Some of this is legend, but about this much is fact. On 14 July 1789, rioting Parisians stormed the royal prison of Bastille, looting it and destroying it to show their contempt towards the monarchy. Within its records, they discovered this mysterious entry: Prisoner #64389000 – The Man in the Iron Mask.
Wait, that’s the plot of the 1998 film The Man In The Iron Mask, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich and Gerard Depardieu, and Jeremy Irons. I’m sorry, let me rephrase this beginning again.
Almost everything you hear in this review is completely bogus, and none of it is a fact. In the summer of 1625, a mysterious masked figure, a salt merchant, his side woman and her pet monkey encouraged starving Parisians to revolt against the monarchy despite historical records that say otherwise. This man was Prisoner #64389000 – The Man In The Iron Mask… as told by a 1987 Japanese anime known as Anime Sanjushi (The Three Musketeers).
ANIME SANJUSHI, PART 2
In contrast to the first part of Sanjushi which is largely based off the original novel, the second part (episode 33 – 52) is a completely original story unique to the anime only. This part is loosely (and I mean it in the nicest way possible) on the final part of Dumas’ The Vicomte Of Bragelonne, aptly titled The Man In The Iron Mask, written in the years 1847-1850. Unlike this novel, which chronicles the final ten years’ worth of adventures of Aramis (now a Catholic bishop), Athos, Porthos, and D’Artagnan (the head of Louis XIV’s musketeers), the anime decides to make this story a continuation of the previous arc, with a hodgepodge of complex character backstories, economic side gigs and a political struggle between two non-existent royal twins.
Six months after the events surrounding the rescue of the Queen’s diamonds from England, D’Artagnan is slowly making his way through the ranks of becoming a musketeer, as his bond with Athos, Porthos, Aramis become bolder, and he becomes more attached to his crush Constance, who has recently recovered from an amnesia attack prior. While attending a play with Constance, he and the musketeers encounter a mysterious figure in an iron mask, an unnamed revolutionary who stops at nothing to disrupt the social order in Paris. Some of his acts include robbing from the rich and giving it to the poor, whom he then manipulates by restocking the city’s deprived salt supply via a greedy accomplice named Manson, and to top it all off, launching a silent coup d’etat on Louis XIII by replacing him with his twin, Philippe. The iron mask’s influence not only threatens the welfare of the kingdom, but also that of D’Artagnan’s relationship with his pauper friend Jean, who is growing ever swayed by Iron Mask’s charism towards social justice. And so, the musketeers must once again unsheathe their swords and do battle to thwart this conspiracy from taking place.
WHAT I LIKED
- What surprised me was the inclusion of a backstory between Aramis and antagonist Manson, which at certain parts paralleled that between Athos and Milady in the novels. This was one subplot that I felt was handled rather well compared to the others, and they spent some time dedicating parts of the story to advancing it.
- Compared to the previous season, the action sequences were far more improved, as seen in episode 44-46 where the musketeers work to rescue the imprisoned Louis XIII from a deadly fate, and episode 36 with D’Artagnan and Rochefort’s fight against the Iron Mask. For an added bonus, a good chunk of these battles also manage to include him and all three of the musketeers as well instead of him going solo – which is what it should have been in the first place.
- In spite of the sacrifices it made to plot, I have to give it credit that it was presented in a Catholic manner with its attitude towards morals, modesty, and family-friendly atmosphere. My only wish is that it would have remained a little more faithful to the original storyline.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- As a fan of the original Man In The Iron Mask arc, I really didn’t feel this was necessary to include as a direct sequel to the first arc. As a matter of fact, it only introduced more discontinuity to the original story’s value – which was a lot more depressing, and had a sentimental, yet melancholic tone to it. I feel like this adaptation was just a big joke.
- Milady’s appearance in this season was really problematic. You’d think that, after D’Artagnan spares her life and she vows to do good, they would take her out and perhaps make her into a redeemable protagonist. Instead, she ends up being a villain once more, and even manages to dupe our main protagonists in spite of her disguises which make her appearance very obvious. The fact that she goes from willing accomplice to a suicidal cop-out at the end of the battle at episode 50-52 is just a jarring plot hole that I can’t excuse this series of.
- The early class warfare shtick that the Iron Mask tried to stir up was completely unnecessary. Considering that in about 8 episodes or so it would be dropped in favor of the “doppelganger king” plot, I have to wonder what was the point of shoe-horsing that subplot into the story.
For the most part, our main heroes retained constancy in their personalities, with the occasional hint of development here and there, especially with the likes of Aramis, D’Artagnan and Jean – and this time around, former antagonists such as Rochefort, Jussac and Cardinal Richelieu have made their transition to nominal protagonists in this arc, in spite of the former being relegated to the status of joke butts. However, if there’s one thing that this arc failed to do correctly, it’s in the presentation and execution of the villains, beginning with the Iron Mask himself.
As a character, he’s confusing at best; at first, he’s shown as your everyday masked vigilante, then as a Robin Hood-style character who has clear contempt for the nobility, and finally as a revolutionary. Speaking of which, can you tell if the Iron Mask is:
a) Philippe, the King’s estranged twin
b) an envoy of the Holy Roman Emperor
c) A disgruntled former musketeer, or
d) an English spy
The answer is, in fact, e) None of the above. Instead, we get a half-baked character with no personality, no depth, and not a single ounce of likability to him. To add insult to injury, they made him and Philippe separate characters – whereas in the original novel, they were one and the same character, and is actually a good guy that the musketeers use to try and make France great again. Even his cronies Manson (who we learn is the murderer of Aramis’ fiancee) and Milady were unsalvagable themselves – and especially the latter; considering what she had gone through at the end of the first arc, I found that her character took a complete downturn in this arc.
Regarding the music of The Three Musketeers, it’s about as typical as one can get for a 1980s anime. The in-show OST had a few good tracks to it, and featured a good mix of Baroque-inspired tunes and 20th-century orchestral renditions, along with the occasional rock remix of the show’s opening theme. Speaking of which, the opening song, Yume Bouken by Noriko Sakai, I found strangely fitting despite its ballad-style performance. Perhaps it’s because of its English title of “A Dream Adventure”, or its charming melody and easy-to-sing-along lyrics; either way, it remains my favorite piece from the entire series; whereas its ending theme, Pledge Heart by the duo Pumpkin was an average-at-best electronic, high-funk song that gave an 80s feel to conclude each episode.
Favorite character: Apart from his incorrect attire, Cardinal Richelieu’s scheming and secretive attitude make him a close winner for my favorite character slot. I’d say D’Artagnan too, but he’s a tad short compared to other depictions of him (like my favorite, the 1998 depiction of him).
Favorite battle / episode: Throughout all 52 episodes, episode 44-46 was an entertaining race to rescue Louis XIII, complete with dramatic finishes, corny mishaps between Athos and Rochefort (the prison break-out scene comes to mind), and a swashbuckling breakout with a satisfying finish. Oh, and to top it all off, Cardinal Richelieu is depicted smacking people with his Bible.
Favorite soundtrack: This one
BONUS STAGE: THIS .VS. THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998)
Since we’re dealing with the events surrounding The Man In The Iron Mask, I figure it’s high time to duke this 1987 retelling against my favorite live-action film, the 1998 edition of The Man In The Iron Mask, and see which one stands out better. Starting with:
Plot: As demonstrated in the above, Anime Sanjushi’s treatment was nothing more than a hodgepodge of original characters, unfulfilled plot holes, and was just nonsensical in context. Compare this to the 1998 film (and perhaps, the novel too), which is treated as its own story (set 37 years after the events of Dumas’ first book), had a plot that was effectively sensible (the musketeers plot to replace a tyrannical Louis XIV with his kindly brother), and had a premise that was engaging, consistent, and satisfying to watch from start to finish.
Characters: My biggest problem with this arc lies in its characters, which I’ve already explained especially with regard to the main villain. In complete contrast, the film is pretty much the exact opposite. I’m not going to say that they’re perfect in every regard, but it was a lot better than how the anime handled it. There was some hint of complex character relationships, and actions that helped drive the film’s plot by itself rather than forcing its hand. Even Philippe’s backstory in the film was a lot more coherent and sympathetic than in the anime (where he is captured by Manson’s squad, put in an iron mask, and imprisoned, only for the Iron Mask to torment Paris…??), which definitely ironed out (no pun intended) the main storyline and the musketeers’ motivations to get him back on the throne.
Visuals: To its credit, Anime Sanjushi stayed on top with its depiction of 17th-century Paris and its rural surroundings. The period costumes of the nobility were accurate, and the musketeer uniforms, though rarely present, were there. However, I have to give the 1998 film more credit because of one thing: the musketeer tabards were a lot more awesome there. Whether it’s the blue variant D’Artagnan sports in the beginning, or the black ones they don in the final battle, they were far more impressive and detailed compared to the animated version. It easily remains my favorite rendition of the famed musketeer tabard.
Music: Film wins by a giant longshot. Beautiful, classy, and inspiring all-around. This film’s soundtrack transformed me from a contemporary music fan, to a full-time admirer of classical music, just like my father.
Compared to the first arc, the second was disappointing, offering nothing unique to the current story. Not only did it butcher the story of the Man In The Iron Mask, but its plot felt like it was picked right out of a hat, and taped together; its characters that were either out of place or awkwardly inserted for little to no rhyme or reason; its unresolved subplots made no sense, all making for an awkward start, execution and finish. My recommendation to you is to either: just watch the first 32 episodes of The Three Musketeers and skip this arc entirely, or even better yet: just binge watch some live action versions of The Three Musketeers. I recommend 1993’s The Three Musketeers and 1998’s The Man In The Iron Mask.