Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 9th 2006
Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo's grand scheme of revenge on the men who once betrayed Edmond Dantes has started to come to fruition, and Albert and his friends are caught in the middle. The first to fall is Villefort, whose inability to prosecute the Count drives him to a dangerous course of action. Next is General Morcerf, Albert's father, whose false identity and past betrayals are laid bare by Haidee during his election campaign. While Baron Danglars is being fattened up for a future fall, Marquis Cavalcanti's designs on his daughter Eugenie force her away from Albert. As everything seems to be collapsing around him, the still-unaware Albert seeks solace in the company of the Count, while Franz investigates deeper into the identity of Gankutsuou. What he discovers about the Man in the Iron Mask and past connections between Villefort, Danglars, and Morcerf disturbs him greatly.
With episodes 13-16 many of the truths underlying the Count's plans finally become clear, or at least clearer than they were before. The revelations are unlikely to surprise anyone familiar with the source material, as the major plot points are still more or less the same as in Alexandre Dumas's classic novel, but for newcomers to The Count of Monte Cristo they certainly explain some past events in the series. Haidee finally reveals the reason why she fainted at the sight of General Morcerf at the opera in episode 6 (and gets as much screen time as she did in the prior three volumes combined), for instance, and the past connection between Villefort, Danglars, Morcerf, and Edmond Dantes is further elaborated upon. Hints are thrown out about what, exactly, they did to earn the Count's wrath, and details are also finally revealed about the true identity and nature of Gankutsuou; this is the place where this story diverges from the original novel. The implied truths there are unsettling but hardly unprecedented in anime storytelling.
In general, though, Gankutsuou is a breed apart from other anime series. It isn't just the artistry, either; no other anime series which has made it to the States is written like this one. Its delightfully complex mix of mysteries, intrigues, and manipulations is executed with the kind of dramatic flair one might expect more from a Shakespearean play than an anime series, even one aimed at adult audiences. It's also the kind of writing and characters certain to get a viewer involved. Could one watch this series without sympathizing with Haidee over her background, pitying Eugenie for the way she's being unfairly trapped as a side effect of the Count's plans and Cavalcanti's ambitions, rooting for everything to turn out right for Maximilien and Valentine, or relishing seeing Villefort get what's coming to him? And then there's lovable and pure-hearted but painfully naïve Albert, who's been set up all series for a really nasty fall, the first part of which starts as this volume draws to a close. Is the Count's desire for revenge strong enough that he'll carry it through even at the cost of sacrificing this good and innocent young man to it? Can Haidee discourage him from completing his plan after experiencing the ache left behind by the execution of her own revenge? Only time – and the last two volumes – will tell.
Gankutsuou cannot, of course, be talked about without bringing up its unique artistic style, with its patterns in hair and clothing which remain stationary as the character moves and its incredible use of exceptionally-intricate CG renderings in backgrounds. Viewers who have followed the series to this point have probably become accustomed enough to the distinctive visual gimmicks for them to fade into the background, but the artistry will still occasionally “wow” a viewer with its beauty and novelty, such as the dress that Eugenie wears at her piano recital or the ceiling of the Library. The one flaw is that the character designs that seem crude compared to the fine detail of the CG work and other visual effects, but the rest of the visuals are so extraordinary that it's hard to care. Coupled with great animation, the visuals in this volume continues to show why Gankutsuou is one of the greatest artistic efforts in the history of animation.
Supporting and complementing the great visuals and storytelling is a strong musical score, which occasionally hedges towards melodrama but overall does a superb job. Of particular note on this front are the melodic, simply-animated opener and the rock-themed spectacle that is the wonderful closer. Careful attention should be paid to the lyrics in both, which, it now becomes apparent, were not chosen without specific reason. As the opener and closer frame each episode, so do their lyrics frame the story; the opening lyrics are the prologue, and the closing lyrics are the testament to the Count's current actions and plans.
A great series deserves great voice acting, and the Japanese cast fully delivers despite some minor issues with pronunciations of French names and words. The English voice actors are well-cast for the roles, and some individual performances are the equal of the originals (Abe Vasser does a fine Villefort and Jennifer Sekiguchi is right on the mark as Haidee), but others fail to fully capture the richness of the originals and the tone of their characters, thus leaving the whole dub one step off the original in quality and effectiveness. This shows most clearly in the introduction of each episode. The English script doesn't stray enough from the original to be the problem, nor is the English dub bad enough to be a detriment to enjoying the series, but the Japanese dub and subtitles are the better viewing option here.
Extras in this volume include company trailers, a full-length AMV for the closer song “You Won't See Me Coming,” and a collection of promo spots for episode 14 done by the original seiyuu for some of the key roles.
The time for set-up is over; the end run of the Count's master plan has begun. Some have already fallen, but how many more will be destroyed, whether intentionally or not, before it's done? If you're not watching Gankutsuou then you're missing out on one of the year's best series.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A+
Music : A
+ Nearly everything except the English dub.
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