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“To those of you who betrayed me, who stole everything from me, I will give death and despair unto death.”
Alexandre Dumas’s classic tale of betrayal and revenge ,‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, is still as powerful today as it was when it was first published in 1844. Countless adaptations have been made since then – and one of the most striking is ‘Gankutsuou’ which sets the story in a science-fictional re-imagining of Dumas’s nineteenth century France. All the more intriguing then, that Mahiro Maeda should choose to reinterpret his anime version in manga form with Yuri Ariwara, who prefaces the first volume with the words, “We’ve worked for a year to bring you a slightly different perspective on the anime.”
‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ is told through the eyes of Edmond Dantes, the man who eventually becomes the eponymous count. But in ‘Gankutsuou’ we see the events from a very different perspective, that of impressionable fifteen-year-old Albert Morcerf. The manga starts – like the anime – on Luna as Albert and his more level-headed friend Franz arrive to taste the fleshly delights of the annual Roman-style carnival. Here, Albert encounters the mysterious and fascinating blue-skinned count for the first time and – against Franz’s advice – finds that he is inexplicably drawn to him. The count – unimaginably rich and powerful – proceeds to subject the two young men to an unexpected (and character-changing) ordeal, when he invites them to witness the yearly ritual execution that takes place at the height of the decadent carnival. Franz is sickened by the experience but Albert has already fallen under the count’s spell.
I have to come clean here and admit that – because I love the original Dumas story – I was intrigued to see how Mahiro Maeda (manga) and Yura Ariwara (scenario) had reworked it in science- fictional terms. But it seems thus far that little has been changed or rethought– other than transposing the action to a future where man has conquered space – so that the differences are largely cosmetic. The costumes and pastimes of the inhabitants of this future Paris are those of Dumas’s time: men gamble at cards or play billiards, and horse-riding is a necessary accomplishment for the aristocracy. Perhaps it is too early to judge after one volume, but the two styles, spacecraft and Second Empire, sit strangely together.
The most impressive sequence comes in flashback as – after Edmond Dantes’s imprisonment after being convicted (falsely) on charges of treason – the wretched man is condemned to half a century in solitary confinement far out in the darkest reaches of space. Here, the narrative deviates from the Dumas original; there is no kindly elderly fellow prisoner to offer him a shred of hope in his despair, a treasure map, and eventually a way out of the seemingly impregnable Chateau d’If. In this far-future version, Dantes is eventually rescued from his living hell by a mysterious entity which remakes his broken body in a new form and sends him on his journey back to earth for revenge. Suddenly the artwork and imagery are dark, dramatic and arresting (deliberately differing in style from the scenes in Paris?) and the manga comes vividly to life.
The sumptuous cover of volume 1 of ‘Gankutsuou’ instantly brings to mind the extraordinarily rich and gorgeous designs of the anime TV series of 2005 (also created by Mahiro Maeda for GONZO) which we have yet to be treated to in a R2 version in the UK. The artwork of the manga – at its best – recalls the striking character designs of the anime. At its worst (and some of it seems rather hastily dashed off) the features are sketchily drawn and singularly lacking in expression. On one or two pages, I suspected that we might be being treated to some of the storyboards from the anime. As this title comes from Del Rey Manga, the high standard of production we have come to expect is evident throughout, from the excellent translation notes (dealing more with the Dumas source material in this case) to the helpful background notes about the authors.
A fascinating – though flawed – companion to a superb anime series, or an intriguing re-telling of a classic tale? ‘Gankutsuou’ is both, but is well worth investigating for the manga reader who is searching for something a little different from the usual shounen/shoujo fare.
|Score:||7 out of 10|
|Date Published:||Sat, 6 Dec 2008|