been adapted into multiple musicals – they are coming out with a new one this year. Orpheus no Mado has also been adapted into a musical, though neither a movie nor an anime. Really, I could talk all day about Rose of Versailles, but I’ll finish with mentioning that Riyoko Ikeda had a high fever during part of the run of Rose of Versailles, yet she still produced all the pages for the weekly installments because she was so passionately involved in the work.

    Oh, and while we’re talking 70s, I would also love to see Glass Mask in English, even though Suzue Miuchi is *not* a member of the Year 24 Group.

  5. Rainy says:

    I agree!! This is something I *want* to have on my book shelf. I know this is the type of story that I would enjoy but also, I want to be able to read it because of its deep roots in shoujo manga. Not to mention, since a lot of shoujo manga research references to Rose of Versailles, it would help me better understand those papers as well.

    I was talking to Ed Chavez (Vertical) about getting this licensed and he said that one of the worries is that it would only be popular with the hardcore fans and with manga academics. I think a way to show to any publishing company that they should license this title is the size of the demand for this series to be licensed. I think if they were able to visibly see that there is a good sized market for this series to be licensed, then they’ll be more inclined to pick it up. The two companies I would like to see license this are Viz and Vertical.

  6. I have the Japanese bunko version and I’m buying the Italian new version. I’d love to see Berubara in english, and I’d buy for may collection for sure. Unfortunately, I don’t have high hopes for Versailles no Bara in USA as I don’t have for Berubara in my own country, Brazil. But I may be wrong. :D

  7. Ash says:

    I’ve been certainly hoping for a license of this as well since I love 1) shojo, 2) the baroque and rococo period, and am fascinated with the Marie Antoinette period. My particular pick for licensing this would actually be Vertical (can you imagine a Chip Kidd cover of this? yum) or Dark Horse (their production on the Clover omnibus was fabulous). Viz’s Signature line would be my third choice. However, I think a major manga publisher may be holding off because they may think only elitists, hardcore fans, and academics may buy the volumes instead of the crowds that buy up Fruits Basket, Vampire Knight, etc. volumes. Also, I recall reading somewhere that the licensing fee costs a pretty penny. Thus, the publishers may assume that even the volumes sold may not make up the fees spent to license the series. Therefore, fans need to do more rallying…? Blog posts? Plead requests (online and at conventions)? Time will tell.

  8. jenny says:

    Yes! More 70s manga in the North American market is needed – particularly of the shoujo variety.

    Right now I am trying to support ‘Swan’ and ‘From Eroica with love’ that CMX released… but like other people have commented that company may not release any more classic titles.

    Despite this I really hope RoV and other titles (like Glass Mask – great suggestion!) get released in English. I am waiting for the day ^-^
    With proper marketing I think these releases would be very successful.
    Thanks for putting the license recommendation out there!!

  9. JennyN says:

    As jenny (no relative…) says above, “proper marketing” is the key here. Unfortunately, few if any of the classic shoujo titles released in English to date have benefited from it. CMX, for instance, released SWAN and EROICA with, as far as I’m aware, almost no advance publicity, no explanation of context or background or why these are considered such crucial works in Japan. Also, the first few volumes of each series (indeed of all CMX titles in the early days) were presented with ugly, clunky cover designs which made it nigh-on impossible to appreciate the original delicate – and in EROICA’s case, frequently humorous – artwork. Not to mention translations which could read very clumsily, such as the volume of SWAN which mentions “Waldorf” Nureyev and “Margaret” Fonteyn. Manga from the 60s and 70s now does require some context and explanation, and that’s exactly what – say – Vertical is doing with its Tezuka releases. In France, the release of ROSE OF VERSAILLES was preceded by lengthy articles in magazines such as ANIMELAND (pretty much the bible of anyone into manga or anime there), which also often reviews series which haven’t been published in Western languages as a way of building interest. It’s one way for French publishers to gauge whether issuing something like GEGEGE NO KITARO or CYBORG 009 or RIBON NO KISHI will have a reasonable chance of giving returns in the marketplace – and quite often they’ll take the chance, at least with a short series.

  10. Chloe says:

    Now, this might be totally hearsay but…I do recall a discussion I had concerning just why this series isn’t available in English, and was surprised to hear that the author has become something of a stickler as to where and in what format the rights to this series are released- I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s more than just a question of money, but additionally, of problematic creator licensing negotiations.

  11. JoshT says:

    I was first lucky enough to see this in anime format years ago. And a few days ago I wanted to see it again and scoured the internet hoping to find some location I could get it from. I wasn’t able to find the anime format but I was able to find a website where a fan had translated the French version posting the english wording off to the side for each page. This is truly one of the greats that you can’t understand unless you have seen or read it for yourself. Hopefully somehow we can get through to whomever can get this released into an English format.

  12. [...] And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the great yet-to-be-licensed shôjo titles: [...]

  13. dita says:

    rose of versailles is one of my favorite manga…
    I like the story about marie antoinatte and her life

  14. iwansanjaya says:

    it inspired me a lot for making simmilar manga ….

  15. Tantono says:

    nice article…. never the end about manga

  16. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    I just recently finally bought the three vol Aizouban French edition from Katanaka. I have no freakin clue why I waited so long (I’m lucky in that I grew up with all my schooling in French, even though it hasn’t done all that much good when it’s come to vintage shoujo manga). The editions are beautiful, basically exactly the same as the Japanese Aizoubon editions (two vols of 1000 pages for the main manga, complete with Ikeda and others’ essays translated, and the colour pages at the front reproducing the old covers, plus a 300 something page volume that I haven’t gotten to yet, containing the 80s Gaiden stories which I know aren’t much loved).

    I know the title is more known in France due to the anime, but if Katanaka could afford it, I don’t buy that the licensing fee is prohibitive for the US, as has been claimed. If it could be released in a similar fashion (Hell, even without the Gaiden) and priced similarly to France (25 bucks a vol, relatively), I think it could do well enough. Even people who don’t know classic shoujo manga well, seem to know about Versailles and have interest in it.

    Reading it, I’m struck by a few things. I was lucky enough to get the two English volumes Schodt translated in the 80s, by chance from a kind person online years back. I had heard they were edited, but the editing does ruin a lot. I compared, and roughly 100 pages have been cut from each vol (so that while the two English vols cover a combined 400 or so pages, the last page of vol 2 is roughly 600 and something in the French edition). Most of this has been careful to not cut major story points, but it has ruined some of the pages’ gorgeous art with pages cut in half, or chopped up every so often.

    Reading Rose I’m struck by a few things. First, I think the anime actually does an exquisite job for th emost part with this title (particularly when Osamu Dezaki replaced the original so/so director with episode 19–the change in imagery is outstanding, Dezaki understood classic shoujo manga and how to translate it like few others as can be seen by his Aim for the Ace and especially the masterpiece of an adaptation that’s Brother Dear Brother–where he actually improved on Ikeda’s short work. But his work on Versailles is IMHO the best 1970s tv anime by a large margin–especially combined with that great score).

    But art wise the anime is actually closer to Ikeda’s 1975-1981 masterpiece (and my fave of her works) Orpheus’ Window. Versailles is fascinating because the art contains so many examples of sketchy, cartoony, imagery, juxtaposed with the grogeously detailed dramatic shots we’re used to. This is a step further than super deformed work, and while it’s more apparent early on, it’s used even in the more dramatic final chapters. I suspect this is because in 1972, there simply were very few shoujo manga that were so serious, and it would have seemed unprecedented not to use that cartoony style for a good cunk of the art (my early manga obsession, Hideko’s Fire! from 69-71 similarly is epic and very serious but has examples of this–I wouldn’t be surprised if Ikeda in fact didn’t use it in many ways as a guidebook, art and pacing wise).

    At first this disappointed me–I was used to the exceedingly dramatic and detailed art of the Dezaki half of the anime–but I quickly grew to appreciate where it was coming from, and realize its own strengths and charms. And don’t get me wrong, the book is still filled with exquisite pieces of art, and maybe even more so those incredible page layyouts which, in the 70s I think Ikeda was a master of, even over Takemiya and Hagio, maybe only rivaled by Ariyoshi’s work in Swan.

    But it does fascinate me that by 1975 when Ikeda first turned out the 500 page Brother Dear Brother, and then started Orpehus’ Window, she first dropped most cases of the cartoony/SD use, and by Orpheus dropped it 100%. I guess by then it wasn’t seen as needed in a serious shoujo work, because the genre had already come so far by then. (It’s also amazing that All 2000 pages of Versailles came out when Margaret was Weekly–basicially over a year and a bit–Orpheus’ Window was twice as long, but it also was worked on over 7 or so years…)

    *end of ramble*–But yes, I’d love LOVE to see this finally released. And as much as normally the anime adaptations of my fave manga works interest me far, far less, than their manga originals, I’d also be thrilled to see the anime somehow get licensed. I was actually just re-watching some of it to compare with the manga, and was blown away by how gorgeous, still, most of Dezaki’s work on it was (when really most tv anime from that era doesn’t hold up at all, unless Miyazaki or Takahata were involved).

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