Gankutsuou -The Count of Monte Cristo- Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 6) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, August 25, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What They Say
"Born into an aristocratic family in Paris, Albert sets out on a journey with his best friend, Franz, to escape his privileged yet dull life. They travel to Luna, which is on the surface of the moon, and meet a very wealthy man named The Count of Monte Cristo. Becoming completely fascinated with The Count's mysterious charm, Albert welcomes him into Paris high society. But soon Albert will discover the Count's true motive - revenge...
This unique adaptation of the legendary novel by Alexandre Dumas is an intense dramatic and visual experience, featuring direction by Mahiro Maeda (The Animatrix, Blue Submarine N.6), costumes by world-renowned Anna Sui, music by Jean-Jacques Burnel (The Stranglers).

The Review!
The latest in a long line of adaptations of the Count of Monte Cristo, Mahiro Maeda and Gonzo show just what kind of creativity they're all capable of in spades.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Both tracks feature a very solid stereo mix that captures the life of this show very well. There's a great sense of directionality across the forward soundstage right from the start and is well used from the large loud scenes down to the eerily quiet scenes. Voices in particular come across beautifully here and these tracks are very easy to get lost in. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing across 2004 and 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With the visuals being such a key part of the presentation here, a clean and problem free transfer is almost essential and that's exactly what we get. The show is done with such lavish and vibrant colors and designs that if it didn't capture it just right it wouldn't work as well. Between that and the blacks and various shades of darkness that come out, this is just a gorgeous looking print. It has a certain life to it that I don't think I've seen in many other shows before.

Though not the same artwork as the Japanese retail release, the first cover here is a gorgeous piece that has the Count sitting amidst all the elegance and opulence of an aristocrat and done in the over the top color style of the series. It's extremely busy, bright and colorful but it works perfectly in showing what to expect from what's inside. The mix of the logo being both the Japanese and English titles is a nice plus as well. The back cover is a bit more subdued for its background but it has a nice layout that covers a simple summary of the premise and lists the shows episode numbers and titles as well as a very complete listing of the discs features and extras. The insert uses a similar background on one side and provides a few more images from the show as well as the episode numbers and titles as well as a breakdown of the series release schedule. The reverse side has a really good looking shot of the celebration on Luna that would have made a good pencilboard.

The menu layout here is one of the more toned down versions of what Nightjar usually does but like pretty much all of their menus it's beautifully in theme. Almost like a stained glass window, it uses elements from the front cover to create an image of the Count with the drapes hanging around him. The bottom portion keeps it simple with the navigation strip that's easy to move about. Access times are nice and fast but unfortunately the disc didn't properly read our players language presets, something that's been happening more and more with Geneon releases as of late.

The opening volume has a nice selection of extras to kick things off with. There's a few of the standards such as the clean opening and closing sequences. The remaining extras from the Japanese release are pretty good. There's a selection of storyboards by Maeda that shows how the final image ended up as well as a roughly six minute interview piece with him after the first episode was shown to an audience for the first time. An amusing piece is the comments from the Japanese voice actors which serve as something of an after-episode commentary on the next episode and this covers the first five episodes. It's worth it just to see Nakata talk as the Count for a bit. And finally, the promotional trailer that has been used on some previous releases is provided here as well.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Gankutsuou, which is the name by which the novel 'The Count of Monte Cristo' was translated as for Japanese release many years ago, is a work that has seen many adaptations and ways of being told to audiences. This is a series that's been rather highly anticipated by a lot of people, myself included, but is one that I know that I'm going to fail horribly on with some folks since I've never read the original novel. While it's not a word by word adaptation of the original, there are bound to be nuances that I'm going to miss that those who've read the original will enjoy a lot more. Maeda touches on this in his interview a bit but has made sure that the overall experience is one that anyone will enjoy. Going by these first four episodes, he's done an amazing job and continues to be one of my favorite directors.

To the disappointment of some, this adaptation isn't taking place in the proper time. The setting is in the future though it does return to Paris and other sites of French interest over the course of it. The series opens up through the eyes of Albert, a young aristocrat and son of a General who wields much power, who is trying to expand his worldview and experiences and has arrived on Luna for the Carnival that's going on there. Along with his childhood friend Franz, they're off to experience the sights and sounds of the festival which is one of the most amazingly garish and fascinating pieces you'll see. During their time there, they end up at an opera where they get their first glimpse at something new, a supposedly noveau rich man named the Count of Monte Cristo.

Albert finds himself completely fascinated by the man and ends up working his way into his presence which leads to further meetings with him. One of those meetings on the final eve of the Carnival is where we learn exactly what kind of man the Count is. A public execution is set up of three men for varying crimes and Albert and Franz learn that the Count has a pardon provided by the Cardinal. To make the evening more enjoyable, he offers Albert the chance to save one mans life by drawing a random card that has their initials on it. The playing of it as a game horrifies Franz and it strikes at Albert as well but there's something about the Count that draws him into it. As he later says, the Count is someone that Albert wants to grow up and be so being able to partake in the same games and events is almost a given.

The relationship between the two men takes another turn when that same night, Albert finds himself being kidnapped by bandits and threatened with death if the money isn't paid by morning. Franz is left to try and figure out how to raise the money when everything goes wrong so he has to turn to the Count to do just that. Though his nature was already apparent just from what we've seen of him so far, it's when he intercedes here by sending some of his men to handle freeing Albert and then himself going after the leader of the group that his nature becomes even more. Being referenced to as the King of Caves and being merciless in dealing with the man, the Count secures himself as someone with not only the wealth and power to do whatever he wants, but the mindset to do it as well.

With the ease of which this is all done, it's easy to suspect the Count of setting it all up at that as he uses the end result of the situation to forge a stronger bond with Albert and to use him to introduce himself to the elite aristocrats of Paris in a few months when he arrives on Earth. Taking the original concept of the nationstates of the time of the original works and applying them on a planetary scale across a galaxy is fascinating from the epic scale but they bring it down to the smaller scale as well by showing how Paris has changed and the way people are separated from each other by status. As the Count makes his way into polite society and we meet more of Albert's friends, the growing motivation for everything behind what the count does is revenge and it's clearer minute by minute.

Gankutsuou is a fascinating work on a number of levels. The literary aspect of it alone is something where you know you're going to get an interesting story if the actors and scripters can pull it off, something they do quite handily in this set of episodes. The dialogue is wonderfully done and the actors do a fantastic job with it. I've been in love with Nakata's voice for ages now and the role of the Count is the kind of thing that you can imagine him being born to play. The other aspect that's played up a lot is the design of the clothes, which is done by the famous designer Anna Sui. While a well known fashion designer is one thing, it's how it's applied here that makes it fascinating. Unlike some older shows that used static images across entire clothes or manga series that do it much more frequently, this is much more alive and vibrant. Just watching Albert's collar blow in the wind or the way Eugenie's hair moves about is very addictive to watch and can draw you away from the story.

There are very few series that I get this kind of feeling from. While not the same kind of shows, it has that kind of special verbal feel to it that I got with the Crest of the Stars, Twelve Kingdoms and Legend of Galactic Heroes. The way people talk here and how they say it is incredibly important and the dialogue is not something that you can shrug off unlike most of the eye-candy shows where it really doesn't matter what any of them really says. This is almost the kind of show where you want to rewatch everything when a new volume comes in just to make sure you're putting it all together right.

In Summary:
Gankutsuou is a series that's going to have a rather interesting and very talkative group of fans as there is so much to go on about with every scene. The tale as told by Dumas has received quite an amazing new adaptation by Maeda here and the mixture of the science fiction elements with the nation states aspect simply works beautifully. This volume had me captivated from the opening charcoal style frame right through the final image of each preview. This is the title where when people foolishly say there's nothing worth watching out there you throw it in their face and tell them to open their eyes. Highly recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles, Act 1 Storyboard by Director Mahiro Maeda, Director Mahiro Maeda Interview, Comments from Voice Actors, Promotional Trailer, Textless Opening, Textless Ending

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Gankutsuou -The Count of Monte Cristo-