I have fond memories of Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo from when I read it in middle school, so I started watching Gankutsuou hoping for the best.
The anime delivers an interesting idiosyncrasy by incorporating sci-fi elements like space travel, alien races, and futuristic technologies into the 19th century plot and rococo aesthetic. Additionally, the condensing of nearly 1500 pages of novel down to 26 episodes of animation removed many of the less frenetic portions, allowing the narrative to lope along briskly. This vast improvement in pacing is unfortunately but not unexpectedly accompanied by some small disappointments in which scenes were declared unnecessary. Many interesting portions of the novel were apparently deemed too sluggish to remain, including my favorite part: our protagonist’s incarceration and subsequent escape from the Chateau d’If.
The measures taken to safeguard Gankutsuou from being wretched fall apart at the climax. All that plot cutting dumbed down the story, removing slews of characters (such as Abbé Faria, who was an utter delight, and a valuable component of the Count’s backstory) and leaving plot holes as it went. The creators stuck in the ridiculously paranormal “Gankutsuou” abomination to solve all their problems, namely the lack of an adequate backstory for the titular character, and failed spectacularly. What the hell? Everything about the finale is insufferably stupid and made me rage-pause every couple of minutes. The reinventing of the Count’s duel about two-thirds through the series is equally aggravating, as it introduces baroque mecha who move and look clumsily outmoded in comparison to the rest of the world’s technology.
It was also rubbish at flashbacks, which were rarely taken far enough to provide optimal emotional impact. This is especially unfortunate considering the fact that the show heavily relies on the flashbacks to establish personal histories and motives.
I personally adored the style, though it is extremely distracting. During the first two episodes I repeatedly had to rewind and re-read the subtitles because I was too busy staring at the pattern on various characters’ fancy cravats or the carpeting, so if you’re equally prone to distraction, I’d recommend the dubbed version. I’m not usually a fan of CGI in shows, as it tends to clash hideously with the art style of whatever show it’s inserted into, and sometimes feels like the animators are shirking drawing. In Gankutsuou’s case, however, the polarity between the CGI and sumptuously-patterned everything else echoes the story’s blend of sci-fi and antiquity, so it’s not as unwelcome as usual.
I listened to the opening and ending themes twice before deciding that I wouldn’t bother listening to either again. Both were sung in English and the OP almost put me to sleep before the premiere even started, while the high-octane ED was especially jarring when it directly followed the somber episodes. The intra-episode soundtrack was fitting but indistinct, despite some of the well-known classical tracks sprinkled throughout. The voice acting was similarly unmemorable, excluding Jouji Nakata, who played the Count.
Gankutsuou’s characters were all equally despicable, so if that was the plan- great job! However, I couldn’t help but long for Dumas’s Count, who, underneath the vengeful scheming, was actually sympathetic and merciful. The Gankutsuou persona made the animated equivalent absolutely loathsome and bereft of redeeming qualities. Sure, they were probably going for a trite “the desire for revenge makes you EVIL. Also: dead inside” moral, but blegh. This is the most predictable and cliché moral ever, and certainly nothing thought-provoking.
Albert de Morcerf, the main character/narrator, was largely useless. He had a much smaller role in the novel, but when adapting it into an anime someone must have decided, “Well, we’re making an anime, and we all know what that means- the main character has to be a useless, whiny, teenage boy”. I realize that making series about useless teenage boys is a mainstay in an industry such as anime that’s marketed largely towards teenage boys, but the logic behind this move doesn’t make it any less infuriating. Compounding this is the fact that the Count would have made a perfectly serviceable main character in Albert’s stead. What he lacks in relatability he more than makes up for with general intrigue. Anyway, Albert has all the same characteristics as the rest of the archetypical everyboys that plague the medium- full of hope and love and as dumb as a banana peel.
The alternate character interpretation of Eugenie also disappointed me. Sure, there wasn’t enough time to adequately flesh out most of the cast (and for the most part, they don’t need personalities anyway), but going from “I’m never getting married! Instead I’m going to dress up like a man and run away with this chick!” in the original novel to “I’m never getting married! All right, all right, I’m secretly a big docile softie!” in the anime version, is quite the downgrade.
The horrendous last seven or so episodes brought this series down quite a few notches. If it weren’t such a silly idea, I would recommend you stop watching when you get to the Count’s duel, commit the wonderful first 2/3rds to your memory and pretend the studio tragically ran out of budget before they could animate the remainder.
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?