Gankutsuou truly is something quite different, standing head and shoulders above the vast majority of the trite anime releases of its season, and every season since. Here is something intelligent, daring, beautiful and compelling, with a story from classic literature. Gankutsuou is the Japanese title for Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, and this a clever sci-fi adaptation set in an imaginative future. The heart of the story remains Dumas’, however, and the futurization is mostly aesthetic – yet it is in aesthetics that Gankutsuou is most striking. Gonzo chose to use a transparency effect instead of colouring many of the items of clothing in the series, instead using strange static textures for a rich and rather bizarre visual effect. Coupled with brilliantly excessive scenery and simple but attractive character designs with a striking colour palette, the effect is striking to say the least.
The story is not quite like the novel’s, focussing not on Dantes, but on Albert de Morcerf, beginning with his meeting with the Count to watch the execution – in effect starting a third of the way into the book and turning its exposition into a mystery story. It is a clever way to make a thrilling but quite clinical story very human, and throws the count’s revenge into a very different light to that of the book, our sympathies becoming more mixed by us consider another point of view more attentively. Towards the end the series loses its way a little and some of the ways Dantes’ character is presented are a little badly judged, but I staunchly disagreed with those who complained the novel was 'butchered': this does not replace Dumas’ book, which despite its daunting length is actually very light and compulsively readable, and if anything is a treat for fans, encouraging as it does a slightly different way of looking at the work. This to my mind makes for something much more interesting than a slavishly accurate rendition.
Very pretty to look at, iconic, clever in its adaptation and presentation of a different and likeable protagonist, and of course still having at its core Dumas’ deliciously seductive revenge drama, Gankutsuou is easily my favourite Gonzo work.
(tweaked from original version written 24.2.05, with interpolation from thoughts from 4.4.05)