Gankutsuou is an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m personally prefer when book adaptation do something different from the source material. I think that they need to distinguish themselves somehow and should be able to be understood by someone who is unfamiliar with the original work. Gankutsuou certainly does manage to do this but doesn’t entirely work as a whole. The change in setting isn’t bad, the story gets moved to a futuristic space setting that maintains the source material’s French court politics. It also starts the story in the middle rather than the beginning which also mostly works.
The real issue is switching the main character to Albert instead of the Count of Monte Cristo. Doing so does add a certain air of mystery and menace to the Count, but Albert is a way less interesting character. He’s just so ignorant of the real plot that it’s frustrating. The audience can easily infer things that Albert can’t seem to. So much of the story takes place before he was born, it’s unsurprising that he just kind of blunders around for the majority of the show’s runtime. It takes 20 episodes for him to finally take action into his own hands and do something. But of course the series can’t be about the adults, it has to be about the teenagers! It’s such a typical anime decision.
Prior to watching Gankutsuou, I had only heard universal praise for the show’s visuals. I think the show is still remembered 10 years later specifically because of this. It’s known for being the show with a million patterns and textures. Most characters have outfits and hairstyles consisting of many contrasting colors and patterns. Rather than having the patterns move with the characters, the characters seem to move over the patterns. It’s definitely an interesting choice; one that I haven’t seen replicated in another anime. The costumes really are pretty neat, Studio Gonzo even managed to get fashion designer Anna Sui to contribute a few.
However, after a few episodes your eye gets used to the patterns and the textures, and the viewer can pick up on some real weaknesses. The character designs and animation are a lot less interesting than the clothes and hair. Worst of all is the heavy use of CGI. I should cut the show some slack since it’s 10 years old, but man it looks really awful at least 95% of the time. The action scenes that rely on the CGI have aged really poorly. It’s hard to be engrossed in a battle when everything moves weirdly and doesn’t quite match the rest of the show’s aesthetic. They even use CGI in certain elements of the backgrounds, which I found distracted from the actual action of the scene. It’s a shame because there’s some really good design work that gets ruined by a weirdly shiny CGI vase in the corner.
I have a lot of respect for this series’s willingness to take so many risks and attempting to tell a familiar story in a new way. The story of The Count of Monte Cristo has endured for a reason - it’s genuinely good. Perhaps Gankutsuou doesn’t entirely do it justice, but it is certainly an interesting experiment.
A selection of Backgrounds made for Space Dandy #9, episode imagined and directed by Eunyoung Choi. I had the chance to paint every backgrounds which took 4 and 1/2 month for 340 cuts. If you like those I can make an other selection :) Anyway I encourage you to watch the show!
Anime blog of Jo: 23 years old, obsessed with Satoshi Kon, loves Masaaki Yuasa, and enjoys shows that are colorful and creative. I make crappy gifs and occasionally dabble in criticism. Non-anime posts are on my main blog, breakityourself.