Gankutsuou: Based on that classic novel, The Isle of Dr. Moreau

Let’s talk about classic literature or, to be specific, anime based on classic literature. Most anime are based on manga or video games or light novels. Any of which can be literary but they generally aren’t thought of as such. There are some rare cases where an anime will come along based on an old work of literature like Journey to the West or Romeo and Juliet or today’s subject, The Count of Monte Cristo. The story was co-written by Alexandre Dumas and Auguste Maquet. It was originally serialised in eighteen parts in a French newspaper, the Journal of Debates, in 1844 & 1845. The story has been re-released and adapted a huge number of times since then, because it’s really interesting, complex and well-written. It’s not really surprising that, in 2004, Gonzo would decide to try their luck with a twenty four episode series. It actually ran at the same time as another Gonzo series, Sunabouzu. Let’s just hope that that means all their good people were working on this because if we can expect the same level of “quality” in both of these series, this is going to be painful.

Story:

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Let me start by saying that I’m not going to worry about spoiling the original novel. It’s been around for a century. It’s been referenced and adapted a lot. If you’ve gone this long and, somehow, don’t know how it goes you may want to stop reading this.

Gankutsuou follows the same basic narrative as The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond Dantès, a young sailor with a promising future, is sent to the Château d’If for a crime he didn’t commit. Betrayed and framed by people he trusted. He escapes and gains wealth, returning as the titular Count to mete out a terrible revenge against those who wronged him. There are three significant differences between the book and Gankutsuou. To begin with, the anime starts with the Count approaching young Albert de Morcerf and his friend, Franz d’Epinay instead of starting with the build up to Edmond’s arrest and showing his time imprisoned. The second difference is that the narrative here focuses on the younger characters who get a lot less focus in the original story. The third is that the anime has a sci-fi twist with interplanetary wars, mecha star ships and ll sorts of other lovely sci-fi elements. As such, the basic plot is the same but the stories are also very different.

I really only have two criticisms about the narrative here. The first deals with themes. For the most part, Gankutsuou is really good about retaining the themes from the novel with only some basic adjustments to better fit the shifted focal point and sci-fi elements. There is, however, one theme that’s not done justice. Oddly enough, it’s the theme that the younger characters were integral too. Mainly, the way the children of the Count’s enemies were shown to be fundamentally better people than their parents without the moral failings that led to them betraying him. Their relative innocence is still a factor, but it’s not nearly as strong of one. My second criticism is with the ending. I don’t want to spoil it since it is actually different from the original novel’s, but I will say that it has a bit of an ass pull.

Let’s move on to more pleasant things. To start with, I actually really like the decisions to focus on the younger generation and add sci-fi elements. They allow Gonzo to do something legitimately different while maintaining the essence of the original story. With the aforementioned exception, the series is also really good at keeping the novel’s themes. The parts leading up to and otherwise pertaining to the Count’s revenge is really awesome and intense and seeing it from the more naïve perspective of Albert actually does add quite a bit. There are some really emotional moments in this too, many of which are actually scenes that got changed from their novel counter-parts which does help keep things fresh for those of us who have read the story twice or thrice. And, somehow, they manage to do all that while still doing a really good job at adapting the story.

Characters:

In focusing on the younger characters, Gankutsuou also gives a lot of them layers of development that they didn’t really possess before. Let me stress, these aren’t bad characters in the original story they’re just weaker characters who have verisimilitude but don’t do much. There is, however, one younger character who is actually far superior in the original story. Let’s talk about her for a moment.

In the original story Eugénie Danglars is a determined young woman who eventually goes against her parent’s wishes to pursue a career in music and be with the woman she loves, Louise d’Armilly. Keep in mind, this was in the mid 1840s when that sort of thing was really strongly frowned upon for stupid reasons. Having a character like this, especially one who was portrayed positively, was practically unheard of. So, what do they do with Eugénie in this? They turn her into a generic love interest who’s totally in love with Albert, the fiancée her parents chose for her. Louise isn’t even in this, unless they hid her in the background somewhere. Eugénie still ultimately goes against their wishes and goes after a career in music but she’s a lot less free-spirited and needs her man to inspire her. Because, clearly, we need more generic love interest characters and less interesting ones. This change irks me.

Aside from Blanda there, the characters in this are really well done. The Count is a spectacular character, both here and in the original. Franz and Albert are both really good characters in this as well. Franz in particular experiences a huge upgrade. I also like that the Count’s entourage defers to him but doesn’t blindly obey him. I also like that they included a trans-woman while giving the people around her realistic reactions. Some act badly about it, others are okay with it and the distinction is generally that the people who really know her tend to be completely comfortable.

Art:

The visuals in this are really striking and impressive. The style is quite superb, particularly the way they use patterns. The various sci-fi gadgets look really impressive, possessing some real scope, and the character designs are fantastic. This anime just looks lovely. This series is also really good at using angles and character blocking effectively.

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Sound:

There are some really strong actors in this, but the performances that really stand out are Nakata Jouji as the Count, Hirakawa Daisuke as Franz and Yajima Akiko as Haydée. Out of all the strong performances in this, those three are the best. The music is also really good.

Ho-yay:

There’s a bit. It’s heavily implied that Franz is in love with Albert and there are some moments where Albert seems to have a thing for the Count. Still doesn’t make up for what they did to Eugénie.

Final Thoughts:

Gankutsuou, is actually really good. There are some areas where they could have done better and they really dropped the ball in turning Eugénie into Blanda, but it still succeeds in providing a strong adaptation with its own unique twist. It also does have really good visuals and vocal performances. Overall, I can recommend it whether you’ve read the original story or not, even if it’s not as good as the original. My final rating is going to be an 8/10. Next week I’ll move on to Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. Little known fact, that one was inspired by a Sappho poem titled “Hecate employs girls for the pure love they share.” That’s translated of course, and not something I just made up for fun.

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