(24 episodes, 2004-2005)
My previous exposure
I first heard of this one through the president of my college anime club, who was a big fan of the artstyle. I think he even showed us the first episode. I never got around to actually watching the full thing it for ages, though, as I waited until I thought I’d be “ready”.
I’ve obviously heard of the basic plot through cultural osmosis, but I’ve never actually read the original doorstopper of a novel (or watched any of the numerous movie/TV adaptations). So I was mostly fresh on the actual plot twists the series had in reserve for me.
What’s it about ?
It’s the future, but conveniently society is basically the same as early-19th-century France (well, kinda, I’ll come back to it further down). Albert de Morcerf is the young naive heir of an up-and-coming politician, engaged to the daughter of a rich banker, and promised to a bright future… until he meets the eccentric Count of Monte-Cristo on the Moon. Little does he know that his newfound friend is actually out for a (very convoluted) revenge against the three men who wrong him 20 years ago… including Albert’s father.
Let’s be honest, the SF setting is just a parlour game, as one will try and guess how each element is transposed from the original context. But it’s also an excuse for the visuals to go marvellously insane. A duel will become a battle between giant armoured mecha… because why not, after all ? The show revels in its artificiality, using psychedelic images to make its story even more grandiose and baroque, as best exemplified by the use of unmoving elaborate textures to depict people’s clothes and hair. It will either burn your eyes or make you fawn over how pretty it is.
What did I think of it ?
I loved it, as you probably can tell by now. Not only is it gorgeous, but it never sacrifices the clarity of its storytelling. This is a very well-structured adaptation, with my only little qualm being that the Count’s plots take ages to actually go anywhere. But when they finally come to fruition, it makes all the build-up worth it.
It is interesting how little this adaptation cares about the Count’s past life as Edmond Dantès. He barely gets ten minutes of flashbacks very late on, as the strict minimum necessary to explain why he became the implacable vengeance machine known as the Count of Monte-Cristo. (Not the how, though, the series doesn’t care about that at all.) The Count himself is an antagonist throughout, with only token displays of hesitation while he tramples over the lives of innocents to get at his targets.
The focus here is clearly on Albert, which is a bit tiring at times given how much he’s a naive spoiled brat who takes a lot of time to distrust the dude who looks like a vampire. (Or heck, even be aware of how much many of the adults around him are scumbags.) But then, this is not a series for subtlety, and the core goal here is to display how the Count’s revenge wreaks havoc on innocents’ livelihood. Albert, as innocence personified, is the perfect incarnation of collateral damage. The storytelling choice of making the Count’s motives distant (and unrevealed until nearly the very end of the show) only adds to the monstrosity of his actions. Yes, those three assholes probably deserved punishment (not only for what they did to him, but also for their various other misdeeds later on), but the Count’s sweeping retaliatory action was always bound to provoke more future strife in an endless cycle of vengeance.
Perfectly illustrating the pointlessness of the Count’s actions, and looking great while doing so, this is a show well worth watching.