Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gankutsuou, vol. 1

The story: Gankutsuou is a sci-fi retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. Based on the Gonzo-animated film, Gankutsuou weaves macabre revenge amid carnival in Luna Catholic, a city on the moon. Two young men, Albert and Franz, visit the city for its popular festival and (presumably) to help 15-year-old Albert lose his virginity. Enter in the Count of Monte Cristo, formerly Edmond Dantes, who has a grand and horrific plan for extracting his vengeance by first befriending the sons of his enemies. Interestingly, Albert is enchanted by the Count, and so begins the tale.

Reaction: I read The Count of Monte Cristo when I was much younger and, more recently, watched the anime that this manga was based on. Thankfully, neither are needed to understand this story, although it does help in keeping track of the ensemble cast of characters. I found this version to be more reminiscent of the book, especially with its grim retelling of Dante's imprisonment. Although this starts similarly enough to the anime, the manga version takes a different tact entirely.

Deep thoughts: I loved the melding of cultures in the Luna version of carnival. Several different types of imagery were present from the costumes of Brazilian carnaval to skull-like masks echoing the Dia de los Muertos holiday in Mexico to the candles of the Italian carnevale. The fact that Luna is a "catholic" city explained its extravagant celebration before an assumed period of asceticism, much like the world's various celebrations prior to Lent, such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Artwork: While the anime set a high bar for artwork, with its amazing use of Photoshop textures and 3-D animation, the manga version does not disappoint. Mahiro Maeda, one of the founders of Gonzo (the animation company of this same title), also serves as an author here. While the book can't compete with a color version, what is presented is amazing linework illustrating the vast riches the Count has amassed, as well as the extravagance of the world he inhabits. The flashbacks where Dantes considered his fate while imprisoned are dark and, at times, slightly revolting. These same scenes are also suggestive of Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa; this similiary might be explained by the fact that Maeda worked at Studio Ghibli prior to starting Gonzo.

The verdict: Highly recommended. For those that liked the book upon which this is based, or for those who enjoyed the anime, this manga is a great re-imagining and does not disappoint. Of course, those unfamiliar with the source material will find a story worth reading, too. Gankutsuou is available in the U.S. from Del Rey.

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