Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (2004-2005)


While vacationing at Lunar, Albert de Morcerf encounters the vibrant Count of Monte Cristo, and is soon saved by him following a kidnapping. Enamored with the Count, Albert agrees to introduce the Count to the royal families upon his return to Paris. Little does Albert know he has just became a pawn in a very dangerous game of revenge.

A quick way to get me to watch an anime series is to tell me it's a futuristic take on the legendary Alexandre Dumas tale, recognized for its unique artistic qualities, and from the point of view of the young Albert, and odds are, you're going to peak my interest. Despite my reservations about reading, The Count of Monte Cristo is such a captivating tale, even I couldn't keep away. So I had very high hopes going into this one (especially considering the many rave reviews I had read)... perhaps they were too high though?

Throughout Gankutsuou it was apparently obvious, the best thing it had going for it was its writing. Gankutsuou is not for the faint of heart, or mind. It deals with revenge, suicide, murder, incest, homosexuality, prejudice, class distinction, and demonic possession. So much so I found each new episode deeply captivating, a strong sense of narrative need, willing to go the extra mile for the story, even if it will distance itself from those viewers unable to take it. Taking the tale to the future gave the crew the ability to use mecha for battle sequences, outer worldly items, and new twists (they do take some liberties with the plot). Still, it's an absolutely amazing, and dark, tale.

Yet despite the many claims of its artistic value, I found Gankutsuou's animation to be generally sub-par. Utilizing 3d layering, and graphics, on top of hand drawn animation, it's one of those situations that when it works, it is absolutely beautiful (see above picture), but when it doesn't... it's a disaster. The 3D graphics during many chase/fight scenes felt like an N64 video game, and often took me out of the more intense moments. The layering on the clothes sometimes works, but throughout it often felt odd to me, the texture and lighting always felt odd. As if it all didn't match, and in the end this irritated me the entire time. The few amazing sequences were seldom outweighed by the many disastrous ones, and when you have such heavy thematic elements, you don't need to try and overdo it with the animation.

*Spoilers Lay Ahead* One thing I found particularly interesting though, is that the final episode of the show is dedicated entirely to monologue. This is something I have to admit I champion heavily, as after you've spend 12-25+ hours with a show, I think a little knowledge of what lay ahead for them is earned... and I hate to say it but Gankutsuou drops the ball here. Much of this final act is spent watching the main character wonder around, and a subtle hint at the reunion with his love, but nothing concrete. It was nice to see a little bit of closure to some of the other storylines, but even with a final 23mins they seem more interested with their graphics, than closure to the story.

It's a shame too, as this is such a well written anime, I kept hoping for it to leave the animation alone and just go heavy on story. It's got tear jerkers, emotional farewells, and reunions. It's got all you could ever want from a narrative point of view, and still they want to go that extra 3D render too long. Sometimes it's simple that is better. Here is a case where too much effort at flair weighs down heavily an amazing story.

Despite an amazing story, it's a shame so much of whether or not you'll enjoy this series lays on whether or not it's unique style of animation works for you. For me, I found it obtrusive, but I admire the strength of the writing so much, I dare not give it a negative score.

2 better thoughts:

Alex said...

This sounds interesting- I've never read The Count of Monte Cristo (I know, I know) but I like this concept. I'm sorry you didn't like the animation- it's so frustrating when visuals can overtake the merits of a story, but I think I'll give it a try and see if I can stand it. It's on Netflix instant so it's easy!

Univarn said...

@Alex Yeah, in reality this is probably closer to a 7+, but I was so grumpy at the graphics at the time when I wrote it I was rather frustrated. I think upon a second watch at some point down the line it won't bug me much.

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