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

By:brettbarkley
Review Date: -
Release Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2005



The Review!
Gankutsuou is a rare accomplishment in any medium. Offering nothing you haven't seen before, the creators of Gankutsuou instead manage to use very traditional tried and true concepts and techniques so adroitly they become dazzlingly new and unexpected.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain
spoilers)
From the beautifully haunting and non-traditional opening theme song, I realized Gankutsuou was going to be different. Brilliantly performed by Jean Jacques Burnel, the opening theme song is a sad, longing song with only a slightest hint of the sinister masked beneath and stands as the perfect match for the closing credits theme (also performed by Burnel), a gritty, angry song of revenge. These songs stand as brilliant bookends for the show itself, as the Count wrestles with his deep hurt and his need for revenge.

Immediately, as a longtime reader of classic literature, I was a bit concerned a re-imagining of this wonderful tale would strip Alexandre Dumas' story of all but the most essential plot points. Rest assured literary purists, these episodes have gone to great length to retain a genuine feeling of authenticity and connection with the original. How an anime featuring moon colonies, deep space travel and alien races could stay closer to the source material than many of the other live action film renditions throughout the years is purely a credit to series director Mahiro Maeda. Mr. Maeda truly outdoes himself in masterfully weaving a classic tale through a strange and new environment, all the while managing to preserve the original story. I was highly impressed.

The characters behave much in the way you would expect if one is familiar with the classic story of love, betrayal and revenge. And it is this attention to even the slightest details from the novel that really impressed me. The Count's handshake is cold, as Dumas intended, leading one young French nobleman to hypothesize the Count of Monte Cristo may indeed be a vampire, again reflecting a similar scenario from the novel. I'm anxious to see where the story goes from here and if it continues to adhere to the novel.

Episode or Act one opens the series on young Albert de Morcerf and Franz d'Epinay as they make their way through the dazzling colors and decadent displays of Luna's Carnival. Luna, it seems is a moon colony and a place of great excess, where as one character states it, "In this city, all your desires can be fulfilled, no matter what they are." [Eng Sub] Luna, as we soon come to realize, is also a very dangerous city, with an undercurrent of violence that mirrors its great beauty. In no time, young Albert meets the Count and quickly becomes enamored of the mysterious and powerful stranger. After playing a seemingly simple game with terrific consequences, Albert and Franz learn a great deal about the Count, his power and the cold reality at his center. Horrified by the outcome of the game, the two friends argue then separate, each going his own way through the crowded streets of Luna. And as the great Carnival comes to a close, Albert falls into a deadly trap and is kidnapped.

In Act two, Franz learns of Albert's kidnapping at the hands of the dreaded Luigi Vampa. He will be returned for a ransom of 50 million ducats, but the money must be delivered before sunrise the following day. With little time or means of retrieving this significant amount of money, Franz turns to anyone he possibly can within the aristocracy of Luna, but to no avail. Desperate to save Albert, Franz turns to the Count of Monte Cristo and the Count gladly obliges, not only offering the money for Albert's release, but also goes to retrieve the boy himself. When the transaction does not go as planned, the Count and his men rescue the boy on their own. In payment for rescuing him, Albert agrees to act as the Count's intermediary in to Parisian society, as he plans to soon relocate there.

Act three opens on the day of the Count's arrival in Paris. It also expands the cast of the series, introducing the viewers to many of Albert's friends within the Parisian aristocracy, including Albert's finance. The mystery surrounding the Count deepens as he goes to the Morcerf home to meet with Albert and his friends. Some things are revealed about the Count, opening only new questions. Compared to the previous two episodes, Act three is a bit more sedate in that it is designed to establish the primary cast of characters. The conclusion to this episode, however, is truly not to be missed.

Act four opens with the continuation of the surprise reunion of the last episode. Over the course of the episode the Count works his way further in to Albert's confidences, gaining the respect of even Albert's mother and father. At day's end, the Count invites Albert and his friends to his residence on the Champs-Elysees, which serves to only build Albert's deep fascination and respect with the mysterious man. But seeds of doubt have begun to grow in Albert as an incident he had initially considered innocent, finding his mother and the Count speaking privately, begins to feel like something more. Albert begins to wonder about a family he once considered strong. Is his mother in love with the Count? The episode concludes with the trip to the Count's private residence and features one of the most brilliant scenes on the disk in which the Count presents young Albert with a sword.and nearly runs him through with it. Under the guise of simple play, the viewer can almost feel the teeth-grinding hatred behind that sword. Absolutely brilliant.

I will admit to having a few reservations when I first began watching the episodes. Episode one begins with something akin to Carnivale (called in fact, The Carnival). I was immediately struck with the explosions of color and pattern. It was almost difficult to focus, and this was likely what Mr.Maeda intended. After all, this is Albert's first time in Luna. But the strong use of patterns as fill in character clothing, hair, and even as background textures is done incredibly well. While this is not, by any means a new technique, it is done here in such a way as to only impress. Combine these deep, rich patterns and textures with Anna Sui's lavishly designed costumes, and the look is surreal and truly nothing short of beautiful.

I really find it hard to say enough about the art style of this piece. Aside from the incredibly imaginative and powerful use of pattern tones, the creative coloration of character hold lines added further impact. Traditionally, in print and animation, character form is outlined with black lines. In Gankutsuou, the artists tend to use varying colors to evoke further contrast from the pattern-rich clothing and backgrounds.

But with as much as the visuals accomplish, the sound is almost as impressive. With a truly inspired opening and closing theme and some brilliant voice acting on both audio tracks, the audio aspect of Gankutsuou is very solid. The sound adds so much to the mood of each scene, often reflecting the anger, rage and hurt within the Count when his stoic expression cannot.

In Summary:
Gankutsuou Vol. I gives me a great deal of hope, and not necessarily just for the rest of the series, or even for anime in general. If all creative mediums would turn from the current drive to simply embrace and manage a quick and dirty utilization of the newest advancements, but rather focus on squeezing the absolute highest performance out of the techniques so readily available, I believe we'd see an unimaginable creative renaissance and, in turn, these creators would be better equipped to utilize the newest advancements as truly substantive tools rather than flashy additions. And I believe Gankutsuou does this with great success. There is certainly to be found the inclusion of CGI, but the driving essence of the work can be found in the brilliant managing of older techniques (and certainly older story) and the more recent in a new and interesting way.

Surprisingly faithful to the source material, Gankutsuou is a beautiful story done exceptionally well. It's also a series I'm very excited to tag along for. That said, I give Gankutsuou my highest possible recommendation.



Review Equipment
34” Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.



Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: N/A
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
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-