Darkness or light, salvation or sorrow?
Only you can control fate.
To me, the mark of a successful anime is when it evokes strong emotions. Namely, if I laugh or cry, I know it’s a keeper. Yet even before I all but sobbed at the close of the third disc, I knew that this one was a worthwhile anime. As I began my journey to becoming an avid anime otaku this December, I discovered an Amazon sale on several titles. Hence I bought Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo because the art looked interesting, it got mostly good reviews*, and it was a steal of a deal at $13 for the complete series. (Looking back I wish that I had purchased a few other animes at the time, but that’s neither here nor there.) In truth I had meant to give it as a present to my older sister, and I did, but then I borrowed it, and now I love it too much to return. Oh well, I’m a count, not a priest.
This anime is a futuristic take on the Alexandre Dumas tale of revenge. In short: an innocent sailor is accused of wrongdoing and imprisoned for many years, until one day he escapes and seeks vengeance on those who betrayed him. While it sounds like a tale as old as time, this story is one of the original epics of how to be a badass. No matter how much we try to turn the other cheek, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy seeing jerks get their comeuppance. This version provides that same satisfaction, and it’s quite unique in its setting of Paris circa 5053. But this is no robotic, unrecognizable future. This anime manages to blend the logical with fascinating and dream-like elements of the sort that Walt Disney might have envisioned for Tomorrowland had he taken a plethora of acid each night before bed. An example would be the Count’s Parisian residence, number 30 Avenue des Champs-Élysées: above ground it resembles a regular city block, but several stories deep it opens up into a golden cavern with a solar system and ocean all of its own, complete with ships, sharks, and a tentacled alien butler.
The animators did a remarkable job of making this anime feel French. The colours of each episode are reminiscent of the stained glass windows of Notre Dame, and many backgrounds have an art deco look to them. Character-wise, several faces reminded me of French-style animation in films such as The Triplets of Belleville, which to me seems very 70s and angular. However, the Count himself always brings to mind Danshaku (or Baron de Ghost) from The Fantastic Adventures of Unico; that is to say, attractive and creepy at the same time:
Amazing animation aside, the story is gripping and much truer to the original novel than the most recent Hollywood adaptation available. It is not a happy tale, but it is an engrossing one. During the first episode there’s a bit of adjustment needed as the viewer tries to understand the futuristic settings and the characters involved, but shortly thereafter you settle in and can’t wait to see what happens next, even if you think you know this story well. There are a few plot twists that are fairly predictable, but that didn’t make them any less emotional to watch.
The only weak part of this otherwise flawless anime is on the soundtrack. Not the soundtrack as a whole, which is part classical and part intense action music, but just one song in particular: the opening theme song, “We Were Lovers,” by Jean-Jacques Burnel, is ear-splittingly awful. And not even the song as a whole, just the singer, who warbles in a sad, cheesy way and just can’t seem to hit those high notes. How an otherwise magnificent anime got released with that albatross of a song dragging it through the mud is beyond me, but please don’t judge this book by its cover. Even the rest of the soundtrack works well, including the end credit music by the same artist as the opening. One piece of music in particular, “Kaishou” by Kasamatsu Kouji, puts a lump in my throat whenever I hear it because of its ties to the most emotional moments in the show; it is crisp, clear, lovely and yet foreboding.
Overall, in my opinion you can’t go wrong with Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. It has action, drama, romance, fantasy, vengeance, and more sci-fi thrills than you can shake an android’s arm at. Unless you’re in the market for an out-and-out comedy, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for in this wonderful anime. So in the words of Albert: bide your time, and hold out hope.
*This might not be the case every time, so please don’t take this as gospel, but I’ve had pretty good luck with finding animes that I enjoy if not only the subject matter sounds interesting, but also if at least one person writes a review stating that said anime is their favourite anime of all time.
Rating: ★★★★★ The incredible artwork alone breathes new life into this classic tale. Fans of the novel as well as those unfamiliar with the Count will find something intriguing in this excellent anime adaptation.