Full Series Review 3: Gankutsuo: The Count of Monte Cristo
Spoiler-free Short Version
Gankutsuo is a genius, artistic, beautiful, and captivating anime series. It has a unique visual style involving complicated patterns and bold colors that truly shine. This is something you really have to see for yourself. It is based on the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, but they added sci-fi, mecha, and supernatural elements to the story. They also expanded the plot with new twists and turns. To me, it was a great adaptation in that it kept the heart of the source material alive while creating new things for those in the audience that already knew the old story.
Everything, ultimately, that's possibly problematic with Gankutsuo is also something that contributes to the work's genius. The over-the-top flamboyancy of the artwork, especially as witnessed in the first episode, represents the decadence of the elite class in Paris. It also represents how abundantly happy the life was at the beginning for the main viewpoint character, Albert.
Although, for some people, the slow, dream-like opening song, We Were Lovers, contrasts the dramatic tension found at the end of most episodes, I felt that the song was one of the most beautiful anime opening themes I've ever heard. In addition, the song gives the viewer at the start a few clues about the mysterious Count's past life and motivation.
Complete Plot Summary (Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)
Gankutsuo starts out by following the lives of some young Parisian aristocrats, Albert, Eugenie, and Franz, and their friends, who seem to have everything going for them in life. Indeed, the beginning episodes take great care it seems to show just how magnificent their lives were.
And then, on a visit to a moon colony called Luna, Albert has a chance encounter with someone who calls himself the Count of Monte Cristo. No one seems to know who this Count is or where he came from, and he gives no name and dodges questions about his past. However, his peerage title seems to be totally legitimate. Even though Franz, Albert's best friend, believes the Count is suspicious, Albert befriends the Count, perhaps captivated by his air of mystery or apparent wisdom from life experience.
In other words, Albert is stupid. The whole thing, him meeting the Count on Luna, was no coincidence. The Count turns out to have been a (outer-space in this version, they use space in place of the sea) sailor, Edmond Dantes, who, over 20 years ago, loved the beautiful Mercedes, Albert's mother, and was betrayed by Albert's father, sent to prison for a crime he was innocent of. Everyone involved in the betrayal of Edmond Dantes ended up rich and powerful. Albert's father, Fernand, changed his name and became a top-ranking general. Eugenie's father had been Edmond's friend, who helped frame Edmond, and he ended up becoming a wealthy banker. The judge who tricked Edmond into self-incrimination became the highest-ranking judge in Paris. All this happened while Edmond suffered in a miserable jail cell.
In prison, Edmond becomes possessed by an evil spirit of revenge, called Gankutsuo. This allows Edmond to have some pretty amazing powers. He returns to Paris as The Count and stages an elaborate series of plots against the families of Eugenie, Albert, and Franz, against all of his former enemies. The judge's wife he entices into poisoning murders and causes her to lose her sanity. The banker he ruins financially by secretly manipulating his stocks' value.
However, none of this compares to his hatred for Albert's father, who stole his true love and bride-to-be Mercedes away from him, as well as his hopes of becoming a ship's captain. In this, Gankutsuo/The Count reveals himself for what he truly is: a monster, bent on revenge. When Albert sees this, he challenges the count to a duel. But because it's anime, the duel is in some kind of mech-suit power armor thing (which resembles real armor but seems to be mechanical in some way).
When the battle is over, the Count has killed his opponent. However, Franz was in the suit of armor in his friend's place (he had drugged Albert the night before with sleeping pills). When Albert awakens, he runs to find his friend, dead. From that point on he's basically this series' version of Shinji Ikari. The wangst level is over 9000. This is not helped by the fact that Albert had come to love Eugenie, his fiancee, only to have her father (the banker) to be faced with a financial crisis and force his daughter to accept an engagement to a wealthier man who promises to save the family, but who doesn't love or respect Eugenie.
Anyway, the Count becomes increasingly demonic as he continues to bring down Paris' most decorated general with a scandal. At this point, it's revealed that the Count's companion, Haidee, has a past that smears the general's good reputation. He then attempts to save face by going insane and declaring martial law. When Mercedes begs him to stop, and to leave with her and go to Marseilles, where they were from originally, he ends up shooting her.
In the end, the Count duels with Fernand, and Albert and Haidee are taken by opposing sides as hostages, causing a standoff. However, the Count is at this point frenzied after revenge, and shoots Albert. However, the bullet is blocked by a man who jumps in front of it to save Albert. When Albert appeals to the part deep inside the Count who's still human, the demonic part vanishes, and he returns to appearing like he did years ago, as Edmond Dantes.
The place they're in starts to kersplode like anime settings are wont to do, and Haidee and Edmond escape but Fernand and Edmond die together of their wounds from the duel.
This leads to a bitter-sweet ending, but the good thing is that Haidee is happy in the epilogue episode, learning how to be independent, and Albert can finally be with Eugenie.
Likes: Art style, music, sound, story, ability of each episode to evoke strong emotion in the audience, excellent suspense.
Dislikes: Some over-the-top CG in the fight scenes, unnecessary additions to source material (superfluous sci-fi elements that seemed sort of tacked-on). Also, Albert was not exactly the coolest character (he is basically, as I've said, Shinji).