Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo is an anime series loosely based on Alexandre Dumas classic French novel, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (If he doesnt sound too familiar, he also penned The Three Musketeers). The series spans 24 epsiodes, was produced by GONZO and directed by the well known Mahiro Maeda.
Gankutsuou is set in the far future, during the year 5053. However, despite all the elements of science-fiction and fantasy, the anime retains many aesthetics of France in the 1800s: The look and feel of the environments, the vehicles, the styles of clothing, the social classes and divisions amongst people and even the very execution methods. This tie to French culture is reinforced by having each opening summary sequence to be narrated in French.
The story revolves around Viscount Albert de Morcerf, who has a chance encounter with the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, a self-made and extremely wealthy nobleman, during a festival on Luna. As dangerous events unfold on Luna, Albert comes to befriend the Count and invites him back to Paris, Earth. The Count does eventually take Albert up on his offer, and arrives in Paris, quickly becoming the talk of the town through a number of events.
Through his machinations and ties to Albert and his noble-born friends, the Count manages to spread his influence throughout the three most powerful families in France, namely the Morcerfs, the Danglars and the Villeforts. But it would seem that there is more to the Count than what meets the eye. Somewhere, hidden deep in the shadows is a dark past, something that Albert will have to uncover to reach the truth, even if it means the collapse of his family and even the world as he knows it.
Story wise, Gankutsuou is very much the coming of age tale of Albert. The story focuses heavily on the characters and their relationships with one another, especially that of Albert and Franz, as well as Albert and the Count. The anime explores the social and political landscape of Paris and although there are more than enough action sequences littered throughout the anime, the story is really more focused on it themes of people, society and even revenge. It weaves an excellently told story that keeps you guessing as to the true nature of events right until the very end where the anime wraps off with a satisfying finale in which all is revealed. Gankutsuou is storytelling of the highest calibre.
However, as good and deeply woven the story may be, it is the artistic style that GONZO used for this title that makes it stand apart. For the first time ever in an anime title, Gankutsuou layers Photoshop textures into digital animation creating a visual masterpiece. Difficult on the eye at first, you soon get used to this new style of background and eventually come to marvel at the richness of the world it helps create. There are very few flat coloured pieces in the animation and it is really only the skin tones of the characters that are coloured in the standard way. Copious amount of 3D renderings are used, and thanks to the photoshop layer style, these blend perfectly into what is being presented, making Gankutsuou truly one of the most beautiful anime spectacles yet. (A bit of trivia, but the textures and patterns for the characters clothing in the final episode were created by the noted fashion designer, Anna Sui).
Muscially, Gankutsuou presents a soundtrack that is as refined and beautiful as its storytelling and visuals. It features several famous pieces of classical music, including Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, the Donizetti opera Lucia di Lammermoor, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The opening and closing tracks are hauntingly beautiful as well, and their use is woven into the story at a later stage as well. (Just in case you are wondering what they are: “We Were Lovers” and “You Won’t See Me Coming” by Jean-Jacques Burnel). The voice acting is emotional and spot on for all the characters and the sound effects are rich and beautifully woven into the anime.
Gankutsuou is one of those must see anime titles that every otaku should make the effort of seeing. Hauntingly beautiful with a powerful story and great presence, Gankusuou comes heavily recommended. Dragonball Z fans should probably give this one a miss though – it might just be a little too intellectual for their liking.
(Note, that this title has some story elements which may make it unsuitable for younger viewers)
Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gankutsuou