Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Based on the old story, "The Count of Monte Cristo", this is the tale of Albert, who, in his travels with his friend Franz, encounters the enigmatic count of Monte Cristo. He is pulled into a world of luxury and elegance, but also lies and deceit, as he befriends the mysterious count, who seems to have several agendas of his own.
Gankutsuou, the Count of Monte Cristo is not the first story to be converted into an animated format and given a sci-fi facelift, nor will it be the last. But I'm convinced that it will remain one of the very best for a long time to come. Which is good, because the book is no small thing to have to live up to, being one of the best selling books of all time.
What works in Gankutsuou's favor is that, despite said facelift, the story pretty much stays faithful to the book to an admirable degree, with any changes made to fit it inside the framework of a somewhat more modernized tale kept within reasonable boundaries. And so, it falls to me to try to put to words just how impressive this series is.
Right off the bat, the art style basically slaps you across the face with its unique flair of mixing CG with the oddest kind of "cel animation" I have ever seen. Which is to say, the linework is fairly traditional 2D cel animation (computerized), but the coloring process seems to have been textured in a rather odd fashion, also the work of computers. It's quite a sight to behold, but can become rather disorientating, at least at first. The "worst" part is usually attibuted to clothing textures, where the patterns warp and twist by basically remaining motionless, even as characters move or turn around. The CG work itself might be considered somewhat tacky-looking at times, but it's generally limited to ships and buildings, including the Count's rather spectacularly and impossibly large cellar; an underground world by and in itself. The whole thing just lends itself to the sci-fi aspects of the show, despite the generally aristocratic style of the characters.
I'm also very satisfied with the English dub the show ended up getting. Especially with the most important of characters; the Count, whose deep and comforting tone belies the layers upon layers of horrible vengeance just waiting to be unleashed on his betrayers. The others also do their job well. In fact, the only voice I think felt a little bit out of place was for Luigi Vampa, the leader of the bandits who kidnapped Albert at the beginning of the show (and who make minor appearances later in the show), whose voice actor -- William Frederick Knight -- I've earlier only heard in the role of the elderly mentor, like Dr. Schtalubaugh from El Hazard or the clockmaker in Haibane Renmei. It's a minor complaint, though, so don't pay it much heed.
Now, I know I said that the anime followed the book pretty closely, and it does. There's still some artistic changes that needs to be addressed, though, even if they aren't exactly detrimental to the series in any way. Most of it centers around the count and the entity that helped him escape from the prison -- which is a conscious entity known as Gankutsuou. It's worth mentioning this, because in the original book, his escape was aided by a priest, Abbe Faria, who teaches him everything he needs to know before dying in prison. Unlike Abbe, Gankutsuou seems to be an entirely malevolent entity. The city of Marseille is still the main scene in the series, but within the realm of its sci-fi settings, intergalactic travel is now also an option. It is, in fact, on another planet that Albert meets up with the count in the first place. There is also the involvement of mecha later on, which, thankfully, doesn't detract from the show as much as you might possibly fear.
Due to Gankutsuou's unusual style, some of the characters appearances might come across as somewhat alien. Even the Count looks more like some kind of futuristic vampire, which the show is quite aware of. As is Haydee, the alien princess serving as the Albanian monarc replacement from the books. The anime also sees itself fit to burden the Count with an unnamed space disease of sorts. This was never an issue within the books, and may or may not have something to do with the Count being quite a lot more vengeful in the anime compared to said books. The anime also tells the story more from the view of Albert rather than the Count himself, although the sole focus of the show is the Count's actions, so that's not really as much a change as the aforementioned acts of vengeance. There is, however, a few changes done towards the end of the show compared to the end of the book. From what I understand, most of the characters do meet the same fate regardless of which version you chose to take in, which is why I can stand behind this being a very accurate retelling of the classic book.
Simply speaking, Gankutsuou, the Count of Monte Cristo is a show that will take your breath away merely by its sheer force of storytelling. It takes the soul of aristocratic France and swiftly brings it into the future without as much as a hitch. It's a tense, terse (when it needs to be) and suspenseful tale that neatly makes the stride from more than 160 years ago, and is easily as impressive today.
Whether the anime will eventually become a classic in the same vein as the book remains to be seen, but it's definitely a worthy candidate for the spot. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The show isn't really all that violent, but it deals with a lot of adult situations and topics unsuitable for the young.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo © 2004 Mahiro Maeda • Gonzo / Media Factory / GDH
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