Monday, May 8, 2006

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Genre: Drama
Parental Guidance Recommended
2004 Mahiro Maeda, original novel by Alexandre Dumas, Gonzo, Animax, TV Asahi

Gankutsuou DVDs
Gankutsuou Art Books & Manga Product Description:
Albert is a young man of privilege in Paris, but the trappings of his aristocratic birth leave him bored and unsatisfied. Seeking adventure, Albert’s restless spirit leads him to a festival on the moon – and to the Count of Monte Cristo.

An enigmatic man of charm and wealth, the Count of Monte Cristo’s charisma and sophistication captivate Albert. The fascinated youth invites the nobleman to mingle within the upper echelons of Parisian society, and the Count is soon courting the favor of France’s most powerful families. Little does Albert know, as his new friend walks the ornate halls of the highest class, the Count of Monte Cristo wants only to bring them crashing down through vengeance.

(24 episodes)

Revenge never looked that good! >>> by lensman

The Count Of Monte Cristo is one of my all time favourite novels. A story of love, betrayal, revenge, death, madness and redemption. I remember reading this when I was a kid and being drawn into the story, learning to care about Edmond Dantes and his quest for revenge on the men and women that he felt wronged him.

It is also a novel that hasn't been adapted well on screen. I have watched most of the big-screen adaptations and none managed to capture the spirit of the original novel. And don't even get me started on the recent movie adaptation.

Once again anime succeeds where Hollywood fails. Gankutsuou, while adding supernatural and sci-fi elements, and not exactly following the plot of the original, especially in the later half of the story, manages to convey the atmosphere of reading an Alexander Dumas novel perfectly.

The show goes to great lengths to achieve that feeling. From adding a somber French narrative at the start of each episode, to the vibrant portrayal of future Paris as it is frequently romanticized in the past, and the bizarre costumes that the characters wear, Gankutsuou manages to draw the viewers inside its universe and make them part of its world.

In adapting the novel, the creators of Gankutsuou took an interesting approach. The story is not being told from the point of view of the count, but from the point of view of Albert, who is the son of one of the Count's targets for revenge. The focus is not on the Count's story but how his revenge schemes affect those around him. This approach allows for the real human drama and madness to unfold and provides some incredible moments.

As far as protagonists go, Albert is about as child-like as they come. He is naive to the point of stupidity. He is stubborn like a child. He frequently has his head in the clouds. He gets frequently carried away by his emotions and he refuses to listen to sound advice that his friends give him. As such, he is the perfect puppet for the Count to manipulate in order to get to the targets of his revenge schemes. And yet, throughout the course of the series, after the disasters that befall his family and friends, he manages to mature, get to pull his stuff together and bring a happy end to the story... As happy as it can be in the present circumstances.

The Count, like the original novel, is the most interesting character. He clearly has a good motive to do what he does, and he lets his plan unfold flawlessly. There is one major difference between the novel and the anime though. While the Count clearly repents for his actions in the novel, he is absolutely remorseless in Gankutsuou. He doesn't feel a bit of guilt for using people that didn't do him any harm to achieve his ends. He doesn't care about the innocents that get hurt. He is ruthless and merciless.

Even though the portrayal of the Count in Gankutsuou is more one-dimensional, it oddly works really well on screen, mainly due to the fact that the people that he exacts revenge upon deserve it. Villefort is a ruthless bastard that likes to sentence people to death for crimes such as petty theft. Danglars is a money-hungry vulture that has no qualms about selling out his own family for money. Fernard seems like a pretty likeable guy, but when the niceties are over and he shows his true colors later in the show, we no longer feel sympathy for him.

Aside from the major change in the count's character, several other liberties were taken when adapting the novel. Some side-stories in the novel are reduced or scrapped altogether, and several characters that are alive by the end of the original novel don't make it to the final episode's credits. I, for one, didn't mind those changes and personally thought that it allowed for some tighter and better storytelling.

Trying to describe the visual aspect of Gankutsuou is really difficult. There is a certain aspect of the animation that will definitely irk some, namely the way the costumes and hair of the characters appear on screen. To put it simply, there is a singular pattern that remains stationary while the character moves, creating a truly weird effect. Yu get used to it, after a while, and it adds a lot to the show's atmosphere.

The 2D artwork of Gankutsuou is truly mind-blowing. Apart from the psychedelic patterns, the character and background designs are gorgeous. Every single cell of animation looks like a well made oil-canvas. The lighting, the expression, everything is made in such a way that you become absorbed into the Count's world. They look impressive enough on the screenshots, but you should really see them move to appreciate the outstanding work and effort that Gonzo put into it. The 3D artwork...

...Well, this is where Gankutsuou is sadly slightly off the mark. It's not actually that bad in itself, but mixing it with the show's awesome 2D visuals feels like mixing oil and water. They don't go well together. This brings the overall visual quality of the show down somewhat, which I think is a shame.

While the visual aspect of Gankutsuou is what will stand out, it's the sound that truly hits home. The music sports a wide variety of styles, from simple classic piano music to elaborate techno, and helps convey the atmosphere perfectly. The ending theme is a hard rock song that describes the Count and it comes up at exactly the perfect moment in every episode. The opening theme is a bit too melodramatic for my taste and is the low point of the show. That is not to to say that it's bad, it's to say that it's not quite as good as the in-series music and the ending theme.

A special mention should go to the voice actors in both the English and the Japanese versions. Jouji Nakata (our beloved Alucard) is perfect as the Count, while Kikouko "Belldandy" Inoue manages to give a truly heart-wrenching performance as Mercedes. The English Cast, especially the count, is doing a great job of keeping up, and the voices really fit the characters well. The fact that you don't have to deal with the "Americanization" of Japanese names (every time I hear a Japanese name in English, I cringe, no matter how good the translation is), due to the names already being in English, certainly helps.

In fact, Gankutsuou, because it's an adaptation of a well known story, because of it's really well made artwork, and because the voice acting and translations are top-notch is the perfect title to use in order to introduce anime to people not just as an entertainment medium for a bunch of hardcore fans, but as an art form.

So buy it today, and show the non-believers how good Japanese Animation can get.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 8; Story 9; Characters 10; Sounds 8

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