#1 Classic literature in a sci-fi coat
Anime is lovely absurd, isn’t it? Today we are dealing with an adaptation of the mid-19th century French novel The Count of Monte Cristo, reinterpreted here as taking place in a war-torn sci-fi setting as opposed to the Bourbon Restoration period.
I haven’t read the novel itself and can’t comment on how accurately this anime adapts it, nor how badly it butchers the source material, as the case may very well be. However, I do very much enjoy the mixture of Napoleonic-era themes and culture with this beautiful, futuristic world. Rather than starting out in Rome, Gankutsuou has the count meet Albert and Franz while they are taking a holiday on the moon and, instead of claiming to have come from the Orient, the count presents himself as being from “Eastern Space”.
It sounds comical, and it kind of is, but I also can’t deny that it works really well. The sci-fi themes are handled excellently and replace Earthly ones without taking away from the story. Rather than traveling the seas, the count journeys all across space. Instead of a duel the old-fashioned way, they are fought with cool CGI mechs. It still feels like classic literature, but given a make-over that its original author could never have imagined.
#2 Surreal visuals in rural France
With the sci-fi overhaul also comes an inspired visual style that truly sets the anime apart. With its colorful surrealism and beautiful character designs, the show almost looks like a mix between classic paintings, Madoka Magica, and the works of Masaaki Yuasa.
Not every episode is as out there and there is enough breathing room between the extremer scenes so that the anime doesn’t lose touch with the more grounded themes of the story. Places like the French countryside and cities look normal enough, but then you enter the count’s home and it’s an estate coated entirely in gold with an in-doors lake, enormous machinery, a simulated skybox, and impossible architecture.
Some of the visual highlights of the show, aside from the count’s mansion, are the opening episodes on the moon and those mech battles I mentioned earlier.
#3 A legendary villain
The story of The Count of Monte Cristo is about an enigmatic aristocrat who has come to Paris from the far reaches of outer space, hoping to make a debut in Parisian society and expand his business dealings. Or, at least, that is what he pretends to be.
From his very first appearance, there is much suspicion surrounding the “count” and the legitimacy of his title and intentions. He is charismatic, eccentric, and fabulously wealthy, but it doesn’t take a trained eye to notice how he appears resentful towards his fellow nobles, even if he always manages to forge believable excuses when questioned. He is clearly plotting something and, as the audience, it’s interesting to see how effectively he deceives everybody, all while keeping his plans secret to the viewer as well. You know he is winning at something here, but it’s worrying to think what that “something” might be and how far he plans to take it.
The count is a fantastic villain and a character I felt truly enthralled by. As his story unfolds, I was constantly wondering if I should be rooting for the man or if his justifications for his actions would turn out to be little more than cruel pretenses.
#4 Young aristocrats
While the count takes center stage whenever he is present, the story mainly follows Albert de Morcerf, a viscount living in France who meets the count of Monte Cristo while visiting the moon with his lifelong friend, Baron Franz d’Épinay.
Albert becomes fascinated and infatuated with the mysterious count after he saves his life and swears to introduce him in Parisian society in order to repay the debt. Even as his friends grow wary of the man, Albert continues to defend and help him, denouncing his friends as paranoid and judgmental.
It’s easy to hate on Albert and think of him as an idiot, but that’s because the audience is privy to information that he clearly lacks. I actually took quite a liking to him and it’s through Albert and his friends that we get some interesting insight into the life of these young, wealthy Frenchmen. All of Albert’s friends are interesting people from across society that all have their own things to deal with and conflicts they can’t see eye-to-eye on.
The decorated, young soldier Maximilien falls in love with Franz’ fiancee and their friendship is put to the test as Franz admits its only a marriage to benefit their families and he has no real feelings for her. Albert himself is betrothed to his childhood friend Eugénie and the two of them have had a falling out since, as Albert is unable to identify and express his feelings for her. And nobody seems able to get along with Robert lately, as he has made career in journalism and everybody fears that he might be using their old friendship to dig up dirt on their families for new scoops. He probably is.