Thursday, May 7, 2009

Top 5: Anime

Today's Countdown entry is number 4 on the list: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

If you have never seen Gankutsuou, you need to go take care of that. Now. I'll wait for you to watch it all.

Okay, good. Now what exactly was it that blew your mind?

The correct response should be: "everything."

Gankutsuou is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Every single review of this series has talked about its stunning animation. I don't have much to add that hasn't been said before. You could put Gankutsuou on a television, kill the volume, and it would still be more fascinating to watch than 95% of the anime that is currently avaialable.

When characters dress up for the opera house (specifically Haydee's outfit and Eugenie's piano performance dress), the results are nothing short of spectacular. Also, bonus points must be awarded for having the protagonist, Albert, appear in a pirate costume for an episode.

The story takes Alexandre Dumas' original story and (despite all odds against it) creates an enveloping science-fiction-tinged adaptation. Events of the first episode take place on Luna (presumably the moon) before relocating back to France on Earth. Chateau d'If becomes a prison at the end of the universe and inter-planetary politics are briefly touched upon.

Perhaps what I enjoy the most is the way the series examines class-conflicts. Albert, a son of the wealthy elites, has everything handed to him : trips to Luna, an endless wardrobe--even his fiancee. He hangs out with his rich pals, who do whatever they want, whenever they want. When one of them befriends a soldier named Maximilien, it brings on a clash of values that can (of course!) only be settled by a sword fight. Maximilien is most put off at the way these young men treat their fiancees: they casually agree that marriage has nothing to do with affection, but more with creating alliances among the rich. When he duels with Albert, it is a bitter moment, as the viewer knows that even if Maximilien prevails in the duel, he cannot change the way the wealthy will act. Even better, however, is the way the series gives equal attention to the girls in these relationships. Albert and Eugenie have lengthy discussions on the subject of whether or not they're good for each other; Valentine de Villefort finally tells Maximilien that while the boys are busy fighting over her, not a single one of them actually cares to ask her how she feels about the matter. It's this level of character depth and attention to social realism that truly makes Gankutsuou stand out.

All of this, and I still haven't mentioned the titular character. The Count is a most fascinating enigma of a man--from his mismatched red and green eyes to his endless supply of money. Continuing with the examination of class-based behavior, the Count proves that having money in all the right places gets him access to any information he desires. And what he desires has nothing to do with wealth. He seeks revenge in what may be the most well-planned revenge tale of all time (I am referring to the NOVEL which served as the basis for the anime). The Count's charisma is impossible to deny, which makes it especially difficult for the viewer as the series progresses and his deeds become more and more sinister. (I must add that Joji Nakata's baritone voice lends a lot to the Count's character.)

Gankutsuou is a tale of people who use each other. While some do it for wealth, some for pleasure, and some because they can, every major character has a set of motivations that truly bring them to life. Even better, there is not a single character without a flaw--you will watch every character make a judgmental error so great it will make you cringe. Even worse, though, is the fact that you will completely understand why they chose the wrong path.

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