Here come all those awkward relationship feelings.
Episode Specifics: Eugenie feels trapped and helpless at home, wondering why everyone has left her behind. Meanwhile, Franz goes to Marseilles to speak with Noirtier, learning that Gankutsuou is related to a man named Edmond Dantes once imprisoned in the Chateau D’If; Mercedes attends the national assembly, revealing Fernand’s past crimes at the height of his triumph, and Albert and the Count take a spacecation that ends in parting with all possible regret.
The writing on the Gankutsuou subplot has always been a little squirrely, since we more or less have an idea of the complete future much, much sooner than the show decides we do (though having the “previously on” segments will always be a stroke of utter brilliance). The way Gankutsuou works in-narrative is shown in small but effective glimpses, the whole SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE thing is typical anime word salad, and even a viewer not familiar with the story at large has probably put two and two together about the Edmond Dantes thing at this point. It’s a mildly annoying case of the writing assuming the audience is a little bit stupid, which seems more egregious than it would in other series because of how good the writing as a whole is at being understated.
Even still, the pen section has some nice visual metaphors going on. Blue roses don’t exist in real life, and as such they’re often used to symbolize the miraculous or the impossible. That theme as applied to a being personifying revenge (since it’s the key to discovering the Edmond connection – who is himself visualized alongside the purity metaphor of a white rose) is a fascinating double act. Revenge in abstract seems a cure all for years of anguish, impotent anger, and lost opportunities – a miracle. And yet nothing comes of it but self-destruction, as Haydee discovers, because every action has a cost. To hurt others, you lose a piece of yourself.
The trip into Noirtier’s mind also mirrors the chaotic imagery of the ending credits, implying secondhand that by correlation, when we hear that song we are, in a manner of speaking, seeing into the possessed Count’s mindset underneath the façade he wears, even from the word go.
Character Spotlight: Alright. It’s time we talked about Albert’s crush. Or, more specifically, the Count’s role in it up to this point. From the beginning, the Count has positioned himself as someone who fulfills all of Albert’s naïve ideas about romance: he’s experienced in tragically lost love, worldly but kind and interested in Albert’s problems, willing to trust Albert with secrets that make him feel special. All while cutting off Albert’s other pillars of support and making him incredibly easy to manipulate. From a 15 year old’s perspective, it’s really exciting. From an adult perspective, it’s about as blatantly predatory as it gets.
And as I mentioned below, the private vacation is in a hugely different context from where it is in the book, when the Count is on the verge of recanting his quest for revenge. There, Albert goes back to face the truth on his own, and is already thinking about joining the military as a way to see the world. Here, he’s two seconds away from the saddest love confession. And the Count, who could absolutely use that bottomless devotion to his advantage….stops him. He could completely use Albert as a backup plan, a way to drive the knife in further that Fernand’s career AND his legacy are ruined. But he doesn’t. Because Albert has somehow become someone he cares about.
Haydee has been the Count’s constant companion, the only one allowed to see him at his lowest points. Albert has become someone to whom the Count confides, sharing his pain to someone who can look at it without knowing about the revenge it drove him to (though Albert has an idea, unconsciously). There’s a moment that clicks on board that ship that ‘ohhhhhh shit, I actually care about this person for real” – the realization that makes him weep after sending Albert away, before Gankutsuou digs his claws back in.
The fact that a realization of actual affection causes him to back the fuck up rather than press his advantage – because Albert is a child, and he is an adult – is the only thing that saves any semblance of sympathy for the Count and this relationship. Because of course an actual relationship (we’ve wandered far afield of the father/son-ish dynamic from the book, and we’re gonna wander further) just isn’t possible for them. Not necessarily because of the age gap, which is about 15 years if, like the book, Mercedes had her child within a year of marrying Fernand (the Count’s dead eyed stare while talking about stars from 25 years ago throws some confusion on this, but he and Mercedes still seem pretty young here). It’s that Albert hasn’t finished growing up. His brain’s not done maturing, he doesn’t know who he is, and he doesn’t have the perspective to consider all the factors and theoretically decide ‘yes, I want a relationship with someone this much older and with aaaaaaaaaaaall this baggage.’ He’s an emotional teenager chasing a phantom. And the Count, in one of his only acts of compassion, won’t let him go down that road (bonus for tying into the title, with the Count temporarily struck by a different sort of truth that impacts the satisfaction of his revenge).
Courtly Intrigue Update: There’s a bit of ambiguity on the plan at this point, and how certain the Count was that Haydee would act on her desire for revenge. Certainly taking Albert out into space keeps him from interfering while she attends the rally, but Haydee herself didn’t seem certain that she’d act until the very last moment, when the event was already underway. I suspect a rather…unsavory backup plan was ready to go.
Future Paris seems to hold a lot of the same social mores as the Paris of the novel – one of the only reasons I can imagine why Franz didn’t have options as far as confessing his feelings and marrying Albert. So if Fernand wasn’t ruined by Haydee exposing his crimes…well, it’s definitely a scandal if his only son and heir is seen taking up with an older man, isn’t it? Albert wouldn’t have the sense to carry on a covert affair if he thought it was the real thing, poor child. And that ship had MATCHING ROBES and MIND ALTERING SUBSTANCES and then the Count starts spinning this sad, sad story about agendered lovers before launching into his thinly veiled past. All of which went away when the Count got news (presumably) about Haydee’s movements.
Adaptation Corner: As I’m sure you’d expect, there’s been more than a few attempts to adapt this story for younger audiences. That ranged from children’s theater radio plays (at least one nationally broadcast, though I’m positive there were smaller productions) to the Illustrated Classics comic books – which are not to be confused with Great Illustrated Classics, a series that pares down literature for a grade school reader with a handful of illustrations. As to be expected, they all shared a great paring down of the novel’s eight million characters and streamlining of its plot, for space accommodation if nothing else.
But by far the best attempt came with a cute little dog. Wishbone has slipped through the cracks somewhat since the 90s, but it was a premium-quality source of edutainment as far as translating classic stories for kids, combining a modern day plot that played on the chosen “lesson” from the story with a surprisingly text-accurate excerpt from the book. Things would be cut down, but the dialogue would often come directly from the book, or at least attempt to mimic that tone and level of language.
The adaptation here streamlines pretty smartly for having about 15-20 minutes (factoring in time for the modern day story): Villefort is cut, Edmond reveals Fernand’s misdeeds himself by spilling it all to the papers, and the story ends with Edmond accepting Mercedes’ pleas to spare Albert. We also might have our case of an actor (Wishbone is voiced by Larry Brantley) who makes a better Edmond than Count. I can’t tell how much of it is Brantley’s tenor voice, and how much it’s just easy to feel sad for a tiny puppy in a prison uniform. Either way, this also makes for the only time that focusing so heavily on the first leg of the story works out in the adaptation’s favor.
I CANNOT TAKE DOG COUNT BEING CARRIED AROUND ON A TINY PILLOW SERIOUSLY, ALRIGHT. The tiny puppy being held by a human woman while dubbed in vocals spout weirdly romantic dialogue is…is slightly less weird, somehow.
Themes: Just in case you missed the parallel narrative of Edmond and Albert’s lives, this episode is here to really ram that home for you. We have an innocent, their fiancée, and a Childhood Best Friend, and then everything went terribly, terribly wrong because of outside machinations. Of course, the dynamic is also quite different, since Franz is in love with Albert where Fernand loved Mercedes, and Franz isn’t a total asshole about it (even if he was in a far better position to say something, since early on he and Eugenie were on pretty even footing, but whatever, Sad Gay).
Smartest of all are the Eugenie/Mercedes parallels, a move that never fails to surprise me. Edmond’s story pulls in elements of the victim-blaming from the book, where lip service is paid to how secretly sad Mercedes looks but also HOW DARE THAT HO NOT WAIT FOR HIM EVEN AFTER BEING TOLD HE WAS SUPER DEAD FROM SOMEONE SHE (albeit foolishly) TRUSTED. Here though, Edmond’s diatribe about her disloyalty is intercut with images of Eugenie’s engagement to Andrea, which we know for a fact was a farce that Eugenie just has no way out of no matter how she protests. It’s just that nobody came along to help Mercedes, and nobody gives a particular fuck about her struggles and inner life. Eugenie might get the short end of the adaptive stick, but at least the writing does seem to have some awareness that she’s oppressed, and that she deserves to go live her own life (even if it decides she needs Albert’s help to do it).
The ways in which the parallels don’t line up, as mentioned above as well as the fact that Albert is still able to embrace hope (where this Edmond, lacking an Abbe figure, was not), are as important as the places where they align. It indicates the breakdown in Edmond’s logic about the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons, as though the next generation is an apparent carbon copy of the previous one (the unreality of it beautifully hammered in by the use of shadow puppetry to visualize the Count’s story); and it foreshadows Albert’s ability to break the cycle, not just in not seeking revenge but seeking to reach out to the one who wronged him (of course, victims are under no obligation to acknowledge or forgive their abusers, but we’re working here in grand thematic stand-ins of Forgiveness Versus Vengeance and the effect on one’s personal well-being, so on and so forth).