Miscellanea and Ephemeron
11/13/2005 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo"
Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Chapter One
Review by Kelly S. Taylor
Gankutsuou is without a doubt the most stunning anime I have ever seen in my entire life. The visuals grab you by the eyeballs and swing you around like it's a three-year-old with a rag doll for the entire duration of this DVD. After seeing the trailer for Gankutsuou, I cynically thought, "Well, that's impressive, but I wonder what it will really look like?" Imagine my surprise to find that the episodes actually look like the trailer. It was quite a shock to a jaded critic like me, let me assure you.
Gankutsuou has an art film look to it, due primarily to the unique method the art director chose for presenting textures. Hair and clothing move over texture that remains stationary...Yeah, I'm afraid that's the best I can do to explain it. This technique gives the film a rich, but oddly off-kilter look. The creators throw in a lot of unexpected elements to almost every scene to keep the viewer off-balance and engaged. The first episode opens at carnival. The colors are dazzling. The amount of movement and detail stuns you. "Something," you realize, though, as you see the Earth hanging in the sky of a city on Luna, "is wrong here."
Oh, yeah, I forgot to say. This adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo is set in the future. Since I'm a die-hard Dumas fan, you might expect that to bother me. It didn't. The time transposition merely demonstrated the resilience of the source material. Monte Cristo, even when set in a time when gentlemen duel with mecha instead of swords, remains the same engrossing story of action, social commentary, intrigue, and bittersweet romance.
With all the swirling colors and textures, the future painted by the writers and artists of Gankutsuou is a unique, gold and brass vision. The hints of extreme decadence save it from becoming cyber-quaint. It's French Rococo Steampunk, if you can imagine that.
The most shockingly creative liberty taken is the portrayal of the Count himself. In the synchronicity of cultural cross-fertilization, Edmund Dantes, in the guise of the Count of Monte Cristo becomes in this version a blending of Lord Byron, Count Dracula, and Captain Harlock. Unlike the book, Gankutsuou is told from the point of view of Mercedes' son, Albert. Therefore we are introduced to Dante near to the apotheosis of his role as the Count. We meet him fully formed as a creature of vengeance without first witnessing the events that caused his transformation.
Gankutsuou literalizes Dantes' metamorphosis into a monomaniacal monster. The appearance of Gankutsuou's Count is clearly non-human. He is given the characteristics of a vampire. Although this interpretation was surprising at first, I think it's very fitting. Remember that in traditional Japanese folklore, vampires (or "hungry ghosts") are frequently creatures who crave vengeance for wrongs done to them at the time of their death. Edmund Dantes, as he existed as the honest, young, carefree sailor, "died" in the Chateau D'If. The Count of Monte Cristo is the not-quite-human guise he assumes to exact vengeance on those who caused his happy existence to end.
Gankutsuou's Count, even with the pointed teeth, is still charming and mesmerizing. When he's in the scene, it's hard to look at anything or anyone else. In a way that other more literal adaptations sometimes miss, Gankutsuou's Count also carries an air of menace that envelops him like his richly textured cloak. You can understand why the other characters are simultaneously attracted to and repelled by him. He is as fascinating and deadly as a cobra.
Albert, who serves as our narrator in Gankutsuou, is a rather annoying character in Dumas' original. I was surprised at his successful transition to anime. In the book, we meet him well into the second half of the story. Although you are supposed to care for him as Dantes does, Albert is so clueless it's hard to see him as anything but a roadblock to the forward motion of the Count's revenge. When you begin the story from Albert's point of view, however, his ignorance is far less troublesome. Instead of looking at the young man through the eyes of an impatient reader who must wait for Albert to figure out what you already know, the viewer becomes a peer who uncovers the mysteries of the Count and his mother's past along with the young nobleman.
Beyond this, Albert is simply a character built for anime. Over a century before mankind ever dreamed of putting big-eyed boys with spikey hair into flying robots, Alexander Dumas seems to have built the perfect anime lead character. Physically attractive, stalwart, but na´ve and impulsive, Albert could change places with any of the dozens of angsty-cute heroes behind the controls of any random super-transforming mecha of destiny in the Robo-Gundam-tech clone series of your choice.
The only characterization I was disappointed in was Mercedes. Instead of being the conflicted mature woman of Dumas' book, she is barely distinguishable from the dozens of other richly painted but dimensionless beauties who populate Gankutsuou. I hope that in subsequent chapters, she is allowed to gain a little more dimensionality.
As if there was any doubt at this point, I give Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo my highest recommendation. It is the most creative and inventive anime I've seen in years. Gankutsuou is that rarest and most delightful of things, an animated film that combines both graphic brilliance and narrative excellence. Anime fan or not, Dumas fan or not, you owe it to yourself to see this one!
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