New York Comic-Con 2012 Rose of Versailles with Susan Napier
by David Cabrera,
The Rose of Versailles panel was headed up by ANN CEO Chris Macdonald and Susan Napier. After the first episode of the adaptation of Riyoko Ikeda's classic manga ran, the format went to a quick Q&A between Macdonald and Napier discussing its appeal. First Napier took Chris' questions, then questions from the audience, and finally a question from the Viki community was taken.
A large part of the Q&A was about establishing just how influential and important a work Rose of Versailles is. The presenters found themselves unable to overstate just how major the series was in so many ways: its intricately realized protagonist, its epic historical scale, its daring willingness to go places that other girls' manga would not (like the bedroom!).
One interesting tidbit was that Oscar, the warrior woman raised as a man from birth, was not originally intended to be the main character of the story, but rather the historical figure she protects, Marie Antionette. In an early case of listening to fan feedback, the character focus was shifted due to the sheer popularity of the charismatic Oscar among readers.
Rose of Versailles is a shojo manga, but its appeal is much wider: Napier told a story of very recently having had dinner with a Japanese businessman. When the show came up, he said that he was a huge fan, and admitted that as a boy he used to steal the books from his sister. Napier sold the story to the male audience as an action piece as well, a historical epic with battles, swordplay, fistfights. We men in the audience had a show of hands: surprisingly, a little under half the room was male.
The homoeroticism of the series was explored at length: while Versailles not the first to have such themes, it subtly brings up themes that would be explored in more depth by other creators later on. Utena was of course cited as a later work that brought themes to the fore which were more quietly introduced by Rose.
The first audience question had to do with the sheer age of the work: the manga turns 40 soon. Titles like Versailles are often written off as too dated to be commercially viable. The questioner wondered if perhaps other older works like Brother, Dear Brother might have a chance now. Michelle Laird from Viki took this question, proudly noting that Brother, Dear Brother was already streaming on the site and was in fact one of its most popular titles. One of Viki's goals to bring back classics which have been buried, such as this one.
This led to a discussion of the show's lasting appeal. To put it simply, classics age well. Napier noted that it was very important to take Rose's age into account when evaluating it: it is easy to take a strong female character such as Oscar for granted today, but in 1972 she was truly unusual, powerfully representing “a different kind of femininity.”
The next audience question was on Toei's Rose movie, announced a long time ago but never followed up on. Sadly, there really is no information out there concerning this film and it may never surface.
An audience member asked Napier to contrast the year 24 group (of which Ikeda is a member) with the shojo work being released today. Napier responded that she wouldn't be able to answer this question too well-- she's currently studying Miyazaki's work-- but that shoujo these days is a lot darker, more intense, and gothic. It gets away with things one couldn't previously. “Different, but understandable.” Though it is by male creators, Madoka came up as making Rose of Versailles look absolutely sunny in disposition.
The final question came from Viki's online community: how has Rose influenced gender roles in current titles? Napier described it as liberating, though she also noted that androgyny and crossdressing in Japanese fiction date all the way back to the 11th century.
With androgyny comes takarazuka theater, of course (to cheers from the crowd). In the 60's, Napier told us, there were things one didn't talk about, and it was female creators who were pushing the barriers in their field. She compared something like Rose to the “girls' comics” she read as a young child: cliched dramas written by men for little girls which espoused the virtues of the housewife. Now Rose was no underground comic, and that's why it was so important. It was a tremendous mainstream success... and it was just a little bit subversive.