14
Jan
12

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Prepare to see this image reused... a lot.

Whenever I think of Studio Gonzo, positive reviews do not come to mind. They have an amazing ability to take great source material, animate it, and, without fail, fuck it up. For example, Hellsing and Chrono Crusade were great series ruined by horrible endings. Of course, Gonzo also creates terrible series that are unsalvageable messes from episode one, like Gantz or Strike Witches. Once in a while they create unintentional comedy gold like they did with Speed Grapher. The lesson from all this is that Studio Gonzo is trash. They have terrible writers, shoddy animation, and use extremely outdated CGI. To date, the only Gonzo series that could even remotely be considered good are Last Exile and Welcome to the NHK. Then I watched Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is a sprawling, epic adventure, a tale of heartbreak and revenge. It is a novel so intricate it requires multiple readings to appreciate it to its fullest. It stars one of literature’s most complex and intriguing (anti) heroes, Edmond Dantes. I’ve read the book and seen a number of Hollywood adaptations. To me, it is one of the greatest stories ever told. And since Gonzo is known for making non-sensical shit, I figured there was no chance in hell this would be any good.

The first thing I noticed was the animation style. The technique has been copied in other series like Mononoke, but never used to the full effect as it is here. Gankutsuou did away with traditional coloring and opted to use large, flat photoshop images to fill in hair and clothing. As the characters move, the patterns remain stationary. Backgrounds are rendered in 3D CGI. The entire first episode was an amalgamation of clashing colors and moiré patterns. Upon seeing this visual nightmare, I fell to the ground, screaming in pain, my eyes gushing blood. Eventually I recovered, and tried to watch another episode. By the end of the second episode and into the third, the shock went away, and the art style became appealing. It gave Gankutsuou a unique look. It also intangibly suited the series quite well. It conveyed the clamor, irregularity, senselessness, and insanity of the events to come. It also encapsulated the frivolity and narcissism of the aristocratic characters. Having seen the entire series, I can’t imagine it looking any other way, and I can’t imagine it looking any better.

The Count, AKA: Edmond Dantes

Shitty animation is a hallmark of Gonzo. Typically, their animation starts out quite strong, and gradually is reduced to a bunch of squiggling lines by the end. In this series the animation quality does not decline. There may have been a scene here or there with some irregular character designs, but overall the quality remained consistent. The characters have a tendency to move stiffly most of the time, a hallmark of avoiding animating too much movement (a budget saver, no doubt), but this doesn’t become annoying. Things held together pretty well, and it didn’t look like Gonzo farmed the animation out to a studio in Istanbul.

Background music in the series was good. Primarily, it relied on pieces of classical music. This helped to establish setting and atmosphere. The pieces that were chosen often perfectly accompanied the sense of dread or sadness or whatever each scene was meant to convey. The ending song was a rock/techno mix, and it was pretty fucking great. The opening song, on the other hand, was a disaster. Instead of picking something good, they chose a song with no rhythm, sang by a guy who is apparently tone-deaf. Ugh. I had to skip that shit every single time.

I have the series on DVD, and have watched it in both Japanese and English. I like dubs, and anytime I find a good dub, I will try to steer people toward it. The dub here is anything but good. It features bland performances from a cast of regulars who pop up in every Pioneer/Geneon dub. Their lines were often cheesy and poorly delivered. The actor for the Count, however, was amazing. He delivered each line perfectly. He displayed wit and charm, as well as anger, sadness, regret, and true menace. Sadly, he was the only one who did a good job. Perhaps most grating was the English cast pronouncing most of the French names incorrectly. While the Japanese track isn’t perfect, it fares much better. Plus, the Japanese actor for the Count does an incredible job, as well.

Funimation Gankutsuou DVD Box Set Re-release

As far as the plot goes, Ganktsuou follows the novel somewhat closely. Some of the changes were necessary to bring the show to the screen, but other changes were just What The Fuck Were They Thinking? Some of the changes included: moving the setting from the 19th century to the distant future, telling the story from Albert’s perspective instead of the Count’s, making one of Vampa’s men a tranny, and altering the ending, which I’ll talk about in more detail in a bit.

The original novel is quite long, and would likely require 50 episodes or more to include everything. Gankutsuou is only 24 episodes in length, so a lot of stuff had to be cut out. They start the action around the middle of the novel, with the Count meeting Albert and Franz on Luna (Italy in the novel). From there the anime progresses along the same course as the novel until they diverge at the conclusion. Certain aspects of the Count’s past (his love affair with Mercedes, his friends betraying him, and his time imprisoned in the Chateau D’if) are only touched upon in brief flashbacks. All of these events occurred in the first half of the novel and, as it was my favorite part, I was disappointed not to see them in their entirety. Nevertheless, they chose to focus on the latter half of the story and what they did worked well creatively.

There was no need to make Albert and his dumbass friends the main characters of the story. Seeing as this is an anime, anyone over the ripe old age of 30 is too close to the grave to be interesting anymore, so they thought, “We have to make this naive teenage aristocrat with no personality the main character!” God forbid they make the most interesting person, the Count, the main character. The literary Count, Edmond Dantes, is a far more intriguing, multi-dimensional character, but whatever.

A related problem was that whenever the Count was not on screen, the show withered. When he appeared, it flourished. That is the risk you run when you choose to make your main characters a bunch of dumb fucking kids instead of a rich sociopath out for blood. The weaker supporting cast could often bring the pace of the show to a grinding standstill. The Count should have monopolized the screen time to keep things moving.

This is the best Gankutsuou cosplay I could find.

The duel between the Count and Franz really pissed me off. Instead of having two men battle with swords, Gonzo just had to put them in fucking mecha. Why, dammit, why? They had a great story with a realistic slant going for them, and they just couldn’t resist the temptation to throw in some amateur-level CGI. They were scared of creating their first awesome anime, so they decided to shittify it by including a crappy CGI mecha battle.

Another idiotic LOL JAPAN aspect of Gankutsuou was this character, Maximilian. In the novel, he is important and cool. In the anime he comes across as a holier-than-thou turd. He comes from a lower-class family and, in the anime, he cannot fathom the idea of an arranged marriage; he’s never heard of the concept. This asshole goes out of his way to wreck Franz’s engagement to Valentine. He displays his thoughts on the subject with badly delivered lines fueled by angsty teenage forced emotion. He acts like a spoiled brat who doesn’t get his way. This ultimately led to a duel between him and Albert which bordered on absurdity. The two characters scream, “I’ll never forgive you!” which is the most overused line in anime. The Count looks on, grinning wryly, clearly thinking, “What a bunch of fucktards.” This scene was completely unnecessary, as two Frenchmen would not shout Japanese tropes at one another. This waste of screen time could have been dedicated to showing something more interesting like the Count hate-fucking Mercedes. I guess that scene got cut, huh?

The biggest change was in the penultimate episode. This is where Gonzo decided they could write a better story than Alexandre Dumas, and changed the ending. The Count is overwhelmed by the power of the space parasite Gankutsuou and ultimately succumbs to his death. He does not get revenge on Mondego. As he dies, his entire James Bond-villain underground lair collapses like a temple in an Indiana Jones movie. This is completely inexplicable, but by this point, all rational thought had been jettisoned from the series, so it didn’t really matter. Honestly, I’m surprised Gonzo had managed to keep a rational plot together for so long until this point. The problem they made with the change is that it alters the tone and message of the original novel. Gonzo tells us, “a quest for revenge will destroy you from the inside.” In the book, the Count exacts his revenge on everyone, and destroys the lives of their friends and families in the process. While he has a newfound love with Haydee, he is filled with conflicting emotions. He got his revenge, but he does not feel better. The message here is, “vengeance will not make you happy, it only destroys peoples’ lives.” The message Dumas conveys is ultimately a more important one. Plus, after decades of suffering, you want to see the Count get his revenge, not see him fall short at the end. Gonzo’s version works well enough, but it just isn’t as great as it could have been.

The best part of Gankutsuou was the sheer amount of homo-erotic overtones. From the first episode to the last, Albert has a raging boner for the Count. They travel together in outer space, they stare longingly into one another’s eyes, they dine together, they have long conversations in the sunset, and there isn’t a scene where Albert isn’t thinking about the Count. The homolust culminates in the finale with Albert planting a big wet kiss on the Count. Surprisingly, this also destroys the space parasite Gankutsuou. Who would have thought the way to defeat it would be through male on male action?

See what I'm talking about?

Looking back through this review, it seems like I hated Gankutsuou. I really didn’t. Overall, I thought it was pretty good. It was well animated, well directed, well acted, well scripted (although Dumas should get a lot of credit there), and had a unique aesthetic. Despite some shortcomings in the story department at the end, the series held up well. It is definitely one of Gonzo’s best. However, all of its problems hold it back from earning the highest possible rating. Still, you should check it out. Afterwards, I recommend you read the far superior novel.

Verdict: Good

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8 Responses to “Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo”


  1. 1 Tarnsman
    January 15, 2012 at 4:03 am

    Things like Gankutsuou, Welcome to the NHK, and Last Exile prevent me from labeling GONZO as the worst anime studio. More importantly, I agree that Nakata is pretty awesome as the Count.

  2. 2 mendepetok
    June 6, 2012 at 12:59 am

    I’m kinda fuh-cking surprised you didn’t even bother to mention the over-excessive of Illuminati symbols( or Freemasons or New World Order, or whatever fuck they’re called/related with…) But, whatever. Just sayin’.

    Like your posts, anyway. Fuckingly witty, entertaning AND hilarious, all the way……………!

    • June 6, 2012 at 7:09 am

      I honestly didn’t even notice what you’re referring to. I’ll pay more attention the next time I watch the show.

      Glad you like the blog, feel free to comment on anything.

  3. April 8, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Hi. Thanks for the review. Great work can you tell that whether edmond dies in the end of the novel or not.
    Will be thank full. Bye Man.

    • April 11, 2013 at 9:04 am

      I really struggled to figure out if this was spam or not. In either case, no, Edmond does not die in the novel. The novel is better than the anime in all aspects. You should check it out.

  4. 6 Muzozavr
    May 11, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    “Gonzo just had to put them in fucking mecha. Why, dammit, why?”

    Because their younger and more naive Albert does not have enough awesomeness in him for the novel version of “I deny the duel and am willing to endure the image of a coward” to happen in the anime, so Franz goes there in order to save Albert’s ass. However, if Franz fought the Count normally, the ruse would immediately fall apart. Something was necessary, and in case of Gonzo, that something was mecha.

  5. 7 Sarah
    January 24, 2016 at 5:07 am

    I just finished this entire series and went reading around for closure to the amazing homo-undertoned shit storm that anime was. This review gave me a good laugh. To be honest, I lost my shit most when I read ” They were scared of creating their first awesome anime, so they decided to shittify it by including a crappy CGI mecha battle. Another idiotic LOL JAPAN aspect of Gankutsuou was this character, Maximilian. In the novel, he is important and cool. In the anime he comes across as a holier-than-thou turd.”

    One thing I really failed to understand (that you may have noticed) is, in the last episode- WHY DOES MAXIMILLIAN SUDDENLY HAVE A BUNCH OF BEARD and look totally different than everyone??? I think it’s weird as hell that he looks like the only one whose aged at all at the end and everyone else doesn’t? Overall, I’d rate the anime decently for the sake of mostly Dumas’s plot and the vivid art form. Also because the count gave me a weird boner because he looks like my love interest- sans the blue skin and vampire teeth deal and the vengeance agenda. It was a pleasure reading. I’ll check out your other stuff. 🙂


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