The second half of The Rose of Versailles opens by covering one of the most damaging events that was used to undercut the reputation of Marie Antoinette and which helped make her an easy target of the starving people’s wrath, The Diamond Necklace Affair in which Antoinette was found to have been wrongly implicated but which was easily to believe given the crown’s reputation for being rather spendthrifts with the ever increasing money being wrung from the common people. This event may have been one of the final straws that helped turn the people against the Queen and it helped turn her into a villain in the eyes of many of the people, no small number of whom already had thought less of her due to her indiscretion when it came to Count Fersen and her obvious feelings for him- and the Queen isn’t alone in possessing such feelings either as Oscar finds herself also drawn to the man though her love is doomed to be just as unrequited. Oscar’s life isn’t going to be any easier outside of that as brushes with those looking to change her France from the one she loves is going to range from the kind of events she is going to have to ponder in her soul to those which may set that same soul free from its mortal shell as no small number of those looking to change the status quo are willing to use bullets or blades to speed on the change that now seems inevitable. At the same time Oscar faces a new challenge of her own as having tried to escape her previous love she has taken a new role which will challenge her current status and force her to confront just how it is she wants to live as she can no longer escape how she feels about someone who has been so near to her- but with the flames of the Revolution at hand will she find that the tides of history are waiting to sweep all in its path away?
The second set of The Rose of Versailles has a bit of a shift on a couple fronts, first in terms of animation as the original director had apparently made life so miserable for the staff that he was replaced after episode 19 (according to the booklet provided with this set) and his replacement’s direction had the series get rid of the overly “sparkly” animation rather quickly after he took the reins, leaving events to look a bit more realistic by their absence. The flip side to that is that the various environments often seem to be darker as well, though whether or not this is a matter of decision in where to set events, the lack of sparkles or simply a reflection of the darker tone as the revolution approaches is probably up to the individual watching to decide. At the same time the story changes quite a bit in focus as Antoinette is rather quickly ushered off the stage as well, an action that comes across as rather striking given the size of a role she played in the first 25 or so episodes which often seemed designed to paint her as a sympathetic figure which the final 15 episodes largely avoid, even turning her to being rather power hungry near the end of the series and repeating the quote about eating cake she is known for but which likely was invented by someone to take advantage of the public dislike of the Queen and spur the population to action. This situation feels like it is a bit out of step given the amount of time Antoinette got earlier in the series and the lack of her development in the later episodes feels a bit off.
On the other hand, less time for Antoinette largely translates into more screen time for Oscar as she no longer is going to have to share as much time with the Queen and which should lead to more opportunity for character growth, though the results of this new focus may feel somewhat scattershot at times to those who’d come to enjoy her previous depiction as the Oscar who appears in the second half seems to respond in some less certain ways as she has to question what she is going to do when it comes to how to live- Is she going to throw away her femininity and just live as a man as she was raised or is she going to fully embrace her femininity and abandon what had been a guiding force in her life, or will she have to find some way to strike a balance in between? And as if that weren’t trouble enough there is the larger matter of the change that is overcoming the country which will force Oscar to confront the ideals that she was raised with and how she has largely lived her life of serving France by serving the Crown while now having to decide if the France she grew up with is what she owes her allegiance to or if it is the people who make up the country wherein lies the true heart of what it means to be a country and thus it is to their cause that she should turn her efforts.
Along the way many of the familiar characters who have been established to date are stripped away and replaced with a new supporting cast that seems designed for the express purpose of pulling Oscar to the side of the people as she leaves her role as leader of nobles guarding the Royals and takes a role leading a guard troop composed of commoners which, when combined with her patrolling the streets of Paris, present a far different view of the country’s situation then she saw when she attended to the Royalty. This part largely feels rather organic as it helps to give a reason why this rather sheltered noble would embrace the path she does, but one event near the end where she seems to give up making the decision to follow what she feels is right in favor of turning that decision over to the path of her heart feels like it undercuts a fair amount of what had been established about her as if she now is taking more of a subservient role than she had to date. Along with this the appearance of the mysterious masked man and a pending peril to Andre may have been somewhat original at the time but they have become such staples of shoujo anime over the years that they feel overdone here and while it plays into a sense of melodrama that the series often gives into (particularly in the use of music) it feels like it dates the story a bit.
It is then a tribute to the source material that not only could the series survive a change in directors (not exactly rare in anime, but it has sunk projects in the past or made them disparate in their approaches) but also overcome the places where it seems to have shortcomings and make tremendously strong strides to the end. In no small portion this is due to the events of the French Revolution which help create a powerful environment and sense of inevitability which draws the viewer in and leaves them clinging to the edge of their seats to see an event that is centuries old and which can still stir passions when shown in this powerful a manner. Perhaps one of the ways that the series best does this is in its use of a good deal of ambiguity which leaves certain character’s actions up to the audience to interpret and which in the end leaves the haunting question hanging of whether or not justice was really done or if somehow in the pursuit of it events overtook it and wound up landing in the area of injustice and it is this ambiguity which may help explain how the series became such a cornerstone in the shoujo market and one whose effects can still be seen reflected in the series of today. One final note must be made of the work that Right Stuf put into releasing this set through their Nozomi label as both sets feature sturdy chipboard artboxes with some amazing art present there as well as on the individual thinpacks used to house the discs and the second set comes with a spectacular 48 page book that contains series info and some artwork and designs, as well there being an extra on the final disc that contains a French interview with the director of the later episodes Osamu Dezaki which creates a fantastic bonus to this groundbreaking series and makes it one that will be worthy of sitting on any anime fans shelf.