Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gankutsuou, or The Count of Monte Cristo

Vengeance, baby!  This animé adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas takes the book out of Napoleonic France and turns it into a space opera where Mercédès and Fernand's son, Albert, is the hero of the tale.

Albert is visiting the wild planet of Luna with his friend, Franz, during Carnivale.  One night he meets the mysterious Comte de Monte-Cristo, a man who looks like Gary Oldman from Dracula, only blue and less attractive, if that's possible.  The comte is flamboyant and mysterious, and seems to possess questionable moral judgment, something Franz picks up on immediately.  Albert, however, is smitten; and after the comte "saves" him from the gangster Luigi Vampa, they form a bond that will lead to the comte's entré into Parisian high society--and treason, insanity, heartbreak, incest, and murder for the families of Albert and his friends.

luna scene

The look of this animé is amazing--and sometimes way over the top.  Patterns cover every surface of the characters' clothes and the visuals are a confusing mix of Edwardian, modern, and futuristic.  For example, old-timey cars mix with motorcycles and spaceships pulled by horses as if they were carriages.  I didn't mind the inconsistency, but it can be jarring and overwhelming, and beautiful at the same time.

It's clear the animators have a love of 19th-century Paris, although it's la Belle Epoque Paris and not the Paris we see in the original novel.  Streetside cafés, the opera, music by Debussy and Rachmaninoff, art nouveau decor, and country house parties give the series a romantic feel and certainly made me like it more.

As for the story, however, I had several problems with it.  For one, it's way too long.  For another, there's a reason Dumas made the Count the hero of the book--Albert is boring, and his incessant whining about one thing or another got on my nerves.  We have to listen to Albert's trials and tribulations, which for the most part run along the lines of, "Waaa!  No one respects me!  Why are you treating me like a kid??"  I couldn't connect to him and many of his actions, especially at the end, were completely nonsensical.  Meanwhile, what we're really interested in is the Count and the clockwork-like unfolding of his vengeance.

Also, the animé tweaked the story so that it was super-depressing.  The series gets heavy.  A lot of shit happens to Albert that would be enough to make anyone have an emotional breakdown, and the middle seriously bummed me out.  Everyone either dies or goes insane--and unlike in the book where it seems inevitable, here it feels manufactured and too convenient.  They all deserve it, but not from the perspective of Albert, our hero. 

In addition, the Comte doesn't get his full revenge (I'm still confused as to what happened with Baron Danglars), even though he crosses lines he never did in the book; and there was a feeling of things left unresolved in favor of an expedient ending.  Which is ridiculous, because this series is twelve freaking hours long.  It starts with an opera, and ends like an opera, with all the characters running back and forth across a stage-like backdrop and screaming, sobbing, and dying.  Whereas The Count of Monte Cristo leaves us with a sense of redemption, Gankutsuou takes a lower road and turns the count into a tragic figure.

Of course, from the perspective of Albert, there is a "happy" ending; but since I didn't really care about Albert that didn't help much.

I'm not sure I can recommend Gankutsuou.  Visually it is stunning, and might be worth a watch just for that; but for people who have read and loved the original novel, I'm not sure it's worth it.  It's not compulsively watchable--I had to force myself to keep up with it--and can be frustrating to watch.  I did enjoy the creative tweaks to the story, but in the end the heart of the novel was changed too much for me to like it.

Certainly an interesting adaptation of the novel, though.

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