What They Say:
Albert is a young man of privilege in Paris, but the trappings of his aristocratic birth leave him bored and unsatisfied. Seeking adventure, Albert’s restless spirit leads him to a festival on the moon – and to the Count of Monte Cristo. An enigmatic man of charm and wealth, the Count of Monte Cristo’s charisma and sophistication captivate Albert. The fascinated youth invites the nobleman to mingle within the upper echelons of Parisian society, and the Count is soon courting the favor of France’s most powerful families. Little does Albert know, as his new friend walks the ornate halls of the highest class, the Count of Monte Cristo wants only to bring them crashing down through vengeance.
In a strange sense, with the English dub in a 5.1 format and the Japanese in a 2.0 stereo format, with a French dub as well also in 2.0, it was the Japanese release I felt was the best of the tracks – adoring the series, I watched it both in English and Japanese and felt it odd that I actually had to slightly raise my volume statistics with the English release and yet not so with the Japanese one – the quality is still good, but the Japanese dub (and briefly did go to the French one, which doesn’t have the English subtitles obviously) is superb – and every time in the Japanese you hear the narrator speak in good French beginning with ‘madames, monsieurs, bonsoir’ I get chills. All three tracks are more than acceptable, but for once, going to give the nod to the Japanese audio as a preference – the dub itself is still a great quality though (this was pre before shows like Hetalia wanted to go overboard with the accents…)
The video is set in full-screen format with a 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio for this review in a full-screen format and…wow. This is a show over 10 years old yet had a very unique animation style by combining CG and traditional animation, but went the one step further with the designs and how the animation literally shines at you (using Photoshop textures into digital animation) – the jackets are reflective and mingling with the background, almost like they are a show of their own. To say it is very psychedelic at times is an understatement but you don’t get a headache from it – it somehow flows very naturally and the way it is transferred into HD, it is the way to watch this show. It is definitely unique and may not be to everyone’s cup of tea, but it is stunning to look at, the transfers are perfect (no slowdown, pausing it just makes you appreciate it even more, synching with the subtitles) and it is just a joy to behold.
The menu screen in all 4 discs are of clips of the show melting from a sequence which I think is from the ending song into clips with it done in traditional French as ‘The Comte De Monte Cristo’ – with the selections on the bottom on a horizontal bar, of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Credits (with Extras on one of the discs) – it is just a gorgeous showcase of the show whilst being easily accessible like most Blu-Ray releases, such as having the pop-up menu in show (very useful when wanting to listen to all three tracks) and easily selectable – quick, simple and stunning to welcome you to the world of the Count.
The only extras on the Blu-Ray discs themselves are the cleaning opening and ending, however if you order the special edition you will get a steel casing and art book.
As you can tell from the title, Gankutsou is a show based on the Alexandra Dumas novel, the Count of Monte Cristo. However, rather than a retelling of the story, this is quite more the opposite way – it is combining aristocracy with the future, alien technology, spaceships, etc. So certainly not a traditionalist take compared to a Rose of Versailles for example, so don’t expect this to be the same as the novel. And as mentioned, the look of the show is also incredibly unique so even traditional anime fans will be looking at this with a confused face. However, go past that and not only it is gorgeous to behold, but it is a retelling of a story with a new ending, keeping some traditional values despite the sci-fi element, an excellent mystery tale and a touch of romance (of all angles) makes this one of my favourite series of all time, that I’m sad I haven’t watched it in quite a while, and this review gave be an excuse to remember my fondness over how good this series is.
The first episode should immediately set you in for some madness. The introduction of two best friends, the Viscount Albert de Morcef and Baron Franz d’Epinay are attending an event on a space area called Luna – however during the viewing, they encounter a mysterious aristocrat that goes by the name of The Count of Monte Cristo (and off the record, when this scene happened, I actually cried just to how gorgeous it looks combined with the operatic music in the background). During this supposed chance meeting, the Count, seemingly wanting to meet friends of the nobility, invites the two to dinner and watch the final event of the show, where there are three murderers about to die. The Count gives Albert the choice to pardon one of the murderers, but he chooses the nastiest one – upset, he goes and actually gets into a sexual encounter with a maid…who turns out to be a) a boy and b) working for a gang leader and kidnaps Albert for ransom.
So after that mind screw, Franz is looking for Albert, and the murderer who was pardoned is also part of the same gang and holds him for ransom for 50 million francs. Franz tries everywhere to help, but no one can. Desperate, and unlike Albert is suspicious of the Count with his rather vampiric look, goes to ask the Count for help. This is where you realise there is something peculiar about the Count as something emerges named ‘Gankutsuou’ but for quite a while in the series, this doesn’t crop up again. However, it is always there which adds to Franz’ suspicions…yet the Count does save him and as a favour wishes for Albert to introduce him to Parisian society…
And thus, the story truly begins.
At first, it is hard to see what kind of story it is – there is something definitely off about the Count with his pale blue skin, vampire-esque fangs, and this strange look but he is very charming, kind and generous – all he seems to want is to get more involved in aristocratic society. And for a lot of the time, it is – the story changes between the Count and Albert, as we are introduced to his friends and his fiancé (an arranged marriage but are childhood friends – the two seem to bicker a lot but there is definitely some care there with Albert and Eugenie), a man named Maximilien who saves them when they drive a car in a ditch, and Franz’ fiancé Valentine who Maximilien seems enamoured with. They all are introduced to the Count (and again, some issues are raised like when their photographer friend Robert’s pictures of the Count are not shown and any dialogue with him seems deleted) and Albert, almost with a schoolboy crush like atmosphere, introduces the Count to his parents…which at first seems just polite manners, but you can tell there is something between the Count and both Albert’s mother and father, especially his mother…
The early episodes of the show definitely indicate something bigger. This doesn’t come into play immediately but gradually does that the Count definitely is interested in Albert’s wellbeing (the next episode Albert and Maximillian have a duel over values and Albert is nearly killed in the Count’s abode – which has a sea of space sharks in it…yeah, this is definitely the future) – the Count gets involved with many aspects of Albert’s family, including visiting Eugenie’s father who is a businessman, and is able to open an account with unlimited credit (which again, seems like a small plot point but comes full circle when the true story is revealed) and the Count’s apparent lady friend Haydee seems to recognise Albert’s father, but his first real showcase that he has more sinister motives is when he gives Eugenie’s mother a present, a rubied ring…which actually has a poison spike inside it. So when the Count holds an event for all the families (including a prosecutor/officer who seems to add another piece of the puzzle overall) and reveals his apparent disease which makes his body practically see through to Albert alone, you can tell he is either genuinely concerned for Albert or using him as some sort of pawn. Albert himself is poisoned yet is saved by the count, but others aren’t so lucky…
This is where the story begins to take shape. With all the parties assembled, Albert’s father, Eugenies’ father, the prosecutor Villefort and another man outside the aristocracy are involved to a funeral signed ‘Edmond Dantes’. A man they all thought was dead…but they find no body in the coffin. At this point, most people can see who it is but why he is linked with all these people is very cleverly told as this Dantes’ man has links with all of them, and was presumed dead…yet you know who he really is. And thus, the Count slowly puts his pawns around the chess board – Franz is very distrusted of the Count whilst Albert believes he is innocent, whilst Eugenie’s engagement is broken and instead looks set to wed a man named Cavalcanti – an apparent aristocrat…but also yet another one of the Counts’ pawns. Villefort tries to arrest the Count whilst Eugenie’s father wants to cut all ties with Albert’s father, and then the connection that Haydee has with Alberts’ father and what Albert’s mother has to do with this Edmond Dantes….it is all very cleverly put together as the story is eventually shown as one of revenge via this Edmond Dontes…or should I say The Count of Monte Cristo.
The Count’s motives of the three men in question of betraying him, losing his love and framed for crimes that they committed, he was taken in by the demon Gankutsou whilst imprisoned – using Dantes’ body as a vessel for power after rotting away in prison. His befriending of Albert was the first step in his way for revenge, but you can also tell by the conclusion of the series that he genuinely cared for Albert. Albert’s naivety was his main flaw, though, and when he finally realises the game Albert was playing, it costs him his best friend and nearly costs him the love of his life. However despite all this, the final episodes are genuinely sad – whether you agreed with the Count or not, his ultimate being taken over by Gankutsou and his wanting to reject it to save Albert is nothing short of touching.
There is so much going on here – I haven’t even explained the roles of so many characters. Haydee for example, is a real piece of the puzzle that gradually is showcased when you learn of whom she is and what her past is and why she is so devoted to the Count – her conflicts of her own revenge vs. wanting to make sure the man she loves isn’t consumed by his own revenge. Eugenie has to deal with not wanting her arranged marriage to realising she has always loved Albert, and the fact she is seen as a pawn in her father’s ways to retrain his wealth when things go south is pretty upsetting (which comes full circle when he tries to scarper, but the Count finds him and his unlimited credit loophole really bites him in the rear). Alberts’ father, the General, his own past is unravelled and you see the jealousy he had for Dantes and also Albert’s mother Mercedes, when she reveals her past to Albert and is one of the first to realise the Counts’ true identity, everything slow sinks in of this rather well told mystery.
The true star of course though is the Count. A sophisticated gentleman with an unusual complexion (more than once they could be another Count with those vampiric like fangs), his presence as the Count of one who is pulling so many strings that you get the feeling even he doesn’t know everyone he has managed to control. His relationship with Albert gets very borderline obsessive – whether it was just pure manipulation, genuine care for the boy, or both, his desire for revenge and the times he has to fight Gankutsuou taking total control are painful to watch (Gankutsou isn’t actually on screen much but you know from the 2nd episode he is there, and the slow manipulation and more anger shown from the Count showcases his succumbing to the beast within) – but despite being a villain protagonist, he is so charismatic that for a lot of the show you are rooting for him to win (and he does have genuine reasons for revenge which helps that the three people he is getting vengeance for with the exception of Alberts’ father seem to have no real regrets or morals) even when he does things that you don’t approve of…the duel against Franz being the key one (Franz is another very likeable character as well – his care for both his fiancé despite her liking someone else as it was arranged, and Albert – it certainly hits you in the feels come the duel…though the duels of giant mech like knights fighting were definitely somehow too weird even for this show…)
If I had to nitpick and say something that was bad about the series (assuming you are fine with the very unique style and animation it uses), aside from the above mentioned strange moments involving the duels (and considering the show is set in the 5000s, it isn’t that surprising) it is a combination of how sci-fi and aristocracy works together can feel a little out of place. One moment you have Eugenie and Albert driving down an old country road, the next you are walking around an intergalactic spaceship of the Counts. It can be a bit strange but it does actually work, though you have to get used to it. The other thing I will mention is that the other main lead Albert, can be a bit grating. Not like he is an annoying character, but more like his naivety is so blinding that it literally takes the entire series and seeing the Count pretty much screw over his father to see that the Count was using him, and even then it takes him a hard time to believe it.
That said, it is one of those series you either love or go ‘WTF’ about. I am definitely the former – it is definitely not your typical anime, even for an action piece or romantic piece or even a sci-fi piece, it is a medium of its own. Deriving from a classic piece and going full LSD mode on it, it tells a unique story despite being based on one, with an incredible visual style that you will immediately be amazed by or put off it in the first 5 minutes. I really hope most people give it a shot who haven’t come across this series before – it is gripping, mysterious, the Count is one of the greatest examples of a cool ‘evil’ villain, the big sub cast all get their moments in the sun, some tragic back-story and tragic endings, and some gorgeous music which I haven’t touched upon (the opening and ending are in English, but whilst the opening is calm and melancholy, the ending is fast paced and manic, both drawn differently as well) – it is such a breakthrough series of mixing sci-fi, history, mystery and revenge (and even a bit of romance – Albert seems to get 4 admirers throughout – and three of them are male) that I’m amazed how well the story is told throughout considering how much is going on. It leads you into believing it is a tale about a nobleman in society…and it turns out to be a huge complex story of revenge with supernatural elements.
In other words, 4 discs of awesome.
Gankutsou: The Count of Monte Cristo is a series that will have either massive fans or huge detractors because of its very unique animation. Beneath the drugged up style though is a fascinating story about an aristocrat in a futuristic setting, yet all is not what he seems. Dragging up the past of some of our main character’s parents combined with a lot of twists and tales, this story takes the classic novel and changes it into something that still makes sense and captivates the viewer. The Count is one of the greatest villains ever because, for the most of it, he doesn’t even seem like one and when he does, you still wish for him to succeed, and the way his story is told is remarkable. A true anime masterpiece.
Japanese Language, English Language, Clean Opening and Endings, Special Edition Steel Book Casing and Artbook
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: February 8th, 2016
Running Time: 600 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.