Review: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

[Synopsis]: In the year 5053, a young aristocrat named Albert de Morcerf (Fukuyama, Jun) and his friend Franz d’Epinay (Hirakawa, Daisuke) visit Luna to partake in the imminent festival. While there, they encounter a charming nobleman who introduces himself as the Count of Monte Cristo (Nakata, Jouji) whom Albert invites to visit him in his Paris home after the Count saves him from a run in with bandits. Upon the Count’s arrival, the city begins to stir and it slowly becomes evident that Alfred’s new acquaintance is more than he claims to be and that where the Count of Monte Cristo is concerned, there is no such thing as coincidence.

[Characters]:

Unlike most shows that possess a similarly large cast of characters, Gankutsuou makes frequent use of all of them and while a handful fall by the wayside, a great number of them remain immediately relevant to the ongoing plot and recur constantly. This is definitely one of the main intrigues of the show as the political families of Paris, Alfred’s friends, and the Count’s allies interact all throughout the story in elaborate ways. The characters themselves feel fleshed out and, for the most part, have believable chemistry with one another. The cast of Gankutsuou offer good characterization and lend themselves well to the show’s dramatic story.

Though the protagonist of the show is Albert de Morcef, the character most worth discussing is the titular Count of Monte Cristo. His appearance can at times be foreboding however it is often offset by his warm and affable manner of conduct by which he interacts with Albert and the citizens of Paris. From the very beginning it appears quite clear that he has a great deal more going on beneath his composed surface and much of the show is spent attempting to fully divulge that part of him. Perhaps what Gankutsuou does best in regards to the Count is how well it exhibits his ability to warm up to somebody and subsequently manipulate them. His interactions feel very tailored to each person he encounters and this gives him a very intricate feel, especially when contrasted to the rare moments when we gain insight into his machinations. The Count makes for a very entertaining antagonist and is surely one of the most memorable characters from the show.

Albert, in many ways, is what the Count is not. Though he expresses a desire to break free from his boring life at the beginning of the show he is very fragile and naive. He is childish at times and ignorant of the world due to his age and privileged life as an aristocrat belonging to a wealthy family. All of these traits play into why he is so enamored by the Count’s elegance and mysticism and give him a well-realized place from which to develop. As he is perhaps the central-most character in the show, his innocent disposition and the despair he suffers at realizing the schemes and corruption around him serve as the metric for the show’s drama. A considerable amount of Gankutsuou is invested in how Albert steadily grows out of his naivety into adulthood.

The rest of the cast is fairly entertaining with some characters like Eugénie and Haydée featuring especially enjoyable characterization. A small number of cast members seemed to only appear when the plot needed them such as Lucien, Robert, and Renaud however they don’t feel entirely awkward when they appear and due to the compelling nature of the rest of Gankutsuou’s cast of characters their intermittent appearances are fairly forgivable. Overall, the characters are both interesting and entertaining and with parts of the Count’s later development withstanding, there aren’t many flaws in this area.

[Art/Animation]:

This is perhaps the most controversial element of the show as its aesthetic and design are very evidently atypical. This unique quality is due to Gankutsuou’s use of textures in place of more typical colors and patterns combined with a somewhat bizarre world setting. Though the environment and wardrobe textures may at first be distracting they are easy to get used to and there is certainly a certain kind of beauty to them. In fact, the show has rather beautiful visuals, featuring some wonderfully framed shots and the hair textures are simply incredible at times. More than simply making Gankutsuou stand out, its strange color design is fascinating and while the world can at times appear very odd there is definitely an impressive majesty to it.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the technique used is that textures of the clothing, the hair, and the environment don’t seem to have many governing rules about them which makes each scene fairly dynamic in that the setting is constantly shifting from one room to the next. The character designs themselves are quite good but their wardrobe is perhaps the most visually engaging part of the whole show. Haydée possesses one of the most exceedingly beautiful character designs I have ever seen and the way all of the textures of the show splay against each other is endlessly intriguing.

While Gankutsuou’s animation may at first seem a little sloppy at times it actually features a myriad of instances where the animation is quite fluid and expressive. The show’s character designs and unique textured aesthetic are perhaps its greatest strength and keep the show visually exciting from beginning to end.

[Story]:

Gankutsuou starts off very promisingly with a compelling first episode. There isn’t very much information concerning the context of the characters in the first episode however their personalities and dispositions are immediately evident. The second episode starts to establish the characters on an individual level and begins a lengthy exploration of the show’s cast as the story moves from Luna to Paris. The early episodes of the show are pretty slow paced which gives early insight into the methodical manner in which the story unfolds. A large amount of time is spent introducing the whole of the cast while detailing the Count’s many schemes and machinations he sets in motion upon his arrival. Hints and details concerning the the greater narrative are given consistently throughout this period which help the show remain exciting beyond being merely interesting.

Though the style of the narrative is meticulous, the conclusion of each episode is punctuated by particularly thrilling or engaging developments which make Gankutsuou hard to put down. In contrast to the show’s methodical storytelling, its conclusion is quite explosive and many of the later episodes feature an increased tempo in this regard. This creates a greater payoff for the culmination of all of the subsequent character interactions and schemes as everything falls into place.

Though the climax is certainly big it is not necessarily meaningful. The ending at times feels needlessly sappy and cliche but what truly derails it is its lack of adequate explanation. The actual plot itself is altogether coherent however it is the implications of what transpires that are left vague and woefully under explained. The story element of Gankutsuou itself and its meaning are left especially vague despite its importance to the plot and the Count’s character.  

One of the most initially engaging aspects of Gankutsuou is its numerous themes which appear consistently throughout the story. Themes of love, happiness, and truth are set against darker sentiments such as betrayal, the price of revenge, and being trapped by ones own past. Their presence enlivens many of the character interactions throughout the beginning and midsection of the show however they fail to receive proper exploration as the show concludes. The ending itself doesn’t really carry any implications for the many themes peddled by the show which leaves their inclusion feeling frustratingly incomplete. The theme of revenge surrounding the Count and Haydée is especially damaging in its shortcoming as the theme is so pervasive in the latter half of the show. The viewer is left wondering what was ever actually in contention in regards to whether or not the Count should follow through on his vengeance.

[Music]:

Gankutsuou has a strong soundtrack and features a number of scenes where the music rises to the forefront of the scene, accentuating its gravity and drama. The music ranges from serene and charming to haunting and thrilling and at times is quite powerful, aiding immensely in the narrative’s developmental punctuation of each episodes conclusion. One track in particular stood out above the rest and was used just sparingly enough to be highly enjoyable and effective in each of its appearances.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

Gankutsuou started out strong with an engaging premise and cast of characters. The world itself, though strange at times, was very visually interesting  and the overarching story of the Count of Monte Cristo and Albert was as entertaining as it was tragic. The main issues with the show don’t appear until near its completion and so the vast majority of the show is quite enjoyable while the ending leaves a good deal to be desired in how it lets much of what it worked so carefully on flounder.

Rating: 7

I gave Gankutsuou a 7 because it told a very compelling story set to unique and beautiful visuals. Many of its characters were enjoyable and wonderfully characterized causing their interactions to remain exciting despite the slow pace with which they transpired. The show sustains significant damage from its conclusion as it undermines many of the most fruitful elements of the show yet by no means ruins it.

[Recommendations]:

Because of its unique art style approach, I would recommend Gankutsuou to anyone in search of a show with distinct visuals. They might not appeal to everyone however they were certainly one of the major strengths of the show. Viewers that enjoy cliffhangers and tense episode cutoffs would enjoy the pacing of the show while those interested in Gankutsuou’s sci-fi elements may want to check it out warily. It is most definitely Sci-Fi however, beyond Alfred’s and Franz’s trip to Luna there isn’t all that much content concerning extraterrestrial lifeforms or planets. The futuristic setting is far more important to the atmosphere of the show and the subject matter within its dialogue.

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