The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
Versailles of the Dead
What's It About?A coach from Austria races toward the French royal court on a dark, gloomy night. Inside is Marie Antoinette, bride-to-be of Louis XVI, who would go down in history as France's final monarch, the both of them infamously beheaded as a result of the French Revolution.
In this fictional account, Marie Antoinette is accompanied by her twin brother, Albert, and something goes terribly amiss during their trip when walking corpses attack the carriage. Fighting tooth and nail, Albert is the sole survivor. To keep the tentative alliance between Austria and France intact, King Louis XV agrees to let his son marry Albert in the guise of Marie Antoinette, a charade the feminine young man is only too eager to participate in.
Between navigating the social intrigues of the court, keeping his earth-shattering secret under wraps, and battling against the living dead, Albert plays the part of dauphine with aplomb, though he's clearly hiding something even more devious beneath it all.
Versailles of the Dead volume 1 (10/30/18) is an original manga by Kumiko Suekane. It's available in paperback from Seven Seas Entertainment for $12.99.
Is It Worth Reading?
Marie Antoinette is a popular historical figure for fictional exploration. Her infamous naïveté when it came to commoner suffering and her famously frigid relationship with her prince husband is rife with storytelling possibilities, even if it's only a surface understanding of the princess's life and not everything attributed to her is accurate. (She never said, “let them eat cake,” for example.) However, Suekane attempts too much, meshing a zombie infestation with some historically accurate details of the events leading up to the French Revolution with a gender-bending plot of political intrigue. No single component is given time to breathe in this first volume, resulting in a cluttered, confusing jumble of elements. The gimmick of the zombies is what's supposed to draw the reader in, but it gets the least number of pages devoted to it so far, diving straight into “Marie Antoinette”'s life in the French court, including her famous social snub of King Louis XV's mistress, Madame du Berry, which is given much more import in The Rose of Versailles. All this while Albert coyly goes about his duties as princess, clearly plotting something more. Something isn't quite right about him, and his sister's death may or may not have been entirely the fault of zombies.
Suekane's art is easily the highlight of the volume, though there isn't quite as much detail as one might hope for in a setting whose very decadence is integral to understanding the French Revolution. In general, though, the art is pretty, and the fashion in particular shines. The character designs do a good job of incorporating historical likenesses into the manga style while still making them distinctly identifiable. The zombies are frightening enough, if not incredibly horrific or gory.
Versailles of the Dead volume 1 has difficulty pinpointing a singular focus this early on, which makes it difficult to recommend, even if the central concept seems intriguing. That said, it's not without promise and both history buffs and zombie fans might be interested in picking it up.
I don't know how you make a premise like Marie Antoinette with zombies boring, but Versailles of the Dead finds a way. It's just baffling and weirdly self-serious. I don't know what its goals are.
I think the most fitting genre for Versailles of the Dead is mystery. The problem is Versailles of the Dead constantly throws new mysteries on top of the already existing ones in a way that makes it difficult to follow. This is most apparent in the last chapter. In it, the main actors are cut away from to introduce scores of characters who we've never seen before: Peasants, a child who appears to be linked to the zombies, etc. But without any understanding of how these people connect to the story we've seen so far, their appearance just adds frustration to the proceedings, as without anything indicating what these developments mean they scan as from an entirely separate story context.
There's all of one interesting narrative beat in Versailles of the Dead. There's a priest who is one of the first people to claim Antoinette's twin brother Albert who has assumed the Queenship in her place (yes, this is really the plot) is possessed by a demon. However, he is shown to be somewhat sympathetic to a peasant couple who just wants to bring their child back to life through zombification. There's some potential commentary on the church here; what does it say, after all, that one of the classical condemners of necromancy appears to be linked to it? If Versailles of the Dead had been this, I could see it being a series with potential. Or if it leaned hard into the fundamental absurdity of its premise. But it does neither. It wants to reader to take it seriously as a horror mystery, but doesn't give the reader real thematic or dramatic meat to sustain their interest.
I just don't know what the point of this is. It's totally absent of any historical allegory latent in the premise of ‘zombie disease ravaging the land’ and atop that it's borderline incoherent. I'm sure this partly has to do with reveals to come later but if I don't care about what's happening in the moment, I don't see a reason to continue reading and find answers. It's not even ironically enjoyable, which is the ultimate mark against a story this ridiculous.
This could almost as easily been titled Marie Antoinette: Zombie Hunter. Except, of course, that it's not really about Marie Antoinette, but her fictional twin brother Albert. (She had twelve siblings, but none of them were a twin brother.) The conceit of the series is that France is having a little problem with les morts-vivants (the living dead) that they're trying their darndest not to let other countries know about. That means that the carriage bearing the future Dauphine has no idea what they're in for, and the lone survivor is Albert, who was intended to serve as his sister's body double.
Except…I'm not entirely sure that he did survive. A highly suspicious owl (popularly thought to denote evil in Christianity, although I can't find an actual basis for that theory) is watching the whole thing, and he seems to decide to bring Albert back to life for his own malicious reasons. All of a sudden Albert can talk (he was mute before) and is perfectly happy to play the role of his sister…and his eyes have a disturbing tendency to glow in the dark. I also suspect that he doesn't sleep anymore – when he's “taking a nap” we see him sitting up in bed and after his wedding, he also is show just sitting there, staring creepily into the distance. Even more interesting is the fact that the two servants of Madame du Barry, Louis XV's mistress, appear to have halos around their heads when they try to (re)kill him, implying that there's something decidedly unholy about Albert's continued existence.
In some ways it's not at all surprising that this title comes to us from the creator of After School Charisma. Kumiko Suekane enjoys playing with historical figures, and this series gives her free reign to not only implicate Robespierre in the fabrication of zombies but also to give a young Napoleon a part to play in orchestrating the French Revolution. Given that there's a high-ranking member of the clergy involved in the whole zombie business, I do wonder if Suekane is leading up to a religious critique as well, particularly since the French word “revenant(e)” can be used to refer to someone who has come back (returned, the literal translation) from the dead.
There's enough intrigue here coupled with accurate visuals of Versailles and period costume that I'm decently intrigued. I'm not sure I'd be fully on board with the end result being “zombies caused the French Revolution,” but this is a nice horror take on a familiar subject, giving a whole new meaning to “Vive la France.”
As Marie Antoinette is traveling from Austria to France, her carriage is stopped by a group of zombies, putting her in grave danger. In Versailles of the Dead, an alternative universe historical fiction, Antoinette has a twin brother that's her confidant and body double. Also, he can kill zombies like the best of them.
Sadly, Marie is killed and brother Albert must take over as Marie to keep up appearances and to uphold the agreement of the unification of Austria and France. Now, Albert must pretend to be a woman and to live life as Dauphine Marie Antoinette. On the surface, everything is fine and well, but there's internal turmoil in Versailles and France. Members of the house are wondering if Albert is fit to rule, but more importantly, are suspecting he killed his own sister in jealousy.
The zombies, known as “mortvivants” have a classic zombie design, however, society's view on them has a twist. Though the government sees them as abominations, others see them as a chance to be with their family even after death. Of course, some people think they make great pets too. Hopefully, in the future, the manga will bring forth the moral based issues surrounding the mortvivants, but for now, they're only being used as an accessory for horror.
Overall, Versailles of the Dead has a shallow beginning but with a lot of room for growth. A universe built on a point in time with such rich history is always something exciting to explore, and hopefully, Kumiko Suekane takes it places that are exciting, well thought out, and the right amount of blood that they are capable of producing.
discuss this in the forum (50 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history