Editorials · On Themes

Love, Loyalty, and Infidelity (But Mostly Infidelity) in Gankutsuou

Love? Or.....

Exactly 3000 words. Keikaku Doori.

By some divine miracle, this blog has managed to stay rather well updated for a week. Unfortunately, this article is just another extended love letter (read: jerk off session) to Gankutsuou, but it’s one anime which I’ve grown to love over the time that I’ve spent watching it. Here’s to hoping that somebody actually reads this and that hopefully somebody out there comes to love it as much as me.

Saying that Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo and vengeance are synonymous really wouldn’t be too far off.  After all, The Count’s primary motivation for his actions is bringing retribution to the three men who betrayed him with absurdly complex Machiavellian machinations. However, as I’ve expressed in my review, Gankutsuou isn’t nearly as much about a revenge as it is about loyalty and betrayal. The first few episodes set up all of the classic types of love and relationships between the characters, whether it be the bonds between friends, the duties of a servant to a master, or the connections between husband and wife, and then proceeds to break them down whether for better or for worse.

To me, the most fascinating theme of Gankutsuou is loyalty. The word is constantly called into question and asks the viewer who’s bonds are real and who’s are fake. It is the violation and falsehood of these sacred bonds which spurs the major players of Gankutsuou into action and mold each individual.  After all, you can’t have that sweet, succulent vengeance without betrayal. There are hardly any neutral affinities between the characters and Gankutsuou sports an extremely large net of relationships between the key members, with very few of the connections staying true to their original nature. Servitude sometimes changes into love while feelings of friendship devolve into bitter resentment and conceit. As the differing lines of love constantly blur and dabble into other forms faithfulness multiple times, tensions rise between the characters and give birth to all the drama in Gankutsuou.

Since this intro is dragging on pretty damn long and since I suck at doing transitions in writing, without further adieu, here’s my take on the complex relationships in Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Christo.

Obligatory Haydée pic. I’ll find any excuse just to throw snapshot of her in; she’s great.

Loyalty between Lovers 

Up and by far both the most complex and prevalent of the types of relationships focused on in the story, faithfulness between lovers is central to the conflict which takes place. Along with the viewer, Albert’s idea of true love inside the Gankutsuou universe is constantly challenged and transfigured throughout the story. His vision is directly tested first by Maximillien, a firm believer in the sanctity of marriage, and then later indirectly through his father, Peppo, The Count, Eugenie, and even Lucien. Through these encounters, a rather serious question is posed: Is marriage within the aristocracy just a formality, or could it possibly bloom into true love?

Gankutsuou begins with a story between two lovers, Edmond and Mercedes, who are at first bounded for marriage. However, with the assumed to death of Edmond and the rise of The Count, Mercedes slowly and gradually moves on. As the years pass, she finds consolation in Fernand Mondego, The Count’s best friend, who framed Edmond out of jealousy. While this is clearly an audacious violation of the friendship between the Fernand and Edmond, to Mercedes, who has spent years of mourning, it’s her sign of having moved on. However, whether this is true or not is challenged multiple times, with her eventually stating in an argument that she may have not married Fernand were it not for the imprisonment of Edmond and that even today she still thinks of Edmond. Regardless, from The Count’s perspective, it is a betrayal on both Mercedes’ and Fernand’s parts, and a sign that his marital bond with her wasn’t truly eternal. To The Count, Mercedes cheated on him and coldly left him behind.

Infidelity is rife all throughout the story, and sexual encounters play a very large part of the story. Tying in with the question on marriage posed to Albert, many of the romantic unions between aristocrats seen in Gankutsuou are based on material wealth and sensuality. The prime examples are both the Danglars and Villefort families.  While I’m no love aficionado, it should come to no surprise that the there’s not much chemistry between the main couples in the Danglars family. Both Monsieur Danglars and his wife Victoria have a relationship entirely based on monetary value. It’s also notable that while the two heads of the Danglars clan are completely centered around wealth, they lack all everything else. They’re physically unattractive, they’re not particularly wise, and their needs, both emotional and sexual, are completely neglected by each other. It’s for this very reason that Monsieur Danglars hires Lucien to sleep with his wife and that Victoria has an affair with Gerard Villefort and Cavalcanti.

This level of neglect also happens to be paralleled in the relationship between the Villeforts albeit to much more extreme extent and for far different reasons. Gerard neglects his beautiful wife Héloïse emotionally since she cannot fill the emotional gap that his deceased ex-wife had left. The mutual spite is furthered by the fact that Héloïse and her son will not inherit the Villefort fortune, and at the relationship’s worst point, we can see Gerard coldly inviting Héloïse to kill herself with poison. The supposed love between husband and wife is completely absent their relationship. However, it is for all the previous reasons listed that The Count, a man who radiates glamour, sex, wealth, and emotional comfort, draws both wives of the Villefort and Danglars family to him.

Loyalty between Friends

This is seriously the only picture that I could find of these two not making out. Really internet? Sick handlebar stache by the way.

While it’s painfully obvious that Albert belongs to very large circle of friends, including Maximillien, Beauchamp, Lucien, Valentine, Renaud, and Eugenie, the dynamic between Albert, The Count, and Franz is a much bigger point of focus in the story. Well yeah, no shit, I guess. They’re the main three characters of story for goodness’ sake! However, there’s much, much more to their relationship than simple friendship. And no, I’m not quite talking about yaoi, despite how much they may have been hinted at.

Not to beat this into your brains, but time and time again, Gankutsuou is a story about unfaithfulness and infidelity. Here, those elements are still present, although in a not-so-obvious manner. The very first episode covers and begins a lot of the tension between the three. At the start we see Albert and Franz as two peas in a pod, an inseparable, dynamic duo. However, when The Count appears, Albert sees the mysterious alien as a figure of admiration, interest, and later on, strength. Franz, who has his doubts about The Count and takes his time to investigate him, is slowly estranged from Albert. In this sense, The Count steals Albert from Franz. When Albert has a mental breakdown after being ousted during Eugenie’s concert in episode twelve, he runs straight into The Count’s embrace, not Franz.

However, once more loyalties come into question forever altering the character dynamic between the three. When the harsh truth about The Count comes out, Albert challenges The Count to a duel. Upon meeting with Franz, who had just come back into town, he runs into his arms in a scene exactly parallel to his scene with The Count. With this return, their friendship is reaffirmed, ultimately leading to the heartbreaking tragedy of episode eighteen’s duel. Franz, having finally returned to his place in Albert’s heart, passes away narrating a story about Eugenie, Albert, and himself hanging by the sea, which is echoed once more by Edmond, Mercedes, and Fernand in the finale. Later, when Albert learns the total and complete truth about the origins of father, mother, and Dantes from The Count, he seeks once more to reestablish his relationship with the man. While rebuilding that bond definitely does not come easy, The Count, possessed completely by the Gankutsuou, still falters before attempting to murder Albert. However, it is Albert’s attempt to resurrect his friendship with Dantes, taken form through a peck to the cheek, which frees Dantes from the curse of Gankutsuou and his crystalline skin. Through Albert, The Count who had previously closed off his heart to the world is returned to humanity before he passes on.

As we can see through main trio of characters, the focus on the estrangement and rebuilding of their friendship sets into motion many key events in story and mold Albert into a fine young man. Both Franz’s loyalty to Albert and Albert’s duty to The Count are what destroy the Gankutsuou. In the ending, we see Albert with neither of the two, but through his experiences with both of the men, he grows as a person, strong enough to live without them. He’s no longer dependent on Franz or The Count like we see in the beginning of the first few episodes; he’s become his own man.

You mean this guy’s a pretty bad parent? Oh my God, no freaking way!

Loyalty between Parent and Child

Another rather unsurprising factoid to anyone who’s watched Gankutsuou is that all of the children born of the aristocracy bar Franz are victims of emotional neglect and poor parenting. Inheritance is pet theme of mine – and here we see that while the children may inherit their parent’s fortunes, they also receive their curses. Believe it or not, infidelity and disloyalty also exists here in a much more bitter and disgusting form. The sacred bond between parent and child is violated again and again, whether it be through incest (bow chika wow wow) or pure unbridled malice.

The first and perhaps most intriguing example of poor parenting is brought up within the Villefort family. Monsieur Villefort, seeing that Héloïse cannot fill his deceased wife’s place, completely neglects his own son born from her. Valentine, the man’s only reminder of his buried bride, is prioritized far beyond the rest of his remaining family members. Despite this, his love for her isn’t one of genuine bond but rather one closer to possessiveness. The man prohibits her from leaving his household, his domain and comfort zone, despite her being nearly incapacitated from pois.  When Héloïse is in a near-death state in front of her son, following the escape of Valentine, Villefort instinctively chooses to have the authorities chase after Maximillien, who was giving medical attention to Valentine, rather than give his wife the medical attention she deserves. Ironically, it was his neglect of both Héloïse and her child that gave birth to the feelings of jealousy and bitterness which drove his current wife to poison his daughter in the first place.

Another audacious example of poor parenting is the situation with the Danglar family. Jullian Danglars attempted to ruin Eugenie’s life by trying to wed Cavalcanti, an all-around pretty bad guy, out of his own pure desperation and greed to maintain his extravagant ways of living. Again and again he disregards her feelings, notably towards Albert and the piano, by either her crushing dreams through marital affairs or allowing a man to buy out the seats to her concert. Jullian completely forgets about Eugenie’s emotional needs and tries to fulfill her with material goods. If that’s not enough, in an absurdly poor parenting collab between the Villeforts and Danglars, Cavalcanti, secret son of Victoria Danglars and Gerard Villefort, was immediately placed into a chest and buried underground by his father, beginning Cavalcanti’s descent into lunacy. This level of avoidance and oddly aggressive neglect completely eradicates the bonding which should take place within the Danglars family. Through brushing aside their children’s desires and prioritizing their lives far beyond their kin, contempt and bitterness for the parents is bred within the children.

Time and again the exception among exceptions, the Morcef family stands out among the three. From the onset, it’s clear that two parents of the Morcef household truly love their son. However, as more information on the Mondego name is exposed, Albert’s ties to his father begin to loosen. With the final revelation that the Morcef’s are of false aristocracy, the family falls apart along with Albert’s privileges. But just as his relationship with Eugenie, Franz, and The Count, Albert seeks to reconnect with his father. Although his father Fernand shoots both Albert and Mercedes in the stomach in a moment of flash delirium, when his son’s life is threatened by an outside force, he pleads and begs on his knees for The Count to take his own life instead his son’s in an incredibly sentimental moment. With this mutual effort to reaffirm their parental link, anomaly in their bond is righted and relationship between the two is repaired.

Peppo’s possibly my favorite trap of all time. And yes, I actually really do love this kind of shit.

Loyalty between Master and Servant

As the very last, but most blurry and deformed major relationship elaborated on in the varied of web of Gankutsuou character relationships,  I can’t find another spot more fitting than the final segment of this article. In Gankutsuou, the bond between master and servant is special, in that it goes far beyond the initial set up and dips into other forms of loyalty, even love, in the latter episodes. Much unlike the other forms of loyalty found in the show, when the lines blur and change tracks, it’s far sweeter, saccharine, and always positive for the relationship. Despite these facts though, in all cases, the pining for something more leads to bittersweet feelings unfulfillment due to the tragic nature of the plot.

The two most obvious cases of a clear shift in roles are the relationships between both Peppo and Albert, and Haydee and The Count. In both cases, the feelings of the servants are that of love and adoration. After the first encounter with their respective employer, Peppo and Haydée gradually come to admire their lords. While it’s undeniable that The Count thinks less of Haydée than Albert does of Peppo, courtesy of some brutal, choice words, the first meetings between the each of the two couples are surprisingly very similar and alike. Before the intervention of the aforementioned heroes,  Peppo and Haydée were both stuck in unfavorable positions in the galaxy’s underworld. Through the dramatic appearance of the two leads, their lives are changed forever and feelings are ignited. Under the roofs of the two leads, the two pairs grow closer and closer, with Peppo becoming a valid love interest for Albert and Haydée growing into one of The Count’s most prized followers. While both women have their feelings rejected, none can deny that they both forge a special, significant link with their respective other. The bonds between master and servant have changed to those of unrequited lovers.

The lines of loyalty switch tracks once more within Bertuccio’s and Baptistin’s relationship with The Count. Before Fernand Morcef’s climactic military coup, The Count, fully aware that he may lose himself to the Gankutsuou, promises his fortunes to his most loyal servant Bertuccio once he passes from the world. This implies that he sees Bertuccio not only as a servant and follower, but as a close friend. Bertuccio, who has promised The Count his undying loyalty, is confused and stunned by the proclamation, since without The Count, he feels that he has no direction or purpose. Baptistin, however, runs nearly opposite of his companion. Upon the descent of The Count, he immediately takes independent action and offers his help and services to his friend Albert, saving his life more than three times. Both men’s loyalties and allegiances are tested once more during the final hostage situation between Haydée and Albert. Seeing that The Count, now both his friend and master, is no more, Bertuccio is unable to shoot Albert at Haydée’s expense. When The Count finally fires off at Albert, Baptistin intercepts the bullet for him taking a near fatal wound and no longer putting up with the madness of the Gankutsuou. If you paid rather close attention, The Count willingly allows Bertuccio and Baptistin their independence and freedom of thought and throughout the anime, and never truly restricts or hampers them. But from this independence also comes feelings of confusion and distress for men who have spent their lives in servitude. Through this we can see that along with the decline of the master comes the rise of the servants.

Here’s one final distraction from my long, horrendous writing. As a side note, Haydée’s a doll.

The deconstruction and rebuilding of basic relationships is a key element in Gankutsuou. The links between characters are built up in grand fashion and then viciously torn apart without mercy, sometimes naturally or sometimes by force. After all, without basic loyalty and an initial bond to begin with, vengeance and betrayal cannot come into existence.  Through the long arduous watch, we wish that the characters can just get along and that things should just work out like they should. That the fathers treat there kids like human beings. That the wives could actually be in a loving relationship without cheating on their husbands. That best friends can’t stab each other in the back and leer at each other behind closed doors. But in the end of the day, Gankutsuou is about the futility of infidelity, revenge, and conceit. In the finale, the men and women who sought both loyalty and forgiveness once more in vengeance’s stead are the ones who are alive to see the next day. Even amongst the giant cloud of furious backstabbing and overwhelming greed, there are real, true bonds between lovers, family, and friends.

But until then… “Bid your time and hold out hope!”

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