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Gunkutsuou the Count of Monte Cristo Volume 1 DVD Review - -

Feature 8.0
Video 9.0
Audio 7.0
Special Features 5.0
Total 8.0
Distributor: AV Channel
Running Time:
100 minutes
Classification:  Mike Bourke


Gunkutsuou the Count of Monte Cristo Volume 1

I've watched this DVD twice now, trying to figure out exactly what to say in this review, and I'm still not completely clear on it. I guess I'll just have to muddle through, so bear with me!

It has to be said up-front that this is NOT a cartoon for the kiddies. It hints at sex, and depicts Violence, Drug Use, and homosexuality. It definitely contains Adult Themes and is NOT suitable for children. The storyline itself is loosely based on The Count Of Monte Cristo by Dumas, a plot that's always held problems of characterization for me. Thankfully, this adaptation to a science-fiction setting has evaded those issues by showing the story through the eyes of Albert, a young nobleman seduced into the Count's dark perspectives on the world. In terms of science fiction, this is only C-grade; the first two episodes, or "Acts", are set in a city on the Lunar Surface, but there is no reduced gravity, a mistake so elementary that even a high school student would recognise it. But the "science fiction" elements of the story are so negligible that this is of little importance to the overall review; except for the occasional moment when you are intentionally reminded of it, it's easy to forget them and enjoy the show for what's on screen.

And what's on screen is unique, visually stunning, and yet distracting at the same time. This series was the first to combine Photoshop rendering with classical animation technique and the results are frequently breathtaking. Hair, backgrounds, fireworks, and sumptuous costuming all take advantage of what was then a new tool in the animation armory. The problem is that these images don't move with the animation - it's like a moving cut-out on top of a textured background. The results are unbelievably beautiful when characters are standing still and visually confusing when they aren't; you have to really concentrate in order to process what is occurring onscreen. Thank goodness the DVD has been dubbed into English, I don't think I would have been able to cope with the added distraction of subtitles.

This same mixture of lavishness and distraction is common throughout the DVD, extending even to the main menu, which is incredibly classy - until the clouds begin wafting across the screen IN FRONT of the menu options. It is present in some of the featured extras as well, for example in an interview with the director the English subtitles are presented on top of Japanese text, again making the watching experience harder than it should have been. Speaking of the extras, while there were some welcome items, such as the inclusion of the opening and closing animated sequences without titles intruding onto the images, I somehow was left with the feeling that they were a little shallow. Perhaps this impression was the result of brevity - they simply don't last very long.

The most notable comment to make about the DVD sound concern the songs which play with the opening sequence and end credits, which are performed in English by a Frenchman, a member of the Stranglers, probably best known to the mainstream for their 80s hit, "Golden Brown". Beyond that, it's not exceptionally noteworthy in any respect. The pictures are presented in standard television format, not widescreen.

This DVD is the first in a series, ultimately to contain 24 episodes or acts. The plots of individual episodes on this disc are largely stand-alone affairs that serve largely to introduce the characters, though there is ongoing development of a larger plot that will obviously come to dominate later DVDs. Because of its uniqueness and sheer visual appeal, there is a place for this series on any anime fan's bookshelf, and it might well hold greater appeal to the wider audience as a result; but because it is so unlike most anime, it would serve poorly as a means of attracting new fans to the medium; personally, I would still use "Spirited Away" for that purpose, and THEN hit them with this show as a means of showing the diversity within the anime genre, followed perhaps by the first episodes of "Love Hina".   

Special Features:
  • Act 1 Storyboard by Director Mahiro Maeda
  • Director Mahiro Maeda Interview
  • Comments from Voice Actors
  • Promotional Trailer
  • Textless Opening & Closing


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