Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Years ago, Edmond Dantes was exiled to deep space after being wrongfully accused of treason. Now, after a mysterious transformation, he has returned to Earth for revenge, disguised as the dashing and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo. First on Dantes' hit list is Villefort, the lawman who sent him into exile. Through powerful psychological manipulation, Dantes forces Villefort into confessing the truth, then shames him with further punishment. However, as Dantes reflects on his past and considers his next target, he must be careful not to be consumed by Gankutsuou, the mysterious force that gave him the means to take revenge in the first place.
In his author's notes at the back of Gankutsuou Volume 3, Mahiro Maeda apologizes for pushing Franz and Albert to the side—the two characters who figured heavily in the original anime. But in this adaptation of an adaptation, Maeda may have done the right thing after all, as those who have seen the anime may recall that it was not so much The Count of Monte Cristo as it was Two Teenage Boys Get Caught Up In the Plot of The Count of Monte Cristo. The manga version, meanwhile, puts the focus back on the most interesting character: the Count himself. As a result, the plot reaches full steam in a very powerful way—but sadly gets derailed in the later chapters.
There are few things in fiction quite as satisfying as watching complete psychological destruction, and the first half of this volume—with its surreal mind games and Villefort's mental breakdown—is the epitome of that satisfaction. Also woven into this storyline is a series of flashback scenes involving Dantes and Villefort, thus completing the narrative circle and showing exactly why Dantes is motivated to perform such cruel acts of revenge. With grotesque machinations and emotional extremes, it appears that the Count's plan has succeeded eminently. Of course, some credit should go to Dumas for setting it up in the first place, but Maeda's ability to convert the idea into graphic form is a laudable skill in itself. Planning, pacing and plot all come together in this rollercoaster sequence of chapters, culminating in a beautiful, dramatic scene where the Count declares: "One down ... two to go."
And then things start to get a little hairy. Before Edmond Dantes can choose his next victim, he goes through this crisis of conscience regarding Gankutsuou, the mysterious intergalactic presence (and ominous voice) that transformed Dantes into the Count in the first place. Another well-placed flashback explains the nature of Gankutsuou far better than the anime ever did, but still, this is the kind of sci-fi mumbo-jumbo that makes literature buffs hate anime and manga in the first place. It wouldn't be so bad if Dantes wrestled with his conscience for about one chapter, but no, he goes all the way to the end of the volume still conversing with that mysterious voice in his head—because, apparently, that's where they decided to stop the manga serialization. Way to ruin a great story!
Then again, that strange cutoff may still have been worth it for the artistry on display here. What the later chapters lack in narrative, they easily compensate for with visuals, showcasing the outer limits of Maeda's imagination. Not only does he use dramatic hatching and detail to sketch out the nooks and crannies of deep space, but he also enters the Count's "inner space"—a psychological realm where surreal imagery trumps everything else. Maeda even switches art styles from time to time, showing off his sheer versatility—the man may be hellbent on using a pen with only one line width, but he uses it well. The plot-driven scenes in the first half of the book may be less abstract, but they're also drawn with a masterful hand, bringing to life the world of aristocratic Paris along with a sprinkling of sci-fi touches. Villefort's descent into madness is a visual tour de force as well, with dramatic expressions of terror and a stunning epilogue for the old man.
Dialogue is both a blessing and a curse in this volume; at its best, the literary roots of The Count of Monte Cristo bring a measure of eloquence to the characters' manner of speech. At its worst, however, the Count's personal thoughts spiral into the kind of self-indulgent ramblings often associated with bad teen poetry. (He really shouldn't talk to Gankutsuou so much.) In any case, this English translation of a Japanese adaptation of a French novel still comes out better written than the average manga series. Sound effects, which tend to appear only in major action scenes, are left in the original Japanese but the small-lettered translations sometimes get lost in the artwork. Meanwhile, a short glossary also provides some notes on how certain names and places relate to the original novel.
With the Gankutsuou manga now entering the heart of the story, this volume proves to be a showcase not just for the greatness of Alexandre Dumas's concept but also for the creativity of Studio Gonzo and Mahiro Maeda's re-interpretation. Although some of those creative elements are questionable—like having the Count chat for hours on end with the mysterious voice living in his head—there's still plenty to like, from Villefort's dramatic fall from grace to the well-planned flashback scenes to the sheer artistic virtuosity on display. In most other anime-to-manga adaptations, the usual battle plan is to send in a fledgling manga-ka who's still trying to get his or her first big break. But in this one, they sent in the actual director of the anime, which makes a big difference in quality. However, that director and the powers that be apparently decided that they didn't feel like it anymore after three volumes. Thus, what Mahiro Maeda should be apologizing for is not cutting out two side characters, but cutting out the entire rest of the story.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : B+
+ Great artwork, great plotting and great source material result in a fascinating intepretation of a classic revenge story.
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