The one where the episode title is only applicable in the last minute.
Episode Specifics: With Albert’s help (and the Count’s, unseen), Valentine’s rescue proves to be a success. Or so it would seem. In reality Villefort has private investigators watching them even as he reveals Heloise’s plot and drives her to a breakdown by informing her he intends to have her institutionalized for life.
It is, meanwhile, a very up and down week for Albert. His world is shaken when he hears his parents arguing, and Mercedes proclaims that she only married Fernand because she believed Edmond Dantes to be dead. Looking for comfort, Albert seeks out Franz’s company at their childhood hideout (a possible reference to the separate apartments adult Albert kept in the novel), but winds up arguing with him over whether the Count was involved in the Villefort family’s woes.
While Franz sets himself to the task of uncovering just what Gankutsuou is, Albert gets word from a joyful Eugenie that she’s been asked to play at the opera. His hopes of watching her perform are dashed, however, when he comes home to find that his engagement has been called off.
Whew! That is a lot of plot (and we didn’t even touch on the Count and Albert’s very portentous tea party). These middle episodes are charged with moving a lot of little pieces in the name of both pushing Albert to his lowest point and setting the Count up for his big vengeful flourishes. Thus, we end up juggling single scenes that move along the plot interspaced with three very heavy hitting scenes illustrating character motivation: Villefort and Heloise, Fernand and Mercedes, and Albert and the Count (with Franz and Albert’s argument somewhere in-between).
Somebody on the team for this episode heard “character study” and decided it was time to turn the visual symbolism up to eleven, and I love that person. There’s a full range of subtlety on display here, from the overt stylistic shift of Heloise’s breakdown, to the moody blue color palette after Albert hears his parents fighting and lingering DO YOU SEE shot of a stained glass window in Franz and Albert’s hideout featuring a (innocent/sacrificial) lamb, to a haunting image of Albert literally descending into darkness as he talks about being the only person who understands the Count (which might be my favorite image of the episode). How appropriate to call such attention to these things in an episode where the Count has an extended monologue about nothing being coincidence.
Also in the ever-important Albert Growing Up watch, he and Peppo are really cute this episode – his fluster has changed from being at her mere presence to a dislike of being teased, and his rejoinder this time is notably “excuse me YOU KIDNAPPED ME REMEMBER” rather than having to do with her being gross (why am I pointing this out? Because that is a surprisingly high bar for anime, and I think I ship it a little; also it means a distraction from the substantive matter of their conversation re: inherent and inescapable corruption in the state. That’s a liiiiiiiiiiiiittle too real right now).
Character Spotlight: In honor of the best scene in a very fine episode, let’s talk about Fernand. His character was always the hardest to crack in the book, by which I mean he changes almost irreconcilably between his early appearances and the man we meet later on as the Count’s target (it’s such an incongruous thing that the introduction of the Penguin translation even points this out as “yup, that sure did happen because the plot needed it to”).
You may recall back when we discussed Mercedes that the book makes it fairly plain that Fernand’s plan is to play off Edmond’s death and thus scoop up the tragically mourning Mercedes to be his wife. It is, start to finish, a win born out of combined pity and resignation (Fernand also has the whole I WILL DIE WITHOUT YOUR LOVE thing down pat). That’s just a thing that’s there at the foundation of their relationship, ugly and unacknowledged.
This restructure – it has to be a dramatic reveal to an extent so that Albert can hear about it (in an absolutely perfect button on the scene) – means that anime Fernand winds up with a slightly different (and much more interesting) implication to his character: an element of noted self-delusion. It’s a small thing, but it goes a long way in covering the gap between the two versions of the character that Dumas ultimately wrote. We have not just a man who’s ruthless, but one who lies to himself about it after, convincing himself that whatever he did in self-interest was in fact for the best, from his war career to, apparently, his marriage to a woman who quite vocally only thought of him as a dear friend before falling into grief.
Not only does it set a precedent for how he’ll behave later on, but it sets him up not only as an adversary but a foil to this new version of the Count who can’t give up on vengeance. Each is convinced that they’re doing what they must, unable to face (or purely uncaring of) the destruction they’re causing in pursuit of their goals.
Courtly Intrigue Update: Knowing that Villefort values his reputation more than anything else, the Count helps from afar with Valentine’s rescue – the ring he gifted to Heloise is apparently remotely controllable, like the horses he returned to Madame Danglars, and he uses it to debilitate Heloise with poison. This marks yet another shift in the telling of the Valentine story, making the Count’s eventual involvement a matter of striking a blow against Villefort rather than doing a kindness for the Morrel family.
Realizing that his wife intended to poison everyone and keep the inheritance for her son, Villefort tells Heloise he intends to have her committed for the rest of her days, causing a real mental breakdown (in an absolutely chilling scene that ties Heloise’s increasing nudity and disheveled appearance to her mind’s unraveling). Edouard overhears this exchange from his room, pretty much guaranteeing that he’ll be scarred for life – another piece of collateral damage in the Count’s plan.
Engagement-related things also happened in the last two minutes, but there won’t be any point in talking about that until next time.
Adaptation Corner: This week we must dip into a valley called “things that were difficult-to-impossible for Vrai to research.” The sixties and seventies, you see, were a time when the world saw a bumper crop of television adaptations of Dumas’ novel, having realized at last that perhaps a two hour film format didn’t really suit a novel the rough size and width of a brick.
One of them, in fact, was a Japanese television serial titled Nihon Gankutsuou in 1979, which as far as I can gather was a period-piece placing of the story in a similar sort of vein to Kurosawa’s Ran and Throne of Blood. I will never be sure, because even the sites purporting to have it for pirating purposes might well be lying (and I’m far too paranoid and legally prosecutable for that game anyway) – and frankly, I have my doubts that it survived in an archival form.
Live action television in Japan, to the best of my understanding, is a lot more likely to be done on very low budgets and distributed as something of a disposable product (which is how you get things like the blatantly obvious use of stuffed cats in that mid-2000s live action Sailor Moon). By and large, there wasn’t a high drive for archival (and might not be to this day, outside of preserved internet recordings). Around that same time (in 1977), there was also a serial released in Hong Kong, likewise lost to the ages.
There was also a by-all-accounts beloved BBC serial in 1964, which was thought lost until it was brought out on DVD in the last few years. A DVD which is region 2 only and rather expensive. It’s been a frustrating research week. Alan Badel carries quite the reputation for his work in the title role, though like Robert Donat before him he seems to have been decidedly chosen for his skills in the Count part of the role rather than as Edmond (this issue of duality is another issue the anime is smart in sidestepping with its changed structure).
Weirdly enough, the Italian serial released in 1966 DID survive and is viewable in its entirety on Youtube (though it has no subtitles, making it once again outside my ability to comment on; did I mention the frustration).
Themes: Let us speak for a moment on the topic of hitsuzen, a word which features heavily into the Count’s advice to Albert. It’s loosely translated as “fate” in most anime subtitles (or certainly was at the time, particularly as XxxHolic was being localized), making the Gankutsuou team notable for using its more specific usage: inevitability. The sense that not only is something destined to happen, but that there’s a confluence of factors converging with relentless, unstoppable force toward that point.
So perhaps that’s part of the reason that Albert doesn’t cotton on to the fact that the Count is basically laying out his plan here. To him, it’s all extended metaphor – the idea of a self-made man. And of course he’s just fought with Franz and set his mind to “I can trust the Count, I can believe in him no matter what,” in addition to still being dazzled by infatuation. He’s pointedly ignoring any signs at this point because that relationship is one of the only things that still feels stable to him.
It also seems to be a borderline genuine conversation on the Count’s part – a piece of that is no doubt confidence that Albert will believe the best of him no matter what at this point, but it’s also advice that the Count considers valuable. He’s teaching Albert the mindset that helped him survive to this point, trying to share a genuine part of himself in a way that doesn’t jeopardize his plan.
We haven’t talked about the “previously on” segments for a while, but at this point Gankutsuou has also changed their way of speaking – they no longer speak with the Count but observe or overhear him. There’s a sense of growing genuine attachment at play here, a distancing from the brutal needs of revenge. Which, of course, simply won’t do if you’re possessed by the literal embodiment of vengeance. But we have a little longer before that hammer comes down.