Funimation // 2004 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // May 14th, 2009
"I am but a poor soul from the far reaches of Eastern space. Other than that, I have no past worth speaking of." -- The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic of French literature. The story by Alexandre Dumas père tells of a man wrongly accused and imprisoned returning to punish the three men who put him away. It's been retold many times, including as a futuristic science fiction tale in The Count of Monte Cristo: Gankutsuo, a Japanese anime serial.
A couple of years back, I started reviewing the individual sets of Gankutsuo. I was hooked. The show looked wonderful and felt intriguing. I knew who Edmond Dantes was, of course, but the science-fiction version drops hints that what he is might be more interesting. Trouble was, the sets stopped...and I never got back to it. Just a week or two ago, The Count of Monte Cristo: The Complete Series turned up, with the whole series on four discs. Was it worth the wait?
Albert de Morcerf, a young noble, makes fast friends with the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo while vacationing on Luna. Soon after his return to Earth and Paris, the Count turns up, becoming involved in the lives of the Moncrefs and the Villefort and Danglars families. Suspicion mounts about the mysterious Count, especially after a party at his new home which uncovers a secret for one of the families and a poisoning attempt aimed at another. When trouble starts to mount for the three families, will Albert escape unscathed?
Of course, you know the story, enough to realize the Count is Edmond Dantes, the man framed by three friends. Watching it replayed in a world that mixes horse-drawn carriages with fast cars, newspapers popping up as holograms, and spaceships is part of the fun. Putting the emphasis on the young people in the families of the three friends also changes the perspective. It's not surprising, though. Thus, Gankutsuo brings in another mystery: What has Edmond Dantes become? He's a pale, bluish man who has something inside that makes a bullet wound a mere trifle. People around him call him "Gankutsuo." Albert's friend Franz tries to find out what "Gankutsuo" means but the answer is a classified secret. In the end, Gankutsuo turns out to be a metaphor symbolizing Edmond Dantes' loss of humanity, but also a very real threat.
Aside from vengeance, the theme that runs strongest through Gankutsuo is one of class distinctions. Maximilien, one of Albert's friends, can't marry the woman he loves because she's a noble and he's not. Danglars, the wealthy banker, falls through his implicit trust in nobility, both with the Count and with one of the Count's lackeys. Although he's nominally a noble, Danglars' crass greed and coarseness may be one of the series' most memorable elements. When Albert's family takes a fall, the young man quickly learns that gendarmes aren't his protectors; one even steals his motorbike.
The perspective of Albert, the new protagonist, also makes Gankutsuo a story about developing judgment and becoming an independent person. When viewers first meet him, Albert is very much impressed by the Count's genteel surface and doesn't see the evil within, despite the warnings of his friends and even the Count himself. By the end, Albert has learned to overcome the feelings of vengeance that felled the Count and dealt with some harsh truths about his family and their friends.
Gankutsuo occasionally has a cheap static image, but for the most part it looks splendid, sort of like a giant collage with new details catching your eye in every scene. Some viewers might watch just for the animation. The sound, including strong opening and closing themes by Jean-Jacques Burnel, comes across well. Gankutsuo can be trilingual if you wish: the original dialogue is Japanese, any words within the cartoon are French, and the subtitles are in English.
One element might strike you as cheesy: giant robots. They first appear in a key duel scene late in the story. The battles are well-rendered in what looks like CGI, so they may be among the best giant robot battles you ever see in anime, but they're still giant robot battles.
Gankutsuo starts out quietly, gradually picking up steam as the Count's vengeful intentions become known. As the story intensifies, elements that you wouldn't want to show the kids -- nudity, bloodshed, and adultery, to name a few -- also intensify. While these things are handled tastefully, the TV-MA rating on the box is justified.
I'll note here that I started back into Gankutsuo at Episode Seven, about the right point to get back into the mood of the story while concentrating on the new chapters.
One of the hazards of a change of distributors is that the extras with the earlier volumes are absent here.
The Count of Monte Cristo: Gankutsuo retells a familiar story, but does it in a way that's worth watching. With its serial story, the full collection is the best way to go.
Not guilty. I certainly won't make the mistake of the three nobles and
imprison an innocent DVD set.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated