Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo 2004
It must be daunting to take on such a classic – often adapted and widely revered, the Alexander Dumas novel is perhaps the ultimate story of betrayal and revenge.
(How’s that for a quick introduction for a change?)
So, if you’re familiar with the specifics of the novel then you’re up to speed with the plot in the anime… for the most part.
There’s a few significant changes overall – for one, Gonzo set this version well into the future with space travel and war-suits, though aesthetically it remains very lavishly European in terms of costuming and character. Teens take centre stage here too, which is perfect in terms of keeping the viewer one step ahead of the main character but still one step behind the antagonist/hero. Elsewhere there are hints of vampirism and alien or demonic forces at play, but with or without any of those things The Count of Monte Cristo is still a gripping drama that will feel a lot like the original story.
Most people discuss the visuals of this series and it’s clear why – they are astounding as well as, at times, utterly exhausting. It’s such a forceful and impressive blend of Gustav Klimt, typical anime aesthetics and Ukiyo-e that you’ll be both dazzled and confused at times, I reckon. For me, I couldn’t look away but the first few episodes were truly difficult adjustment periods. (Here, I tried not to share too much but also failed to capture what it’s really like – especially when all those clothing patterns move :D).
Beyond the art there’s a lot of angst and bitterness, but also perhaps a lot of nobility. At times it’s easy to get frustrated with young Albert’s naivety but he’s not the only character with something at stake here, so you’ll get to know other folks. For instance, I think most people would accept that Franz is just as important as Albert and the Count, along with the romances. In a way, it’s a large cast and you do get a bit of time with everyone.
While it’s mostly a story about the way Albert is manipulated into a role within the Count’s long revenge, the other plots are woven through the story neatly and toward the end, in impactful ways. [Spoiler here] In fact, for me the duel between ‘Albert’ and the Count is actually the high point in terms of drama, probably because you’re meant to be well-aware of what’s really happening. After that, the ending didn’t quite pack the same punch – and related, I would have loved something different or possibly more visceral for some of the revenges Edmund took.
I know there’s some discussion out there re: the ending of the anime vs the novel and each viewer will have their preferred approach but I wasn’t aghast by it or anything. Throughout, Gankutsuou will push you toward sympathising with the antagonist – and again, I’m reserving the word ‘villain’ for other characters here in some ways, but it takes a while before you’re given much of the Count’s back-story for context around his actions. From a storytelling point of view I think that makes a lot of sense, considering how well-known the source material is.
I know earlier I mentioned a large cast and I’ve touched upon a few of the bad seeds but there are bright moments (such and the purity of Valentine and Maximilien) but switching back to a more morally grey character, there’s one of my favs: Peppo who has an important role even if the screen time might not suggest it, precisely.
In terms of audience, note that themes of revenge, betrayal, incest and abuse are front and centre, and so despite the pretty exterior the series does a great job of revealing the depths of human villainy and weakness. In fact, when the visuals lean into the gaudiness I think it becomes at least partially a comment on the excesses of the nobility; that glittering veneer of honour that is so easily tarnished.