The Ever-Present “Eye” in Gankutsuou

The Ever-Present “Eye” in Gankutsuou

Hello everyone! My name is Mel, and I’m a guest writer here at Hakutaku. For my first post, I want to delve into one of the many symbols in of one of my all-time favorite anime and manga series: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, directed by Mahiro Maeda, aired from October 2004 to March 2005, while the manga ran in Monthly Afternoon from May 2005 to May 2008. The manga was drawn by Maeda himself, who served as the director of the anime. The series is a retelling of Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo with a science-fiction and gothic twist. A very basic rundown for those who haven’t read the original novel: Edmond Dantès plans to marry the beautiful Mercédès, but his close friend Fernand wishes to have Mercédès for himself. Fernand concocts a plan to ruin Edmond and remove him from not only his own, but everyone’s lives. He is sent to the prison Château d’If, and, upon escaping, swears to enact revenge on all those who wronged him.

The Count's formal introduction in the Gankutsuou manga.
The Count’s formal introduction.

There is a sense of vindication in what Edmond, who assumes the persona of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” is doing, but Gankutsuou completely reverses that. It makes us as readers not necessarily empathize with the Count, but beg him to find a different way to continue living that doesn’t entail his idea of destructive revenge. Another massive change is Gankutsuou, the demon, itself. The concept of revenge is villainized in Gankutsuou to the point that it is quite literally a demon that possesses Edmond. Also, Château d’If is in space. Just a slight difference.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo’s manga and anime adaptations are wildly different, despite both coming from the mind of Mahiro Maeda. While the anime focuses on the story through the eyes of Albert de Morcerf, the son of Fernand and Mercédès, the manga is told completely from the Count’s point of view, similar to the original novel.

The Count’s dark aura is established as soon as he is formally introduced—he is surrounded by a skeleton, flowers, and a squinting human eye, suggesting focus. This is reminiscent of the vanitas style of painting, popular in the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th century. Representing the promise of death and the emptiness in pleasure, a nod to such a style fits Gankutsuou on both the surface and on deeper levels. The dark, gothic themes of vanitas mirror the Count’s dark desires for revenge and the lengths he’s willing to go for it, while the more subtle nods to the Count’s mortality via the futility of life in such paintings can be seen with a more focused lens. This all connects to the phrase etched into the Count’s pocket watch that he “gifts” to Albert: mors certa, hora incerta; “death is certain, its hour not” in Latin.

The "eye" appears overhead as Edmond is freed in Gankutsuou.
The “eye” appears as Edmond is freed.

The “eye” imagery appears at this point as well. From this point on, the reader learns to associate eyes with the Count and, later, with Gankutsuou.

When Gankutsuou answers Edmond’s pleas for help or death in Château d’If, it tells him, “I will watch over you,” which is punctuated with the ever-present “eye”. It is shown in the sky upon Edmond’s escape from Chateau d’If with the demon’s help. Sharply contrasting the dark smoke and the black of Edmond’s hair, the white eye shines down as a symbol of hope for Edmond, but as a source of discomfort for us. The contrast is jarring, and the image of this massive eye is unsettling and foreboding.

The fact that Gankutsuou’s eyes are also on the Count himself reference not only that it is “watching over him,” in a protective sense, but that its evil influence looms over him as well. When the Count is seen with the eyes of Gankutsuou, it is meant to shock the reader with the Count’s unnatural and demonic appearance. This connects back to Gankutsuou’s core theme of revenge, and that it, too, is “demonic”.

And this is only scraping the surface. Gankutsuou is filled to the brim with heavy symbolism of all kinds, uncomfortable themes, and a healthy dose of the somewhat nauseating (vivisection, anyone?). If you’re even a slight fan of the dark and grotesque aspects of humanity, I wholeheartedly recommend the Gankutsuou manga adaptation. For those who want something a bit less unappealing and with some (arguable) romance and plenty of tear-jerking scenes, I recommend the original anime version. The Gankutsuou anime is a bit more “accessible” in that sense, while the manga is something that some people might actively stay far away from, even if they miss out on some of the strongest symbolism I’ve seen in any manga.

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