Gankutsuou: Ruler of Novel to Anime Adaptations

March 3, 2009



Madame et monsieur, bonsoir. Disguised under the title of The Count of Monte Cristo, my friend’s enigmatic entrance to Paris has captivated his enemies’ attentions. No one has yet to discover who he is nor of the relentlessly approaching visage, which their vices have given birth to. I told my friend, to use the life he saved on the moon to sing the tale of their doom. However that instrument plays too young and too beautifulmy friend only fears that his heart was merely numb, which may beat again at its playful melody.


Generally anime has a good history of novel to anime adaptations. Legend of Galactic Heroes, Twelve Kingdoms, Kino’s Journey, Crest of the Stars, Boogiepop Phantom, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya…the list goes on. What distinguishes Gankutsuou (The Ruler of Cavern) from these works is how it laughs ridiculously at the notion of ‘faithful adaptation’, changes half the content of Duma‘s timeless classic The Count of Monte Cristo and still win. When it comes to sheer degree of ambition and innovation without falling behind on excellent execution, Gankutsuou rules unchallenged.


Simply brilliant was Maeda‘s directorial decision to set the story in a  futuristic universe instead of 18th century Paris for more contemporary appeal. Materiality and context are names of the game. In Gankutsuou, strange aliens, spaceships, pure gold mansion, and other futuristic materials of the Count fascinates us, just as his nubian slave, exotic cuisines and other strangely oriental background captivated Parisian people in the novel. We are invited to a world so unique and different, yet so similar to Dumas’ original imagination, as if to show some things in life are timeless. Like the ever-frenzic spirit of Lunar Carnival, never-ending greed for power and a mans bloodthirst for vengeance. The world of Gankutsuou is as original and fascinating without betraying the novel’s original intention.


Also notice above, how Maeda is visually painting different characteristics and establish different atmosphere. Mildly reminiscent of Gustav Klimts decorative style, these patterns arouse a spectrum of sensual feelings appropriate to particular settings and characters, whether it be excessively dressed Danglars couple in an interior plastered with golden cash, or plainly dressed Valentine Villefort in her humble room shaded in that coldly soft and pale grey hue, as if to reflect her gentle spirit being imprisoned and decayed. Maeda knew fully well how difficiult it is to convey all the subtleties and depths in mere 24 episodes, which is why he exploited best of the animated mediums in communicating as much as possible through visuals. Also interesting is how he avoids generic flat colours and instead experiments with glowing palette of computer-generated static textures, which are sometimes used as an elegant background, and sometimes to create a particular ‘vibration’ effect whenever there is movement. Result is simply outstanding.


Edmond who grieves for Albert's suffering. Edmond who savours his long-awaited vengeance

Even after such creativity and technical brilliance, I cant help but applaud Maeda for so boldly manipulating original plot and characters of Dumas to present something so uniquely profound. Although the Count still remains the most complex and interesting character, focus of the story is shifted to Albert. Albert is in a sense, reincarnation of who the Count once used to be; an innocent youth on his road to happiness. One moment we are feeling sorry for Albert who is victimized by unknown forces, and for the Count who has to watch his former innocent self betrayed by his very own hands. Sum of these emotions then intensifies our bloodthirsty satisfaction of revenge when the Count delivers those responsible for his suffering to living hell. What we experience as a result is a powerful and cyclic symphony of sympathy and vendetta that is not offered in novel. Tinkering with the original story and characters does leave out many timeless moments (such as the regret and tragedy of Villefort family), but Gankutsuou also tells new stories that touches us in different ways. Albert’s beautiful relationship with Franz and the final retribution and redemption of the Count are fine examples of that. Gankutsuou has taken the raw essence of original script and managed to project its own compelling vision of the story and characters, which is something sadly lacking in a medium packed with uninspiring adaptations.


Beautiful artwork alluding to what is coming in episode 23. That alluded scene was for me, much more dramatic and satisfying than how it was imagined in the novel.

All I ask of you is not to go in expecting a very faithful adaptation, as it does sacrifice some qualities that made the novel timelessly affecting. It will however take the novel’s original spirit in a bold flight of imagination, inviting you in a visually and emotionally enthralling ride of something different and more refreshing. I wish you madams et messieurs then, to appreciate what it really means to suffer, avenge and also love and forgive, at the end of your journey.



23 Responses to “Gankutsuou: Ruler of Novel to Anime Adaptations”

  1. coburn Says:

    Yay for Gankutsuo post! Especially your point about the sense of ‘timelessness’ in human drama which accompanies the shift to the far future.

    Like a lot of people, I watch a bunch of anime adaptations of manga (or visual novels) I haven’t read and get the feeling that something is being lost in translation. Episodes that would work as 15 minute stories being stretched out and ill-judged replication of still images for the sake of fealty are my most common complaints.

    This feels like it took inspiration from the meaning of the story, rather than being an exercise in production. If anything I almost wish they’d messed with the story even more, as during the mid-section the progression felt a bit too classically ordered to maintain momentum for me. Still something unique and special. And that OP!

  2. Well, I feel Legend of the Galactic Heroes still beats Gankutsuou on the ‘degree of ambition’ front, at least. But, leaving that reservation aside, I have a lot of affection and respect for Gankutsuou. I think you’re right to especially highlight its materiality: when I was watching it, the textures were so rich that the experience was almost like synaesthesia – it was like I was feeling the anime with my eyes. I thought that material element fed through into at least one of the Count’s revenges, the one involving gold, too.

    (The CGI mecha still sucked, though. They had no weight, and the tangibility of the rest of the world only made the contrast sharper.)

    I agree, too, that successful adaptions are often willing to alter their source material, though not necessarily as much as Gankutsuou. I thought s-CRY-ed, for example, took a very mediocre manga and turned it into a chunk of well-distilled shounen action.

  3. Kim Says:

    Funny I was just thinking about Gankutsuou the other day (probably because Funimation is releasing it again and I need to buy it)

    I really enjoyed Gankutsuou although I do think the novel is definitely better this is by far the best adaption of the novel I have seen and that is saying something as it is one of my favorite books. I thought it was very interesting that they told the story from Albert’s perspective that made him a much more interesting character then he was in the novel. That being said while I still liked the Count in Gankutsuou he was less interesting than the original Count in Dumas’ novel. As for the anime I also liked the additional depth they gave to the Franz/Albert friendship

    This series is by far the best from Gonzo. The style looked great (well except for that one CG fight) but more importantly Gonzo did not substitute substance for style and had an equal level of both.

  4. gaguri Says:

    There is a funny irony :). Gankutsuou changes so much, yet manages to be much more faithful than your typical manga to anime adaptations. My observation is that there is no visible efforts to take the raw essence, then come up with something that works for the animated medium, and their futile attempt to just ‘plug in’ any manga into your typical anime style most likely will lead to failure.

    By the way, are you talking about the OP song of Gankutsuou, or Opening narration? Because I personally didn’t think the OP song fit the anime, even though it’s a good song to listen to.

    @The Animanachronism
    Ah…I haven’t watched Legend of Galactic Heroes (my bad for jumping the gun) I just assumed that a lot of its success owes to the original novel, wheras in Gankutsuou the ambition to transfrom the novel into something so drastically different (yet still effective) was very noble.

    I’m glad you brought up such an interesting observation on ‘materiality’. When I talked about materiality, I actually meant Gankutsuou using materials such as space ships and aliens, as opposed to 18th century equivalent materials like nubian slaves. But you still nailed one of my points about how they used rich textures to convey emotions in unconventional ways. It’s really interesting to see unique material expressions in anime, from top of my head, titles like Mononoke, Paradise Kiss, Maria Holic and Zetsubou Sensei are also examples of this.

    And I agree…CG battle sucked…I respect his decision to use mecha battle to stage a duel appropriate to its futuristic context but…I think their staff members should have restrained him from going bit too far.

    Oh I like the novel bit better as well and this is also my favourite adaptation (although that is not saying much since I only saw one other adaptation ^_^b…). Of course, I do not need to mention how utterly disgusting the hollywood adaptation was. It’s like they picked all the best parts purposely and destroyed them.

    This is definitely the best Gonzo work, although I tend to avoid giving the credit to them. I’d like to think that Maeda deserves most of the credit, as obviously very important and innovative decisions have been made (such as changing the setting, story and characters) and most likely Maeda was responsible (or maybe the script writer…? who knows x_X).

  5. coburn Says:

    re. ‘the OP’, I was thinking of the song/video.

    In some ways I agree that it didn’t capture the tone or style of the action, but it became a pretty big part of the show for me. It’s probably because for all the space-age decadence I still felt that I was watching a big old-school romance, and pressing play to hear that song somehow felt right in that context. Might even be a case of the quality of the song changing how I watched the show. When the song came out for its final runthrough it felt like that romantic aspect of Gankutsuou had somehow ‘won’.

  6. gaguri Says:

    Ah I can see it now. Yes the song fits the final episode perfectly. Although I’m still going to stick to my view that they should’ve used more fitting OP for 23 episodes before it!

  7. I think some of the elements of the mecha battle were quite neat. The fact that Albert’s (well – spoilers, I guess) mecha was a family heirloom, a great big metal representative of the (male) line of his ancestors, for example. That effect might have been achieved with some kind of personal weapon, like a sword over the fireplace, though. And the CGI was just, well, a big problem.

    I quite liked the OP, but then my taste in OPs is pretty unreliable.

  8. Baka-Raptor Says:

    Awesome show. The ending was kinda gay though. Certainly more climactic than the book’s ending, but gay.

  9. gaguri Says:

    @The Animanachronism
    That would have been easier to execute and much better than what we got, although I did find noblety in his attempt to use a duel format fitting to futuristic context (i.e. mecha battle). Execution was sadly not so fitting.

    I too felt Albert’s love for the Count being more than just plutonic. Kind of like Franz’s affection towards Albert. Not obviously stated, but something is definitely there.

  10. TheBigN Says:

    What did you think about the ED in terms of fitting the show/source then?

    I think Baka-Raptor’s right about the ending in different connotations at the end. Though I do like the joke they threw in at the episode before last (I think).

  11. gaguri Says:

    You may have already guessed that I didn’t think ED fit the show as well. I thought the opening narration each episode was brilliant in setting the mood though.

    I actually considered putting that theme song at the top of my post but decided against it. I was afraid that people would be facepalming too much to take anything I say seriously ^^…

  12. muhootsaver Says:

    Now, THIS, was an instant classic. I was just blown away by the art direction when I first saw the PV. Unlike many of the GONZO title, it managed to pull off a memorable ending, too. It’s interesting how the same kind of modernized re-telling method on Samurai 7 didn’t really work well with me.

    BTW, if you liked the visual style of Gankutsuou, you might wanna check out Ristorante Paradiso airing this April. Soejima(digital director) from Gankutsuou is working as an art director for that series, and I heard many of the Gankutsuou staff from Gonzo are working on this series.

  13. gaguri Says:

    It’s not always easy to come up with a successful re-telling, with a world that is re-envisioned without losing the original intent, and that’s exactly why I value Gankutsuou’s innovation and ambition ^^

    Ristorante Paradiso looks like there’s too much gay looking old men for my taste, but if so many Gankutsuou staffs are working on it, I might just check out the first episode. Thanks for the info!

  14. cello85 Says:

    Funny I should come across this, yesterday during my lunch break I actually had a 5 minute struggle over wheter or not I should buy Gankutsuou. There was a sale on the complete series box set and I ended up passing on it….I think you changed my mind lol.

  15. gaguri Says:

    Mission accomplished? 😀

    Jokes aside, you won’t regret one bit buying the whole series. It’s just so groundbreaking, the way in which it utilised textures was unique at that time, and influenced many anime that followed, including Paradise Kiss and Mononoke. And of course, I’ve talked about its sheer scale of innovation and ambition…

    I see that you’re more of a movie fan (including anime) but there has been quite a number of anime TV series that puts most movies to shame. I think Gankutsuou is a fabulous start if you want to start catching up!

  16. MightyMaeve Says:

    Your review above was the most insightful and brilliantly worded one that I have ever read on Gankutsuou.
    Thank you! And I concur!

  17. gaguri Says:

    Thanks for dropping by, it always pleases me to see people find my past writings by chance and leave comments!

    I take it from your livejournal page that you are quite a fan of Gankutsuou. Glad to have provided you with something worth reading.

  18. MightyMaeve Says:

    Indeed I am ‘quite a fan’ of Gankutsuou! I needed towels -lots of them- when I finished watching the anime.

    Now, I’m banging about the internet, shouting, ‘Tell me everything!’ I found a 2005 anthology compilation by a lot of famous yaoi mangaka and other amazing fan pieces, along with your thought provoking words ‘worth reading!’ I have yet to buy the manga. I wonder if it will included all those incredible anime quotes!

    I just posted a journal directing other friends I know who adore Gonzo Studio’s version of The Count of Monte Cristo to your commentary here.

  19. gaguri Says:

    oh wow…er…so you are one of ‘those’ kind of fans…

    Don’t worry, I have no problem with yaoi fangirls as long as I don’t have to indulge in them ^_^b

    And I appreciate the direction, really do. Hope more people find it insightful.

  20. MightyMaeve Says:

    LOL! ‘As long as I don’t have to indulge them.’ True that!

    *shakes hand* Honoured to meet such a pleasant person, willing to treat all respectfully, regardless of different interests and motivations to anime/manga fanships!

  21. kurosuke Says:

    This is the best review of Gankutsuou, that I’ve read. And I agree with you on so many points, this anime (together with mononoke) is one of my favorites.

    Though, I can’t seem to understand why so many don’t approve of the opening/ending. At first they felt a little strange, and my reaction was somewhat “w-what is this?”. But after getting into the anime, the ending and opening was a must. A piece of the very classic and romantic as the opening, and madness as the ending. (with the episode in between, with a mixture of these two. ) Plus, both the songs are telling the story of Edmond Dantés in a good way, which is my opinion.

    Also, even if I’ve only gotten to the part when Dantés meets with Franz, in the original “monte cristo”, I think the character designers and animators has done a splendid job portraying the characters! Furthermore, without having read the entire book, I dare say agree with most of the people here, that this is an excellent adaption.

    (And the movie…Ugh! The temptation is high, to watch the hollywood movie over again, just to see how bad it was.

    (Can’t waith to finish the book, watch the anime over again, and the book once more! )

  22. gaguri Says:

    Thanks for the kind words kurozuke, if you would like, I also wrote a piece on Mononoke. You might like it 🙂

    I’m glad you mentioned the character designer part, and I want to extend that further to costume design, which was done by a real fashion designer (apparently famous). And you can see the difference that makes, as you know.

    *lol to watch the movie once again…it might be good for the laugh though.

  23. Foxy Lady Ayame Says:

    Reblogged this on compass on my field trip.

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