Whether or not you are already familiar with the story of Gankutsuou, aka the Count of Monte Cristo from either having read the book (which I haven't) or seen the movie (which I have), I think this anime version has enough original twists and impressive visuals to keep anyone interested all the way through.
Gonzo treats the story of Monte Cristo much in the same way it did with Samurai Seven by taking a 19th centruy story and putting it in a futuristic sci-fi setting. So what you end up with is an anachronistic mix of old, new, and futuristic. The technique (called "mixing") can be incredibly effective as long as long as the anachronisms mesh well together as they did in Gankutsuou.
Admitedly the mixing does have an awkward moment or two. For instance, in one scene two characters take part in a sword dual. But, instead of doning armor, the characters pilot giant,possibly organic, mobile suits. I'm sure some viewers who are unaccostomed to anime converntions will scratch their heads at things like why the pilots feel pain when the robot gets stabbed or why the robots bleed.
But regardless, the vast majority of the show is able to effectively capture the tone and mood of an 19th century romantic novel complete with all the twists, and well-structured, naturally flowing plot elements. And I think that well-structured plot is a good part of what gives the show a distincly Western feel. Put that together with Japanese talent for character driven drama and it makes for a series that balances plot and character-development surprisingly well.
One thing that changed in the story (from what I've heard) is that in this version it is told from Albert's point of view. I think that change works really well because Albert has no idea what the Count's motives or plans are, so it makes the Count seem that much more intriguing. In fact, the Count is probably one of the coolest characters that I have seen in an anime in a long time. He's smart, driven, and has a strong personality, but he's also sympathetic and it's easy to feel for his plight. He also has a strong impact on the younger characters.
It seemed like the characters were divided into two groups: the "children" and the "adults". At the beginning there is a huge social gap between them as the adults manipulate the lives of their children for their own political, financial, and personal interests. The Count is the one who empowers the kids and through him they learn to take control of their own lives. And that growth in maturity and youthful rebellion is something that is easy to sympathize with as well.
The ending of the show was great for the most part, even though there were a few parts that bothered me. For instance, one character gets a little too out-of-control in a way that seemed out of place with the rest of the story. Also, I was kind of confused as to how exactly the Count and Albert resolve everything in their last scene. But despite all that, I was really liked how everything wrapped up, especially in the last episode were it shows what happened with all the characters.
Of course, I don't think any review of this show can be justified unless there are heaps of praise for the incredible visuals. Gonzo used a very original technique that uses patterns instead of colors. So as a chracter moves the pattern on their clothes stays still. It's something that is always noticable, but is never distracting and actually enhances the feel of the story. Beyond that, the other computer generated backgrounds, structures, and vehicles had an impressive amounts of detail and color in the design. Suffice to say that there is a whole lot to look at in this show.
The music adds to the mood as much as the visuals. The opening and ending themes flip conventions by putting the slow song at the beginning an the up-beat song at the end. What I especially liked about the ending theme was that it flowed naturally from the ending of each episode and into the preview for the next. It worked so well infact that I think this may have been the first time I've watched the opening and ending and preview in every episode! The rest of the soundtrack sounds like it was taken from a 50's sword fighting movie, which is a nice touch.
I watched this show in it's original Japanese, and I really recommend because not only is the voice acting better but each episode gives a recap in French which I loved. For some reason though, the english dub just translates that part into english, which seems kind of stupid to me. But whatever.
This is one of the best shows I've seen in a long time and I was sorry to see it come to an end. Overall, I think almost anyone could watch this and enjoy it because it's a familiar well-thought-out story that has enough originality to keep it interesting, characters that are easy to identify with, and a never-ending supply of impressive visuals.