Ever see that horrendous movie Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo Dicrapio and Claire Danes? The movie was horrendous not because of the anachronisms, but because it failed to truly update the classic tragedy by maintaining Shakespeare's dialogue. (By god, his words are not meant to be screamed in the midst of some crack-pot rock song). Ever see the excellent movie "O" (based on Othello) with Mekhi Phifer and Julia Stiles? By no figment of the imagination is Gankutsuou a true, faithful representation of Alexander Dumas's (père) masterpiece, The Count of Monte Cristo, but fortunately, it is much closer to what "O" achieved than....that other thing. Like "O" Gankutsuou manages to create a story of its own while remaining respectful to the original source material at the same time.
If there's one thing that made Dumas famous it's his romantic melodrama. Yes, he unapologetically lays it on thick and his readers (myself included) would delight in his every word. I've always said that melodrama may look good on paper but doesn't transfer well on screen. Fortunately, Gankutsuou realizes this, and as a thankful result, it is no where near as melodramatic as its literary counterpart. There are some genuinely touching scenes here....mostly because they were done with just the right subtle touch.
It's a double-edged sword, however, that the anime begins smack dab in the middle of the novel. On one hand, the best part is when Edmond Dantes becomes the count and enacts his revenge. It's a good thing to start here and not potentially bore the audience with exposition. On the other, it aint Monte Cristo without the escape from Château d'If. Furthermore, viewers unfamiliar with the novel are definitely at a disadvantage and will be confused until more than halfway through. They won't know who's who, what's what, and why. And the pacing doesn't help much. The first few episodes are quite uninteresting, but after that point, the story moves at a rapid pace. Events that were spread for three hundred pages take two episodes here. More importantly, however, it may be significant to illustrate the difference and change between bright-eyed youth Edmond Dantes and the cold-hearted Count. Gankutsuou could have had its cake and ate it with the clever use of a flashback or two.....earlier than they actually occur. Last but certainly least (this could be nitpicking), the hokey sci-fi (and trust me, it's hokey) is more of an excuse for hammy visuals rather than an important part in the plot. Despite all this, though, Gankutsuou does an admirable job in capturing the essence of the novel in a short time period. ....And how about that ending, eh?
Gankutsuou has a very innovative animation style; I was initially turned off by it, but I quickly changed my mind. Because of the gorgeous style, something as simple as waving a hand is a sight for sore eyes. Gankutsuou has some of the best looking sequences I've ever seen in an anime, one being the first appearance of the count and Haydee's jaw-dropping moment of glory in an early episode. Unfortunately, there are a few out-of-place CG sequences. The character designs are noticeably bland, especially compared to the detailed settings. The Count, although he looks the best, irks me. He looks as if he just stepped out of Vampire Hunter D (imagine my horror when Albert and company were discussing vampires near the beginning). He has blue skin. He has one red eye and one green one. He has elfish ears. And FANGS. Oh, the video for the OP is also very pleasing. Too bad I can't say the same about the song that accompanies it.....
Both the opening and ending themes are sung in English. The OP is terrible. The singer's voice is like nails on a chalkboard, especially when he sings the lines "And I want to see once more/I will pray that you would love me and trust me." The ending theme is obviously meant to be catchy and bad-ass, but it's just a bunch of noise. It did grow a bit on me, though. Voice acting gets the job done, but the Count is the star here. He's a very distinctive and spot-on voice.
The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most immortalized characters on paper. The other characters, however, are either despicable....or not. There are no shades of gray. But this certainly doesn't matter because the others are insignificant and the Count is the one pulling the strings. The delight of the novel is that few readers would remember Danglars or Villiard; they're much more likely to remember what happens to them. Gankutsuou forgets this important point. One could argue that the series should be commended by attempting to add depth to these insignificant characters. However, I say no way. You see, most of these characters are very much like they were in the novel. With few exceptions (more on that later), no depth is added to them; hence, because these characters have more screen time it only becomes much more obvious why I didn't care about them in the first place. It is a dire mistake, then, to play the Count down in favor of Albert, a boring narrator-like character. It is a grave error to water down the most charming aspect- the Count's motivations- in favor of monotonous side-stories. In both novel and anime, the Count is easily the best character. In both novel and anime, the others are elementary. However, in the novel these elementary characters were in the shadows. In Gankutsuou, they should have stayed there.
....But every rule has an exception. By himself, Albert is bland, boring, and unmemorable (at least until a certain point). He's also naïve to the point of stupidity. Halfway through the series, however, Albert becomes a good character on his own. And this is where the series creates its own story; in the novel, I never sympathized with anyone other than the Count. I wasn't supposed to and I was rooting for him all the way. Here though, my sympathies went....elsewhere. If this happens, it aint Monte Cristo. But I'm not faulting it one bit. Dumas's works are meant to be entertaining, not thought provoking. When the novel focuses mainly on the pleasure of hoodwinking enemies, Gankutsuou is about the result of revenge or betrayal- what a man may become if he cannot let go of the past and what it takes to truly understand such a man. In this respect, Gankutsuou is much more profound than the novel ever was.
Whether or not you get the most enjoyment out of Gankutsuou depends on whether or not you've read the novel. Although they may be lost for a time, my highest recommendation goes to those that haven't (or just saw some half-ass movie). Without any preconceptions, one would undoubtedly really enjoy this. Ignorance is bliss, so to speak. Those that have read it, however, should proceed with caution. Let's be honest here: Depending on your lens, the changes made will either interest or outrage you. There are a few things that it does better than the original source and there are some things that should have been left alone. Despite this, though, Gankutsuou could be enjoyed anyway, even with certain prejudices. And that, coming from me, is saying something.
Albert de Morcerf had it all: wealth, loving parents, great friends. The only thing lacking in his life was excitement... until that fateful day on Luna. After a chance encounter with bandits and a daring rescue, Albert invites his newfound friend and savior, the Count of Monte Cristo, to his home in Paris. Little does he know what fate has in store for him and his loved ones. Just who is the mysterious Count, and what does he want? As tragedy touches the lives of those around him, can Albert’s only recourse be to wait and hope?
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