Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Rated: 16+ :: Released: 05 October 2004
Director: Mahiro Maeda :: Starring: Jun Fukuyama, Joji Nakata, Kevin Hatcher, Russel Wait and Taylor Henry
By Hannah Krueger
05 February 2009 — Gankutsuou was the first anime I fell head over heels for, and will probably always be my first anime love. It was pretty much the first series that I saw that was not on Cartoon Network or available at my local Blockbuster.
I have Newtype magazine to thank for starting me into anime fandom in any real capacity; the sampler DVDs introduced me to a lot of series that I probably never would have heard of otherwise. The first episode of Gankutsuou came with the second Newtype I ever bought, and since both Newtype and another anime magazine I was reading at the time were really pimping it, I put the DVD on.
Gankutsuou is based on Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. For those of you who haven't read the book, the plot of Gankutsuou centers around young Viscount Albert d'Morcerf, who is bored with his life and sets off on a journey with his friend, Franz. On his travels, he meets an immensely wealthy nobleman (the Count of Monte Cristo) and becomes fascinated with everything about him, inviting him to come back to Paris and be introduced into high society. But little does he know that the Count may have his own motivations for coming to Paris.
Director Mahiro Maeda slightly altered whose perspective we see the story from, but the original plot is followed pretty closely. The most notable change is the time period; Gankutsuou still takes place in Paris, but about three thousand years in the future. Despite that, the story is still there. Also, characters that are barely mentioned in the book get more attention here. As it stands, the series is pretty solid, in doing what it does in the length it's given. I would have personally loved to see a bit more of the background of the older generation explained, but that's more personal preference than anything else. However, around episode 18 there is a major divergence from the original plot; up to this point, if you've read the book, you'll have a pretty good idea of what's happening. If you're a Dumas purist, though, stay away from this series.
After the opening, a nice little pencil-animated number, my eyes were assaulted by color. Maeda uses a unique 2D technique; it looks like the characters' clothes are moving, but not the characters themselves. It may give you a headache, but your eyes adjust by the fourth or fifth episode. This technique comes in handy especially when the trippier sequences come into play. Now, add in the studio's CG fetish, manifested here in the backgrounds, and you can get a style that's very polarizing.
And then we meet the Count.
The Count is probably one of my favorite characters ever. The elaborateness of the revenge that he takes requires layers on layers of plotting, and exactly what he is doing only becomes obvious as the show goes on. The sheer intelligence required in planning all of this out — not to mention the patience and manipulation involved in seeing it through to the bitter end — pretty much cemented him as my favorite character in the series.
This role was what turned me on to Joji Nakata as a seiyuu (voice actor); his deep, seductive and mysterious voice fits the blue-skinned Count of Monte Cristo to a tee. I've found his English voices aren't quite as good as Nakata, but they still carry the character pretty well.
Besides the count, the Japanese voice that stands out the most is Kikuko Inoue' Mercedes; together, they capture their dynamic perfectly, which is a major part of the series. On the English end of things, the actors do their jobs pretty well and the voices aren't ill-fitting or overly high-pitched. I have a few small issues with the English script — mostly mistranslations as regards a major plot point, and the fact that they dubbed over the French recap — but otherwise, it's a solid dub.
The music is pretty good, too. The background instrumentals are either classical music or original compositions by Kasamatsu Kouji and Jean-Jacques Burrel of the band The Stranglers. The latter also does the opening and ending songs, both of which are excellent pieces of music; the opening is a more sentimental number accompanied by piano and strings, while the ending is a raging rock tune with a full band and strings.
Both the classical music and original compositions have a tendency to become associated with certain moods and events, though some compositions are used in conjunction with one of the character's musicianship. For example, there is one specific piece that, by the third episode or so, will become associated with death and imminent doom. For the most part, though, enough pieces are used that it doesn't become grating.
A last small warning: there are hints of guys admiring / crushing on guys, an instance of a guy kissing another guy and fairly frequent instances of guys dressing up like girls. It's not out-and-out yaoi, but it's an undercurrent. And if you don't even like hints of that sort of thing, you might want to avoid it.
Regardless, this anime is one of the best. You will be sucked in the moment you start watching it, and it will not let you go.