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 beautiful…my 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 man’s 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 Klimt’s 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.
Even after such creativity and technical brilliance, I can’t 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.
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.