Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

gankutsuou-header.jpgAlexandre Dumas’ classic revenge tale gets a futuristic spin courtesy of Mahiro Maeda, who also directed the series’ animated incarnation.



220 pgs. B&W; $10.95

(W: Yura Ariwara; A: Mahiro Maeda)

The enduring popularity of The Count of Monte Cristo rests largely on the satisfaction provided by a good old-fashioned tale of righteous and effective revenge. Framed for treason in post-Napoleonic France, Edmond Dantès miraculously escapes from prison and returns to France with a new identity: The Count of Monte Cristo. He’s so changed that his old enemies don’t recognize him, and he uses this advantage (plus the wealth gained after his escape, and determination honed through the years of imprisonment) to wreak thorough vengeance upon them. Turning the other cheek may be the right thing to do in real life, but in fiction nothing really feels quite so satisfactory as seeing a character get his own back.

Gankutsuou is a retelling of the Count’s story, adapted from the hit anime of the same name which won several "best of the year" awards in 2006. The story is now set in a future time when interplanetary travel is common, and the plot’s emphasis (in the first volume, anyway) has shifted to a coming-of-age tale of two young noblemen, Albert de Morcerf and Franz d’Epinay. They’re club kids of the future, who find the walled cities of Europe ever so boring and set off on an interplanetary tour which brings them to the famous Luna carnival. More awaits them there than they anticipate, or, as Albert puts it: "neither of us had any idea we were to come face-to-face with a secret from the past."

And come face-to-face they certainly do. The Count first befriends the boys, seeming like a really cool and indulgent sort of avuncular figure who addresses them like adults yet rescues them from their own foolishness. But before long he signals his true intentions, although to the reader rather than to Albert and Franz: "To those of you who betrayed me, who stole everything from me, I will give death and despair unto death. This shall be the prelude to my vengeance. Your wives and children, your loyal followers, one by one they will fall to my charms when the promised day comes."

If you’ve read the original novel, you know Albert is in for it: 25 years ago his fiancé’s father hatched the plot to frame the Count, and his own father stole the Count’s intended bride. If you’re not up on your Alexandre Dumas novels (or one of the many movie adaptations), the manga provides enough backstory to set the stage for what is to come. Like an old-fashioned movie serial, this volume ends with a real cliffhanger as the Count reveals himself and his intent to his former fiancé (now Albert’s mother): "Edmond Dantès is gone…I am the avenging angel, the Count of Monte Cristo." Tune in with volume 2 to see what happens next.

Gankutsuou is a great adventure tale which remains gripping in manga format. The real highlight of this series, however, is Mahiro Maeda’s rich visual style, which effortlessly blends historical and futuristic elements. Luna is the moon, but it bears a strong resemblance in both architecture and social customs to 19th-century France as well: gargoyles and gothic arches coexist with space ships, and transvestite prostitutes lure their prey into horse-drawn carriages before robbing them with laser pistols. Maeda’s Paris is more conventional, drawn primarily as the familiar 19th-century city of castles and cathedrals and ladies in high-waisted dresses, with a few fanciful additions like smiley-face wallpaper.

Extras include a one-page comic "One Day with Assistant Furuichi" and three pages of notes. Gankutsuou is rated OT (older teen) for ages 16+, primarily for gore and violence. Further information is available from the Del Rey web page . | Sarah Boslaugh


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