As part of our recent anime extravaganza, we watched Gankutsuou, an anime sci-fi retelling of the Count of Monte Cristo. So marvelous! Although a bit slow in the second quarter for the kids who tired of the intrigue and drifted off to play Minecraft at times…and then riveting again as we got into the last dozen eps. The animation is spectacular, using an unusual effect of flat textures for fabrics and hair—many stunning visuals that just generally wowed the heck out of me, although it took a few eps for my eyes to get used to it. It’s a great example of using the art to convey the story—the style really gets across the opulence of extreme wealth, and also, perhaps, something of the shifting veils of deception that are at the heart of the story.
And what a story, right? How many hundreds of thousands? Millions? of humans have read this story since it came out in 1844? I read The Count for the first time as a teen-ager—maybe I didn’t finish? I can’t remember—and then again some time in my twenties, listening to an audiobook. The Count has such an extremely compelling character transfiguration at its heart—the transformed-by-hate Edmond Dantes walks with such power, he’s so potent and sexy and mesmerizing—even as we hope he doesn’t succeed in his goal, because that will be the end of him, he will be lost to evil. While at the same time, his efforts fulfill so many of the revenge fantasies we all carry around in our dark little hearts….
Except me. I never fantasize about revenge because I am much to evolved for that.
Anyway. Gankutsuou changes some plot points around, for sure, sometimes substituting SF elements one-to-one for 1800 France (for example, Albert goes to Luna, not Rome, and the Count was once a traveler in Eastern Space, rather than the oceans of Earth), but it also makes adjustments to the plot to keep things flowing within the time allotted. But it’s all there, this is the Count of Monte Cristo, no doubt about it. I wish I knew more about why the creator, Mahiro, Maeda, chose The Count as the story he wanted to tell, or how he created its fascinating visual style, but I can’t find much. My google-fu is weak. I am ashamed.
The kids and Paul and I have been talking constantly about it since we started watching: what we wanted to have happen, what we thought would happen, what we thought should happen, all the various characters decisions and mistakes, all while compulsively singing the terrific end-credits song, Jean-Jacques Burnel’s “You Won’t See Me Coming (till I strike).”
So, of course, the natural thing to do after finishing the last episode was to start listening to the book. Did you know that it takes a professional reader over fifty hours to read the entire thing? Onto the ipod it went, I had to delete three other books to make room. We are currently on the part where Edmund is following the clues to the treasure, and it is VERY exciting. We sit in the car (our primary audiobook listening location) long after we have arrived in order to finish a chapter. Funny how much suspense comes with great writing, even when you know exactly what is going to happen.
It surprises me that the kids are interested enough to stay with it despite the difficult syntax of another century plus many words they are unfamiliar with, French, sailing jargon, place names, but also just two-dollar words like “countenance” instead of the more prosaic “face.” Definitely some of it is blowing by them. “So what are they talking about?” they sometimes ask me, brows furrowed. At other times, though, I worry they are missing something and I give unwanted explanations like, “Danglars is tricking Ferdinand into sending that “joke” letter by working him up–” “We know, Mom, we know, turn it back on!” So, clearly they are getting enough. And they ask for it when we get in the car, “Put on the book!” so they’re getting enough to want more. I guess having already watched the story once through, even an altered version, they have enough scaffolding to hang the new telling on to. This is especially true for the French names and titles, which they already know. Monsieur and Mademoiselle and the like are no trouble for them after Gankutsuou.
But even fifty hours of spoken text has not been enough, so the other night we watched the Jim Caviezel 2002 version (with Dumbledore as the Priest!) a retelling that has also taken many, many liberties with the story to fit it into two hours and turn it into a swashbuckling up-ending tale. Talk about the most over-the-top, mine is bigger than yours, grand entrance (hot air balloon? seriously?) an ostentatiously rich person ever made! And can we just take a moment here to honor Jim’s amazing blue eyes? Wow.
The kids thought the movie was okay, but were more interested in discussing the various changes and why I thought they had been made, especially the whole “Albert was really Edmund’s son all along” bit, which was not in Gankutsuou, and required a bit of explaining about how it used to be that a woman who had a baby when she was not married used to be shunned and generally treated very badly, and so that was why Mercedes had lied about that. They thought this was stupid. I have to agree. Which led to a whole discussion on the history of women’s rights that was pretty interesting, especially as I am a married woman who stays home to keep the kids, coming full circle in some ways from those women for whom there was no other choice. I told Sophie if she ever had a baby, no matter her age or marital status, she was always welcome at my house, no problem, and I’d gut anyone who gave her a hard time about it. I thought she would roll her eyes at me but she said, “I know, Mom. Thanks.” which was surprisingly sweet. I just love her.
But back to The Count. The idea of the power of will to transform oneself, plus the power of extreme wealth, plus what happens when we close our hearts in pain, has been much in discussion around here. Plus history, how social norms change, war, revenge, and Franz’s amazing letter (don’t miss it!) in the anime version—all great stuff. No topic is too small or too big for discussion in the yurt.
I love living in a time when we can access so much amazing storytelling so easily. Gankutsuou—highly recommended—is streaming on Netflix. A half-dozen versions of the audiobook are on audible.com. Jim’s version can be rented for two bucks from amazon. How long has it been since you read it? Is it time for a revisiting? I say, give the anime a try. It’s been well worth our time.