Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo Anime Review

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Geneon (Pioneer)
Complete Collection - 6 discs
600 mins. - 24 episodes
$29.98 (2009) S.A.V.E.
$69.98 (2009)
$149.98 (2007)
ISBN 704400011306
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Mahiro Maeda
Studio - Gonzo

Synopsis: It is the year 5053 and humanity has settled the stars.  In the region called Eastern Space where many alien races live there has been a war raging for many years.  Paris is the center of the universe with an incredibly rich aristocracy ruling the vast expanse of colonized space.  We accompany two young aristocrats, Viscount Albert (pronounced Al-bear) de Morcerf and Baron Franz d'Epinay, on a trip to Luna (Earth's moon) during a grand festival (very much like Carnival in Rio de Janeiro).  Both young men are approximately fifteen years of age and engaged to wealthy young ladies in upcoming arranged marriages.  The two visit Luna to 'sow their wild oats' and gain exciting experiences.  While on Luna they meet an enigmatic nobleman from Eastern Space called the Count of Monte Cristo.
Albert and Franz living it up on Luna
Albert is particularly drawn to the Count's charismatic sophistication and participates in a particularly grave wager during a public execution at the festival.  Franz immediately sees the Count's dangerous mystique luring in his best friend and warns Albert to be wary.  It's too late as Albert ends up alone in the late evening of the festival and falls in with a lovely, but counterfeit young beauty.  He is kidnapped and ransomed.  The Count manages to rescue Albert from the kidnappers and this is the first time we hear the term Gankutsuou.  Albert is tremendously grateful and promises the Count he will be welcome in Paris anytime he visits.
The Count of Monte Cristo's intriguing visage
The two youths return to their opulent lifestyles in Paris, but Albert is unsatisfied with his life.  He feels forced into the arranged marriage to his childhood friend, Eugenie Danglars, who shared a privileged upbringing with him and Franz.  Her father is the most powerful banker in Paris.  The three were best friends, but their relationship strains as Albert seems to have changed after his exposure to the Count.  Albert longs for excitement and passionate love which seems out of reach under the stern gaze of his parents.  His father is the most powerful general in Paris and aspires to gain the presidency in the upcoming election.  Franz is completely indifferent to his arranged marriage and fiancee, Valentine de Villefort, the daughter of the most powerful magistrate in Paris.
The Count becomes Albert's mentor and confidante
Arriving in Paris, the Count quickly ingrains himself with the leading aristocratic families through Albert.  Each of the families harbor deep, dark secrets.  Albert's mother was in love with a man named Edmond Dantes who died in prison before marrying Albert's father.  Eugenie's mother beds young men while her husband ignores her in favor of amassing an even greater fortune.  Valentine's father remarried a gold-digging woman who is fiercely jealous of Valentine's inheritance status.  The young group of friends are pawns in their parents' machinations for wealth and power.  Albert becomes more starstruck towards the Count and blind to the true motives which slowly manifest themselves.
The Count visits Albert in Paris and is introduced to his friends
The Count has returned to Paris for one thing - revenge!  He wields an incalculable amount of wealth and a supernatural power called Gankutsuou.  The Morcerfs, Villeforts, and Danglars are the target of the Count's plotting and Albert is the catspaw to his plan.  Hidden secrets are dredged up from their graves and lives are ruined under the Count's relentless vendetta.  Both parents and children are ground upon the stern resolve of the unliving personage calling itself the Count of Monte Cristo.  What is the unnatural force called Gankutsuou?  Can Franz uncover the secret of the Count in time to save his best friend?  All of their lives will be torn asunder as the Count reaps his revenge!
Character relationship map - thanks to Gonzo and the translators!
Pros: Visually striking animation style (unique use of complex, bright patterns), CGI (computer generated image) elements were good (particularly the mecha battle suits), surprisingly decent dub, excellent adaptation of the classic story by Alexandre Dumas, addition of Gankutsuou to the story makes this adaption quite unique, won Best TV Series award at the Animation Kobe Fair in 2005, awesome ending animation and theme song (heavy metal)
The three old friends who are the subject of the Count's revenge!
Danglars the banker, Villefort the judge, and Morcerf the general
Cons: Opening theme song (although it grew on me by the end), you will love or hate the animation style, deviates from the original story by using the perspective of Albert to tell the story (in case you're expecting it to follow the book exactly, it doesn't in a lot of ways), original series was 6-discs long and the newer collection consolidates down to 4-discs - some image quality is sacrificed for lower price, ending could have been more brutal in regards to the comeuppances of despicable characters, Albert was annoyingly naive (on purpose however - and it worked!)
A duel fought with giant mecha battle suits
Mike Tells It Straight: Gankutsuou is a visually unique and striking adaptation of the classic novel Le Comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  First and foremost, the animation style is quite prominent as complex, brightly colored patterns are used instead of traditional filler/shading to the characters/backgrounds. I have not seen another anime use this style anywhere near as heavily and it immediately drew my attention.  While I enjoyed the style tremendously, it can be distracting and easily a make-or-break issue among viewers.  Gonzo did a wonderful job building the futuristic backgrounds and rendering the CGI elements.
The three childhood friends - clockwise from top
Eugenie, Franz, and Albert
The story itself is an adaptation and not completely faithful to the original.  Those expecting an exact replica of events from the original work will be sorely disappointed, but we must accept anime is a far different medium of expression (plus the book is from 1844).  I could tell the writers/director were very deferential to the original story walking the fine line of respectfully portraying the story and adding their own unique touches.  Their finished product was impressive.
Haydee the Count's servant, the Count of Monte Cristo, Mercedes
and General Morcerf, Baron Danglars, Crown
Prosecutor Villefort, Franz and Albert
I found myself drawn into the story and eagerly awaiting the next episode.  The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic story and known by almost all Western readers, but the writers managed to infuse some mystery by adding the supernatural element of the Gankutsuou aspect of the Count.  The biggest difference from the original is telling the story from Albert's perspective.  He's the naive kid the Count uses to get close to his enemies and begin destroying their lives.  It's a tale of betrayal where the Count becomes as evil as those he seeks revenge against and the message is soundly delivered.
Gankutsuou manifests in the Count's body
The Count of Monte Cristo is easily one of the most dramatic classical Western stories.  I felt the anime adaptation was suitably noteworthy and loved the mature tone (without a heavy dose of over-the-top violence or nudity/fan-service).  It's an anime meant for adults and left a lasting impression.  The ending theme song was perfect (the opening theme far less so).   Although the ending was toned down considerably and I would have preferred much crueler fates for the guilty, it was still a dramatic conclusion.  I'll give this show a high recommendation (if you can get past the visuals) and my greatest possible compliment - I'm keeping it in my collection.  Check it out (and read the original story)!

TO BUY and Recommendations: