Gankutsuou (巌窟王) is a 24 epiosode Gonzo production based loosely on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. Written by Shuichi Kouyama and directed by Mahiro Maeda.
Gankutsuou is very obviously based on The Count of Monte Cristo, only it’s set 3000 years in the future in a space-faring society and starts at a carnival on the moon. The story takes some liberties with the source material, clearly, but sticks to the main story of a sailor betrayed by his fellow crew and wrongly imprisoned who returns many years later as the mysterious (and somewhat vampiric) Count of Monte Cristo.
His path of revenge runs right through Albert de Morcerf, son of nobility and all around naive young man. Albert is our window into the ostentatious world of Future Paris with his best friend Franz d’Epinay, his very important parents, his betrothed and their insular group of high society friends. As the story unfolds, so does Albert’s world unravel, forcing him to grow and change in ways he never imagined.
The art is usually the first thing to strike you about this show. It’s not because of the character designs, they’re thin and understated to a fault (and very typical of early 2000s anime). But the clothing, backgrounds, effects and even the characters hair are colored in with intricate computer animated patterns. A mix of impressionist and ukio-e aesthetics makes this entire anime a visual feast.
The style is absolutely unique, feeling old and new all at once and it lends a grandiose air to the whole series that fits perfectly with the theme. It’s a known quantity as far as the story goes, dealing heavily in the ins and outs of revenge and the perils of high society. But while they’re familiar tropes, they’re told in a hauntingly beautiful way in this show and that makes the story feel new and exciting even if you already know how it ends.
Part of the appeal of Gankutsuou is also one of its biggest downsides. It’s bright, it’s flashy, it’s full of movement… it’s a headache. If you can’t handle the visuals you wouldn’t be alone, it’s overwhelming to many people, and even fans tend not to binge on this show in one sitting.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of taste. It’s a heavily dramatic show with distinctly old school flair. If that’s not your cup of tea, this will be a long, boring slog.
Weeb level: 0/10. The story is a classic of French literature and absolutely dripping with literary and artistic references, you don’t even need to be able to find Japan on a map to understand it.
Fanservice: 1/10. There’s some amazingly low cut dresses and court intrigue, but it’s played almost entirely for the story.
Quality: 9/10. It has aged a bit in the last 14 years, but the story is still enchanting and the visuals are still stunning. It’s worth checking out, dub or sub. And try not to miss out on the French episode recaps.
Where to Watch: Available on Crunchyroll, Amazon Video and iTunes.