Sins of the Forefathers
The Count of Montecristo is back, and this time he's bringing his dark revenge to anime. Gankutsuou is a cutting edge take on an old classic.
A long time ago, a man named Alexandre Dumas wrote Le Comte de Montecristo, a book in which the young Edmund Dantes is betrayed by those around him and escapes a life of torturous imprisonment to exact complete revenge on his enemies. This book became one of the greatest novels in French literature, with its intrigue, romance, high adventure, and deep themes.
150 years after the Count made his first appearance on the streets of Paris to dish out his own version of divine punishment, GONZO has taken the story and adapted it for anime. Perhaps they were aware that adaptations rarely live up to the standards a book sets, or maybe they simply wanted to write their own story and not constrict themselves to what Dumas penned, but whatever the reason, Gankutuou, although based on the novel, is different from Le Comte de Montecristo in many ways.
The most jarring difference between the two works is the setting. While the novel never steps outside the world of a France of the early 1800s, Gankutsuou is set far into the future. The anime begins as Albert de Morcef and Franz d'Epinay are on a trip to enjoy the wonders of the Lunar carnival. Like in the novel, they meet the mysterious Count, and Albert befriends him after he's rescued from a gang of outlaws. In the book, this happens in Rome. In the anime, the scene is set on the moon. As is expected from a futuristic setting, Gankutsuou is full of space ships, high end technology, holograms, and post-post-modern visuals. The Paris of the anime is nothing short of psychedelic, and the dual scenes involve five story mechs instead of a pair of sturdy pistols.
GONZO has taken advantage of their setting to pull some visual tricks in the anime. Instead of typical cell shading, everything is colored using a series of layers and textures. Imagine a colorful design on a piece of paper, and then imagine a black paper with the cutout of a ball placed on top of the first. By moving the black paper, the ball bounces, and a different part of the design underneath is revealed. This is how the animation works in Gankutsuou. The style may take some getting used to, and the sheer busyness of the anime might turn a few people off, but once you get over it the technique is a lot of fun to watch. Observant viewers will catch glints of famous paintings and portraits of Dumas himself in the folds of characters' clothing.
Le Comte de Montecristo was a story all about The Count and his search for justice. Gankutsuou puts that search in the background and concentrates on young Albert and how he deals with a world crumbling from The Count's actions. A change in protagonist means a shift in plot, and those who have read the novels will still have no idea what will happen in the anime.
Albert de Morcef is a naive, optimistic, somewhat self-centered young man, who admires The Count like a god after his rescue from the lunar bandits. He comes to trust The Count completely, and as those around him doubt the intentions of their new guest, Albert refuses to believe that The Count could have any ulterior motives. His two best friends, Franz and Eugine, become distant. Eugine becomes cold because she and Albert are being forced to marry, and Franz trusts The Count as far as he can throw him. Albert becomes increasingly isolated from his friends, just how The Count wants him.
As the former Dantes begins to spring his trap on the three families that wronged him, Albert learns the truth about himself, his family, and his friends. As a target of The Count's revenge, he looses everything, and that's when he realizes the value of the people he had abandoned.
For an adaptation of a novel that has little to do with the novel itself, Gankutsuou has managed to remain interesting and well written in its own right. The anime was limited to 24 episodes, which seems like the reason that GONZO opted to cut most of the intricacies of the plot out of the anime. The novel, abridged, is large enough to crack someone's head if you drop it on them. If Gankutsuou had remained entirely faithful to its source, it would have had to add 10 episodes at least. As it is, the ending isn't as tied up or satisfying as it could be, but it still manages to end the series gracefully.
Because the anime has so little to do with the book someone who's never heard of Le Comte de Montecristo before will still be able to enjoy Gankutsuou completely, and this anime will hopefully prod people into reading an excellent novel. For those who have read it, it's interesting to see what has changed. Who loves whom shifts, some people die who should have lived, and Beppo, the crossdressing boy who lures Albert into the bandit's trap, gets a lot more screen time.
If you haven't read the novel the anime is based off of, I suggest you do. Not only will you get to enjoy an excellent story, but the next time someone talks about how anime is the domain of the philistine you can smile and say, "not quite."