Many years ago, an innocent man was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and thrown into jail to rot. While the conspirators who engineered his downfall grew powerful and contented, this man plotted his revenge, escaping to remake himself as a mysterious gentleman of considerable means and charm. Not content merely to kill those who wronged him, this man sets his sights upon their children, weaving a plot of intrigue and ruination that will equal his own suffering. That man, his true name lost to the Chateu D’lf, is known only as the Count of Monte Cristo.
“[Classic Work of Literature] IN SPAAAAAACE” is one of the favorite tricks of adaptations: see Forbidden Planet, Treasure Planet, and of course the seminal Jason X. It’s a shiny new aesthetic coat you can put on a familiar story in order to sell it again. But that’s not all it has to be. Sometimes it winds up an opportunity to give the world one of the most artful, skillfully made anime out there, thoughtful in form and function.
Not to oversell it or anything.
I’m pleased down to the very tips of my cotton socks to be introducing, at long last, a Consulting Analyst covering Gankutsuou – easily my favorite anime for the last ten years running. I count it not only as one of the best, most intriguing adaptations of a very well-known touchstone of literature, but a masterwork in artistry on its own terms: everything, from characters to pacing to visual design are breathtaking to behold.
While the best known version of the story features the Count as the central protagonist and follows his journey to revenge himself on those who ruined his life, making for a rather tasty revenge-melodrama; Gankutsuou sits squarely in the POV of the Count’s victims, thus necessarily cutting down huge swaths of the book to implication and becoming a poignant tragedy. It’s absolutely brilliant, playing with a philosophy that is surprisingly rarely seen: that transposing a story from one medium to another should be in the service of showing the story, its characters, or its themes in a new light. In that way, a work is enriched and continues to survive through various cultural contexts across generations.
Because this is a story that’s so pervasive in culture, it’s a little hard to draw the line about spoilers. The anime basically makes a mystery of the most well-known part of the story, though the writing is also canny enough to know that a good share of its audience will have a basic idea of the Ominous Circumstances that went down prior to the events of the plot at hand. But it also has a trick up its sleeve, eventually peeling off from the book canon to do its own thing. With that in mind, the spoiler policy on this one is as follows: anything regarding the Count and his background are fair game; plot developments unique to the anime aren’t wholly off limits if analysis calls for it, but they’ll be referenced in a broader, more veiled fashion.
There are quite a few ways for you to watch along, if you so desire: the series is available subbed on Youtube, subbed and dubbed on Hulu, and subbed on Crunchyroll. While the dub is serviceable I can’t say I recommend it – it seems almost criminal to miss out on Joji Nakata’s turn as the Count, as well as Jun Fukuyama in the role that catapulted him to stardom.
Here’s the section-by-section breakdown:
Episode Specifics: The plot summary goes here, as well as general commentary.
Character Spotlight: While most CA series spotlight a particular character who stands out as getting a short shrift from the viewership at large (for instance, Anthy Himemiya and Lt. Oscar), I couldn’t find a single character who cleanly fit the bill in this series. As devoted to veiled intentions as it is, nearly every character gets a moment where their true motives or arc are only clear in hindsight. With that in mind, this section will be a rotating focus on whoever shines most prominently from episode to episode, and take a closer look.
Courtly Intrigue Update: Did I mention the intrigue? It can be occasionally tough to keep track of who’s screwing who (over) and why. This section is for your soap opera news bulletin.
Adaptation Corner: While there is no single section dedicated to the novel itself (instead, quotes and discussion will be threaded through as needed), I will be looking at a handful of other adaptations the Le Conte has seen over the years, and take a brief look at how they stack up in the conversation.
Themes: The good old kitchen sink section. A place for discussion the ideas of the episode, how this or that subplot is developing, and the usage of visual storytelling, motif, and so on.
Bide your time, and hold out hope!