Gankutsuou is a fairly simple revenge story that’s executed extremely well. As you could gather from its subtitle, it is based on the Count of Monte Cristo, the classic literary piece. A young man called Edmond Dantes loses his freedom, his love and almost his life because of the greed, jealousy and pride of three men. Then, after many years, he returns, posing as the Count of Monte Cristo who seems to be a rich noble who appears out of nowhere and sends shockwaves through Paris with his riches. This anime series then goes on to tell the tale of a wrongfully accused man’s intricate plot of exacting revenge through the relatable doings of a fifteen-year-old aristocrat from Paris named Albert. Rather than sexual references, violence and language, Gankutsuou can be called mature on account of its sophistication and mood appropriate visuals.
The show goes to great lengths to establish an atmosphere stunningly reminiscent of 19th century France while integrating just enough technology to remind the viewer that it is set in the future. Pacing is deliberately slow and thorough and really compliments that rather dry-nature of the source material. However, while this may be viewed as a negative with some shows, Gankutsuou turns the story telling element into an art form in and of itself. I won’t lie though, there were a few episode I found myself getting distracted and not engaging. There really hasn’t been a series that has held my attention straight through though so it wasn’t too big of a negative. The story is setup to appeal to fans of the original work and those with no prior exposure alike as it retains all of the key plot points but adds a few new elements and tells it from a totally different perspective.
Gankutsuou isn’t run of the mill anime by any sense of the word. It’s pretty difficult to place the show into a genre in fact. The story is, quite frankly, unlike any other seen in modern anime, which I suppose is to be expected when you remember that this is classic literature in animated form. The setting was quite a shock at first, with the story taking place in the year 5053, where as the novel takes place during the 1800’s. A fan of the original work, it is a bit disappointing personally to note that Edmond’s creativity in escaping his prison was omitted here. Worse still is that while the original can be viewed essentially as a cautionary tale in the dangers of allowing vengeance to overtake one’s life, here the metaphor is perhaps taken a bit too literally. Even if ending is in a sense the biggest change from what is happening in the novel, I think in a sense it stays true to its spirit too. In a book Edmon is restored to his true self by love, and here he remembers his true self because of love too.
This is definitely something to watch if you want to get away from your average anime series. I would call it a drama more than anything, with a tiny bit of action and sci-fi thrown in. The animation is unique and very well done. The plot is full of twists and revelations that are sure to entertain, and there is a large amount of subtle but heady themes that explore marriage and plutonic love. But the climax of the entire series is brutally godawful. It’s sappy, anti-climactic and unnecessarily disappointing. Nonetheless, I fell in love with the series from the very start. The animation is fluid with motion and crammed with a plethora of brilliant textures and colors. What makes the visuals so unique is that the textures are static, meaning they don’t move even when the character boasting them does. It’s one of those traits so unique that you may go as far as to label it distracting early on yet it manages to become subdued as you lose yourself in the plot.
In all, Gankutsuou: the Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most unique properties of all time that boasts a unique art style, and underlining themes that nearly anyone can benefit from in their own lives. This anime series reminded me that modern art is far from dead. The music and sound is good, being mainly classical and ambient. I’ll admit this anime series is an aquired taste but if what you have read so far peaks your interest then I suggest you watch it and at the very least, even if you hate it, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of saying you knew who The Count of Monte Cristo was. If you do like it, I guarantee you will have the burning need to read the book after watching. A great unique series that should be tracked down by any self respecting anime aficionado.