Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

In 1844 Alexandre Dumas published a novel known as Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. 170 years later I watch an adaptation of this epic and sweeping tale told in the anime form that I enjoy so much. However, I truly did not expect to watch this entire anime in less than four days. I didn't expect it to be all that good. I knew virtually nothing of the epic novel that has inspired so many people and I opted not to read the abridged version in school when it was on the required reading list because I had my own books I wanted to read.
So what made me watch this anime? Well, I have a very long queue and sometimes stuff gets put in that queue simply to change things up a bit. This anime was one of those odd left turns that I came across and I finally got around to it.

I went into this anime as blind as a bat. I knew it would be some sort of revenge tale, but that was it. I knew the name Edmond Dantes and the name Count of Monte Cristo, but I had no idea who they were in relation to each other. I probably knew less about this story than I should have. It makes me a little uncomfortable admitting so. 

I have since started reading this novel on my Kindle, though. I really want to read it now. The real mccoy and not that abridged bullshit.  This epic tome doesn't seem so intimidating when it's on Kindle, that's for sure. But enough about that. I will talk about the novel eventually. This time let's talk anime. 

Leave whatever you might know about this book at the side for the moment. This may sound like hypocrisy considering that I single out films all the time for not being like the books at all, but in this case I can present a fairly valid reason for why I state that you should just put it aside for a moment. 

You will not find a true adaptation here, but you will find an excellent adaptation all the same. This anime is set in the 51st century and there's space travel and mecha fights and demons and all sorts of stuff that might make Alexandre Dumas scratch his head a bit if he were alive today to see it. Actually, this anime came out in 2004 so he wouldn't literally need to be alive today to see it. 

The animation is also as jarring as it is stunning. I've never seen anything quite like it, really. I've seen artsy anime before, but this one takes the cake. I think most people might find it a bit off-putting, but others will find it absolutely gorgeous. I thought the animation could have been a bit more conservative in the beginning, but after a while it grew on me. A lot. Although I still think the mechas and the space ships could have been done a bit better. 

So what makes this anime so insanely good in my eyes? Well, the story, of course. Regardless of mecha fights or futuristic settings or animation style, Gankutsuou succeeds in telling The Count of Monte Cristo in a way that really got to me. All of the characters seemed strikingly real for the most part. Even the more minor ones like Andrea Cavalcanti and Bertuccio. 

While I am sure the book has more characters, I think it is safe to say that the anime has plenty of its own. With their names being French and their voices Japanese it is tough to recall exactly everyone's name and title, but I remember most of them. The anime, while going about its own way, made me hate the characters Dumas wanted me to hate and made me like the characters that Dumas wanted me to like. With a few exceptions, I think. 

In this telling Viscount Albert de Morcerf is the main character and the primary protagonist. Through some user commentary I unfortunately discovered this means that the tale begins at least a hundred pages into the book, but as I said you want to keep the book on the backburner. Conversely, the Count of Monte Cristo seems to be this story's version of Count Dracula. He's the bad guy. Although certainly a sympathetic bad guy and by far the best of the bad guys in this anime. 

When Villefort's family was falling into ruin I couldn't help but be a little bit glad. The Danglars getting their due was also dreadfully entertaining to a degree because Baron Jullian Danglars was probably the biggest repulsive piece of shit in this anime. It wasn't until  Albert, Baron Franz d'Epinay, and Eugenie de Danglars seemed caught in this web of deception that my support for the Count and his actions was questioned. Although, in true ironic fashion, that seemed to be the case from the moment Albert first met the Count and I just didn't know it at the time. 

I don't want to spoil this particular's anime's take on the story any further, but at one point you will intensely hate the Count of Monte Cristo with all of your being. Then you'll find your loyalties in question as you watch the final confrontation take place. Who is right? Who is wrong? Well, it's a gray area. I don't know about the novel because I'm not that far into it, but this anime conveys the toll revenge takes on both the betrayer and the betrayed as being a very harsh one. It's downright depressing and bleak and things only get bleaker as you continue toward the ending. In a way I was reminded of The Great Gatsby. Since Gankutsuou is more or less a story about doomed love and false power as much as it is about vengeance I thought of Jay Gatsby at certain times while watching this. Of course, I thought of Count Dracula as well. Probably more so Dracula because of this anime's penchant for doom and gloom. The way the Count dressed reminded me of that, too. Not too long after I started this anime I thought, "This won't end well for anybody," and I was as right as rain. 

This anime's tale really is riveting. Obviously, there are quite a bit of differences between the novel and this anime. For one, Edmond Dantes gets sent to prison for 25 years and discovers a demon that is willing to grant him revenge in return for his health and body. This demon is known as Gankutsuou and it is because of this demon that Edmond returns to Paris as the Count of Monte Cristo and with all of the wealth and power that Danglars would kill for. Of course, one might wonder why he calls himself the Count of Monte Cristo since Monte Cristo isn't mentioned at all in this anime, but that's one of those small things that won't really matter much in the end. 

The futuristic setting and the mecha fights at first seem odd and in direct contrast to the very much out of date behaviors of the main characters, but that somehow makes this anime really work. Only people in the future or in the past can seem to get away with acting in old fashioned ways in media. If anybody of today's time does it is odd, but when we have visions of the future don't we generally think of some sci-fi utopia where people act in a chivalrous and honest manner befitting that of aristocracy? Even the dishonest characters, of which there seem to be nothing but dishonest characters at times, seem somehow refined. It's all a charade, but it works quite well until you really get to know them. 

The ways of the old and the ways of the future are united and it works because of the characters. You could argue the purpose for all of these changes, but because the characters make this an excellent story you really won't mind much. The interpretation this story tells is good. And this anime doesn't feel stretched out or compressed at all. At 24 episodes not a single episode was wasted. 

I feel like I know the characters by heart and when I began to read the novel I wasn't missing a beat. One takes place in the 51st century while the other takes place in the 1800's, but I recognize everyone quite well. Whatever other changes were made I am looking forward to discovering them myself. This anime made me want to pick up this big behemoth of a book. 

I can't think of much higher praise. If you can give this anime a shot. You'll be surprised how well a classical French novel from the 1800's translates into a futuristic supernatural anime even if a lot of changes were made to the story itself in terms of subplots and whatnot. I think the ending was changed, too. However, I do think Dumas would appreciate this vision. That's just an inkling I have, though. 

The changes just make reading the novel even more fun if you are like me and never have done so before. 

A++ is my grade for this anime. Way to get me to read classical literature, Gankutsuou. Way to go. 

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