Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
This one is good, and I mean really good. It's very intense, even for someone who already knows the basic story. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is a pretty famous story, and most people know of it at least in it's simplest form. Basically it keeps the main themes and central plot of the book - and by that I mean, there's a guy named Edmond Dantes out to get his revenge against the people who stole his life away from him. Otherwise it's been anime-fied. The Count is some kind of demon/vampire creature now (the Gankutsuou), and the story is set in the 50th century (in a sort of period future, meaning the clothes and architecture are very 19th-20th century France, but then there are fancy space ships flying around). The story also focuses less on the Count and more on Mercedes' son Albert and his friends. I often judge the value of an anime based on the emotion it elicits from me as a viewer, and I have to admit that the fifth disc of this series (there are 6) had me bawling.
The show is beautiful. On the fifth disc there is an art gallery (and another, different one on the sixth), and you need to look at this. It's a massive collection (perfectly paced with music) of background art, environment art, and paintings. You will never again doubt Gonzo's ability to produce something visually stunning (not that you should have doubted them to begin with, when they've done amazing work on shows like Last Exile, Trinity Blood, Saikano, and Basilisk). It's a very unique style of animation that you don't see very often, and it does take some getting used to. After a couple of episodes you'll just be mesmerized by the beauty, and that'll be that. Admittedly the show has some very bizarre elements near the end (like old fashioned sword duels inside giant mechs). Yet even as you sit there being weirded out by the flying mechs and devouring demon, you're still astounded by how amazing it all looks. You can't help thinking "This is so bad ass."
I think I've already said most of what can be said about the show itself. It's all about love, friendship, justice, revenge, hope. Many of the same themes that are found in Dumas' novel. So here's the plot of Monte Cristo, which is the same in both the novel and the anime. Edmond Dantes is engaged to marry the beautiful Mercedes. Everything is going well with him - he's getting married, he's inheriting his captain's ship, he's successful and people respect him. When his captain died, he gave him a package and a letter to deliver to two people, who unfortunately had ties with the recently exiled Napoleon. Edmond's jealous friend Fernand (a fellow sailor) and the ship's purser Danglars send a letter to the prosecutor Villefort, claiming that Edmond is a traitor. The innocent and naive Edmond quickly becomes a scapegoat (the letter connects Villefort's father with Napoleon) to save Villefort's career, and Edmond is rushed off to prison without trial. When Edmond manages to escape from prison years later, having had ample time to piece together his unfortunate fate, he vows revenge on those who ruined his life, including Mercedes whom he now finds married to Fernand. Fernand, Danglars and Villefort have all become successful and prosperous in his absence, and disguised as the rich Count of Monte Cristo, he sets about to destroying their lives as they destroyed his. In the book, he meets a man in prison who directs him to a great treasure which he finds after his escape; in the anime he makes a pact with the demon Gankutsuou, though the exact methods of amassing his fortune from nothing aren't really explained.
The book focuses on Edmond himself, but, as I mentioned, the anime focuses on Mercedes' son Albert and Albert's circle of friends. Still it follows the main plot fairly closely; almost all of the major events occur, though usually with a certain flair particular to this retelling's setting and style, and with the emphasis on Albert's development and relationship with his friend Franz, his fiancee Eugenie (a relationship vastly different from that in the book), his mother, and the Count. The ending is also changed quite a bit, but it's powerful, and it wraps everything up very nicely. So yes, it's The Count of Monte Cristo, and while the Count and his revenge is the impetus for the story, he mostly exists to drive Albert and force the young man to mature and awaken from his naivety. So it's also very much a coming-of-age story.
The music in the show is pretty good. The intro is "We Were Lovers," written and sung by Jean-Jacques Burnel. The music and lyrics are wonderful (and the tune is used several times within the show); the vocals...he's kind of all over the place, it takes some getting used to. But it's such a beautiful song, and the animation to go along with it is lovely as well. The end is another by Burnel, "You Won't See Me Coming." Also a stellar use of "Il dolce suono" from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor (the same song is sung by the Diva in the movie The Fifth Element) in the first episode.
The English dubbing is fine. I was only really bothered by the voice for Maximilien Morrel, by Tony Oliver. Yes, Maximilien is a gentle sort of man, but he's also a sailor and a soldier, and the English voice he is given is far too soft. I watched most (probably 90%) of the show in Japanese though. I just liked it more; particularly because Joji Nakata's voice (the Count) is incredibly sexy. And, well, that's important!
This one is definitely worth a watch. It was originally released by Geneon on 6 DVDs, but FUNimation has since acquired the license to the series (like many other Geneon series) and will be re-releasing the series sometime in 2009. The manga is 3 volumes, with the final volume being released by Del Rey in August of this year.