FRANZ IS IN LOVE WITH ALBERT, DID WE DROP ENOUGH HINTS FOR YOU.
Episode Specifics: While Albert is taken away to the lair of the famed bandit Luigi Vampa, the recently freed Peppino appears to Franz with a ransom demand: 50,000 ducats delivered before sunrise, or Albert’s life is forfeit. Frantic, Franz scours the city, but finds that the only person he can turn to is the Count. The two, along with the Count’s right hand men, storm the bandits’ hideout and rescue Albert. When Albert insists on showing his gratitude, the Count reveals that he intends to move to Paris in three months’ time, and asks Albert to help him make contacts in the city’s high society. He also gives Albert his lost watch, as a token of their meeting. Because he’s really pushing this whole suaveness thing hard.
Here we have our episode dedicated to laying out the rules of what the Count can do. We see that he’s able to back someone into his web of manipulations (Franz) even without the starry-eyed goodwill that Albert affords him; that he is essentially unkillable and not at all above getting his hands dirty; and that he apparently has another being inhabiting his body. There is some fucking stellar setup that a first time viewer is almost certain to miss – all of the episode recaps are given by an unknown person, in French. Meanwhile, when the Count reveals himself as Gankutsuou, his lines are doubled with a second voice…that’s speaking in French.
The comparison to a vampire is exceedingly appropriate for this version of the Count – we’re shown time and again, even this early on in the plot, that he is a dangerous man who means our young protagonists some unspecified harm. But he’s also handsome, charming, and always showing up at just the right minute in a way that obfuscates his intent. He’s better than any adaptation of Dracula at encapsulating simultaneous allure and threat without dipping obviously from one side to the other. And in general, the design is a wonderful interpretation of Edmond’s aging process (versus the wedding photo).
His oval face had lengthened and his once merry lips had adopted a fixed, firm line that spoke of stern resolve. His eyebrows arched under a single, pensive line and his eyes themselves were imprinted with deep sadness, behind which from time to time could be seen dark flashes of misanthropy and hatred. His complexion, kept so long from daylight and the sun, had taken on the dull tones that give such aristocratic beauty to men of the north when black hair frames their faces. Moreover the knowledge that he had acquired gave a look of intelligent self-confidence to his whole face.
You can see it now, can’t you? Not just in the general art but in how his expressions are shaped and his face animated. The sense of love in these small things absolutely pours out of the design.
This also seems like an especially apropos moment to bring up that if you wind up feeling frustrated with 15 year old Albert’s naivete, that a) he was a grown ass adult in the books, where he still falls for a lot of this stuff; and b) that he falls asleep in his little holding cell, and when they wake him up this happens:
‘My dear friend,’ Albert said, with perfect equanimity, ‘in future be so good as to remember this maxim of our great emperor, Napoleon: “Only wake me up when it’s bad news.” If you had let me sleep, I should have finished my gallopade and been grateful to you for the rest of my life…So, have they paid my ransom?’
And then the Count shows up and says he talked them down, everybody walks out. No gallant rescue, no bravery in the face of torture or attempts to save the girl who lured him. Dumas was not particularly concerned with the reader liking Albert, is what I’m saying. Or rather, the anime is quite determined that you do, adding flourishes at every turn to show that while Albert is the pinnacle of bad, selfish decision making with the self-awareness of a turnip, his heart is in the right place. The sort of person who, if only he understood that he was hurting someone, would then want to stop. It’s the element that makes his character worth investing in, no matter how frustrated we become along the way.
While the colors on Luna made it seem otherworldly last time, a secondary reason becomes far clearer as we watch Franz pushed to the edge of desperation (another element not in the novel, not least because we’re meant to be on the Count’s side) – red and gold, evocative of blood money, passion, and the violence both below Luna and the opulent surface of the Court that callously recounts how the police leave people to be savaged by the bandits.
Character Spotlight: Let’s all take a moment to appreciate how sad Franz’s life is, shall we? He blames himself for his father’s death thanks to a foolish thing any child might have said, setting the mental landscape for him to live his life as a silent, longsuffering caregiver who constantly plays the reserved mediator, on some level fearing that his loved ones will be snatched away from him again in an instant. He’s been in love with Albert since childhood but doesn’t do anything about it, probably half out of fear that he’ll be rejected and lose his one close relationship and half of the belief that, again, he killed his dad and now he doesn’t deserve happiness as much as he tries to facilitate it for others. Meanwhile, he keeps up a façade as a gentleman that involves being charming and responsible as a member of the nobility and also includes a fiancée whom he doesn’t really love. And Albert is, particularly in this regard, a selfish and insensitive dipshit who doesn’t appreciate the amount of love and care being poured out for him. Franz is a fucking tragedy on so many levels before we even go into the whole Tragic Gay thing (and we will; not today, but we will).
Franz is so far from his place in the novel that, like Peppo (hold your socks, we’re coming to her), he almost qualifies as a new character entirely. He does exist – for example, he seeks the Count’s help in getting Albert back, and has initial misgivings; and later he tells Albert about a time he met the Count on the isle of Monte Cristo, a night that later seemed to him to have been a dream – but he’s nowhere near as important as he in the anime. Here, he’s more or less a second protagonist alongside Albert, the Sensibility to his friend’s Sense. It’s through him that we’ll get most of the pieces of the Count’s backstory, in a rather thoroughly effective path of detective work.
Courtly Intrigue Update: We have a bit of a foggy situation here as far as the bandits go. In the novel, it’s clear from the get go that the Count has hired the whole gang to stage the kidnapping, allowing him to win Albert’s trust. Here, it’s played considerably more ambiguously, with the Count and his men staging a flashy rescue seemingly at peril to themselves. I would wager that at the very least the Count bought Peppino’s services ahead of time: he had apparently been left to rot on death row, which would have given the Count an opportunity to approach him and a mood in which he’d be amenable to at least nonlethally letting his fellow gang members have it; knowing ahead of time that he’s to be pardoned would also explain why he’s so bold in front of the guillotine, yet so apparently cowed by the Count. From there, it’s more or less a quibble as to whether rest of the bandits were in on the act, or if Vampa was frightened into offering his services by the Count’s reveal as the dreaded Gankutsuou.
Adaptation Corner: Now, if you’re reading along in English, there is inevitably the question of which version you’re reading. The good news is, we finally live in an age where a complete, solid English translation exists, with extensive notes and lovely, flowing language. That’s the Robert Buss translation, released by Penguin in 1996 (it’s also the version I’m pulling quotes from).
The fact that it took until 1996 for us to get a complete version of a world-famous novel first published in 1844 is something of a tale. See, first we got a standalone abridging of Edmond’s betrayal and time in prison, published in 1845 in Ainsworth’s Magazine and retitled The Prisoner of If. The rest of it, also abridged, made it into the magazine by 1846. Then there was a single-volume version in 1846, also abridged and still called The Prisoner of If. Then there was another, anonymous translation (super not dodgy, right there) that spent a long time as the most well-known one, since it was put out by Dickens’ publisher Chapman and Hall.
And there were some minor tweaks and bobs that more or less hewed to that version until waaaaaaaaaay later, specifically 1955, when Collins decided to….uh, “fix” it. By cutting out big chunks of text, renaming some chapters, and even throwing one chapter out wholesale. I am sure you would be shocked, just shocked, to hear that a lot of those missing passages had to do with the bits loudly implying, from the rooftops, that Eugenie Danglers was gay and in love with her piano teacher.
So, 1996 is the way to go, is what I’m saying.
Themes: So. Peppo – an entirely new character created for the series. While there is a “Beppo” who disguises himself to lure Albert to the bandits, he appears just that once and is never heard from again. That leaves entirely free reign on how the anime wants to approach this new person they’ve created. I would be lying if I told you I’m 100% thrilled with how she’s depicted. But given what I understand of the state of queer affairs in Japan, I tend to grade these things on a curve (that curve is called “better than Grell Sutcliffe”). So, on the curve, set back to 2004 (two years into Wandering Son’s run, one year after trans people – though only ones who have gone through reassignment surgery – were legally given the right to change the marker on their birth certificate), I end up giving it a fair amount of props.
Albert’s shocking reaction at the end is tacky no matter which way you slice it, and I will not rest until I have stabbed the “trans person gender confusion” supposed joke to death a thousand times over in its rotting grave, but I assure you I’ve seen much, much worse. The bandits all refer to Peppo by her proper pronouns (which might be the subtitles interpreting neutral language), and later when she appears in the plot the dynamic is interesting indeed: she makes Albert uncomfortable, but it’s played as a mark of his immaturity, coupled with her love of purposely riling him up by talking about uncomfortable subjects (usually sex). The writing forefronts other reasons for their relationship to be prickly and uncomfortable, and gives an enormous amount of sympathy to Peppo as time goes on. It’s not going to win any Most Progressive awards, but within the low, low bar anime has for trans representation (the high bar is Nathan Seymour), it’s pretty good.