One of my favorite stories of all time is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It is the tale of betrayal and revenge, the story of a maligned sailor named Edmond Dantès who escaped the Château d’If, found buried treasure on the Isle of Monte Cristo, and reinvented himself as an outstanding gentleman in order to reenter France and ruin the lives of his enemies, one by one. Yet his road is a dark one, and for all the cruelty he repays his foes, Dantès must atone all for the innocent lives he affects along the way.
As good a story as this is, I’ve rarely found an adaptation that’s faithful to the original message. Most films want to play up Dantès as purely sympathetic, removing all the psychological ploys used in the novel and taking a more action-hero approach. This is not always a bad thing, but it’s the spirit of the story that concerns me.
What surprises me most is that I found that spirit in an anime series of all places–Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo.
Alterations In The Adaptation
Now, being an anime, it has a lot of unusual elements, mixing futuristic technology like starships and holograms with nineteenth-century fashion and architecture. Turkish characters like Haydée and Ali have become aliens from “Eastern Space.” Duels are fought with sword-wielding giant robots that look like suits of armor. And instead of receiving aid from the Abbé Faria while in prison, Dantès sells his soul to an ancient spirit called Gankutsuou, who claims the mortal’s body to help him exact his revenge.
Beyond that and a few other liberties with the plot, this story does manage to capture the mystery and darkness that surrounds the Count of Monte Cristo. It helps that the plot begins not with the arrest of Dantès, but at Carnival, which takes place at Rome in the novel and on Luna in the anime. The story also puts younger characters like Albert de Morcerf and Franz d’Epinay as the protagonists, which is a good move, as they know nothing about the past and learn over the series about the extent that men like Albert’s father Fernand were complicit in the unjust arrest of Edmond Dantès.
Having said that, I wasn’t all that fond of Albert as the main protagonist if only because the writers did too good a job of showing how sheltered he is. He’s very much a wide-eyed idealist, refusing to believe that the Count might have an ulterior motive when it’s so painfully obvious to the audience. Frankly, I didn’t warm up to him until the very end, where he shows his true grit in spite of all the pain he’s endured.
The Count himself is an interesting figure, made distinct from the rest of the cast by his blue skin, pointed ears, and vampire fangs. And thanks to the spirit that possesses him, he has the ability to switch from suave to terrifying in an instant, as unnatural patterns and extra eyes can rapidly appear over his face. Yet for all the grandeur and mystery he exudes, he’s faithful to the original story in that he’s a tragic figure, a man twisted by misfortune and his own desire for vengeance that borders on a God complex.
Gankutsuou is its own story, focusing more on the relationships between the young generation of Albert, Franz, and others, while playing it off against the revenge plot that binds the older generation of the Count and his rivals. It’s visually impressive, although the background patterns never shift, and its soundtrack does justice to the romantic and dark turns of the series. If you have never read The Count of Monte Cristo, I suggest you do so first and then watch this impressive series to get the fullest experience possible.
Bibliography: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. Directed by Mahiro Maeda. Written by Natsuko Takahashi and Tomohiro Yamashita. Prod. Gonzo, Funimation. Animax, TV Asahi. October 5, 2004 – March 29, 2005.