Saturday, January 24, 2015

First Swamp of 2015

You know what? I'm swamped. I tried to write about Ouran High School Host Club, but I kept getting distracted, and now it's even later than my normal time to shut things down. Sometimes, distraction just means I need more discipline. Sometimes, it's a sign that my brain needs a break, and it will take that break with or without my permission.

I'm in Playwriting/Screenwriting class right now, which is wonderful, but as a result, a lot of my creative energy has gone toward brainstorming for that class.

I'm also in Short Story Writing, which requires some creative energy, although we've had more reading than writing due lately.

Then there's Critique for Publication, a one-credit class, which also includes writing and thinking about writing.

... not to mention all of my other classes. One of them is Physical Science, which requires technical reading and a lot of brain power. I'm starting to get a sense for this semester's homework rhythm, but I'm not quite there yet. So I'm going to quit pretending to write a Rewind post and just go to bed. I have a lot to do tomorrow today, and I need at least a few hours of sleep in order to do it.

Thanks for reading, folks, and for understanding the gap between posts. I hope ya'll have a good weekend.

Oh, one question for you: are there any good comedy anime airing this season? I know, I barely have time to watch the anime that's continuing from last season, but I like to be aware of what comic relief is available.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rewind: Sword Art Online I & II

Sword Art Online has the potential for both great entertainment and great philosophical discussions. Unfortunately, SAO's inconsistent quality undermines its potential, and a lot of people don't take it seriously... including me.

In my opinion, Sword Art Online is a tricky anime to think and talk about. Here's why:

1. Sometimes, it can almost trick cynical folks into thinking it might be a good anime, or at least an enjoyable one. Then it takes a nosedive, letting down all fans with snobbish tendencies.

2. A lot of people love it, so when an anime newbie asks, "What do you think of Sword Art Online?" I have to watch my words. Seriously, that's one of the trickiest questions a newbie can ask me. On the one hand, I don't want them to think the anime fandom is exclusive and snobbish. I don't want to hurt their feelings, and I don't want to make anime-watching a chore full of critiquing. On the other hand, I want to give them an honest answer, which means I'd rather not sing SAO's praises.

3. SAO's frequent dips in quality allow cynical anime fans to ignore its strengths as a philosophical discussion starter.

Death Gun in SAO II, ep 12. Doesn't he look nice and creepy
and like something out of a Terminator 2? I like this shot.

First, let's talk about what I do like about SAO. The animation is nice—just about everyone will tell you that. But more importantly, there's action. There are sword fights, a cool main character... Some people complain about how Kirito is too powerful and doesn't have much room to grow as a swordsman. Me? I don't take issue with that. It boosts the entertainment value for me, and the entertainment value is pretty much the only reason I kept watching... well, that and I wanted to see what people were talking about.

The scenario is pretty clever, too, and not just because video games attract otaku. As I'll mention in the later part of this post, SAO explores "What If" questions that are relevant to philosophical and scientific questions today. For example: "If human experience is filtered through our neurological system, then what if we could hijack that system so people experience virtual reality as actual reality?" The last arc in SAO II has one of the best "What If" questions: "What if we could use virtual reality to help—and perhaps one day treat or even cure—chronically ill patients?"

Now, here's what I don't like about SAO:
I wrote about this in my post "Sword Art Online Confuses 'Shock' with 'Fitting Climax.' Again," as well as in a Tumblr post, so I'll confine my list of grievances to an actual, limited list.

1. Kirito and Asuna's relationship is often unbelievable. It feels like they were playing house in the first season's ALO arc. And in the GGO arc of SAO II, it's like they aren't really dating. Again, see the links above, especially the Tumblr one, for more ranting. Between writing those and complaining to my friend, I've ranted about their relationship too much already. Ugh...

2. Kirito's sister/cousin/whatever, who goes by Leafa online, has a crush on him, and it's not handled very well. It's clearly just there for some weird entertainment value, and it does not add any significant psychological conflict to the show. Oh, and Leafa's crush has apparently completely evaporated by SAO II.

3. There is gratuitous sexual harassment and abuse. I'm not saying it should be cut out entirely from the series. And it's not like it's in every episode or anything. But there's a difference between "shock" and "fitting climax," as I wrote in an earlier blog post.
Yuuki and Asuna in a safe version of ALO, just playing the game
and beating level bosses. Look at them. Do you see why I have a
hard time taking things seriously in ALO? (SAO II, ep 24)

4. The depth and seriousness in SAO is inconsistent. In the first arc, thousands of lives are at stake. Players must learn to navigate and beat this VRMMORPG in order to survive and escape back into the real world. In the second arc, Asuna is in very real trouble, and there are still many lives that need saving, but... the characters all become fairies, and I can't take them seriously. Plus, as important as Asuna is to many people in the audience, the stakes in this arc just aren't as high.

Then you get to the second season... the GGO arc is nice and dark. There's a murder mystery, and Kirito appears to wrestle with some post-traumatic stress. But after that, it's right back to a safe version of ALO, where Kirito and the gang go on a quest that's only slightly more exciting than the ones you go on in your typical MMORPG. Finally, the last arc is, in my opinion, of higher quality again—lives are not at stake, but the emotional conflict and character development are better than in much of the show.

I think that gives you a taste of SAO's inconsistent quality. I must repeat, though, that I did enjoy the last arc. And, in the last minutes of the last episode, Kirito and Asuna have a great conversation about the implications of virtual reality technology. Here's a brief quote from Kirito:

"I thought that the closer the real and virtual world got, the better the future would be. But the more the boundary between them blurs, the more it starts to trick people."

Yeah, Kirito is obviously much more than a simple swordsman-gamer or tech geek; he's gained some wisdom in his trials these past couple years. His conversation with Asuna is worth going back to, since it has applications to our world today and in the near future.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that SAO could have been amazing. From what I understand, the science fiction in this show is much more than just a gamer's fantasy. It's based partially on current predictions about humans, computers, and virtual reality. It opens questions about what the human experience is—How well could virtual reality mimic bodily reality? If we could program a virtual reality that would trick our senses into believing it to be true, if we could make ourselves feel like virtual experience was physical experience... would it be real?

There's another, related philosophical topic: what is the difference between humans and an AI like Yui? If the first question asks, "What is human experience?" then the second question asks, "What is human? What is a person?" Is a human just a biological computer? In that case, the main difference between Yui and Asuna is their hardware. But if a human is more than a biological computer, if people consist of both spirit/soul and body/brain, then Yui is not comparable to Asuna and Kirito. She appears to feel and act like a human/person, and perhaps the programming glitch makes her "think" she is a person... but she is, in fact, just a program, and only Asuna and Kirito's interpretation of her actions secure her a place as a full character.

In Sword Art Online, the line between the virtual and the real blurs. By the end, Kirito is figuring out how to get Yui into the real world. The characters rarely get into the philosophy and ethics of it, but it does happen on occasion. I do not remember them asking "What is human?" though, only "What is human experience?" and "How can virtual reality play a positive role—through medicine and entertainment—or negative role in our lives?"

All of these are important questions to ask. What do you believe about human life and personhood? About reality and human experience? I have to ask myself these questions, and then I have to ask one more: Does what I believe really match up with what the Bible says about human life and reality?

These are worldview questions. In other words, the answers to these questions play an important role in how you view yourself and the world around you.

In the last episode of SAO, Asuna's friend, Yuuki, prompts another important worldview question: "Why live if we're only going to die? What is life, and what is its purpose?" My answer is different than Yuuki and Asuna's answer, but that is for another post.



Monday, January 12, 2015

Kuroko's Basketball S3 Ep. 1: My Anticipation Bubbles

Sometimes, I let the fangirl in me run loose in a blog post. This is one of those times.

In case you weren't aware, I'm a big fan of Kuroko's Basketball (Kuroko no Basket). I talk about it so much, I've quit using its full name, and I mostly stick to Kurobas. When I heard that the next season of Kurobas would come out this winter, I was super excited. I tried not to let my hopes get too high, though, just in case Crunchyroll didn't get the right to stream the newest season.

Crunchyroll slowly unveiled their streaming list for this season, and Kurobas didn't show up. I grew worried. I gave up. I double-checked the release date—some sites said the season wouldn't air until March, so maybe I just had the air date wrong. Then I found out that the first episode was online. I hurried to Crunchyroll... no new Kurobas. My stomach dropped. My fears came true. If Crunchyroll didn't have the new season, then who would? Not Hulu, I was sure... though I checked just in case.

Then, I remembered the list of legal streaming sites Justin put together at Organization ASG back in July. Maybe, just maybe, one of the less popular sites would actually turn up something good... and yes, yes one did! Daisuki.net, we have just met, but I sincerely love you.

More than half of the episode was used to recap the last season. I didn't mind this at all—partially because I understand that it's been a year since season 2 aired... and partially because I love almost every minute of this series anyway, no matter how many times I've seen it.

Fangirling aside, there are two players I'd like to highlight in this post. One of them, I hate. The other, I fear. Both add to my already-bubbling anticipation.

First, meet the new enemy, Haizaki Shougo. Not opponent—enemy. I'm normally slow to judge characters, but this guy earned my hatred in less than a second. And yes, I use the word "hatred" very carefully. I've met plenty of athletic characters with bad attitudes, but I usually have to see them hurt my friends on the court before I add them to my "Hated Characters" list on Anime-Planet. Even then, I'm pretty forgiving toward the juvenilles.

Haizaki, however... ugh. I think this screenshot says it all:

Haizaki holds Alex by her neck after punching Himura (bottom left).
Kagami (right) has just caught up to them.
Himura Tatsuya, Kagami's childhood friend and rival, stood up for Alex when Haizaki hit on her. (Seriously, dude? Seriously? How disrespectful can you get? Not only is this sexual harrassment—she's an older woman! You disrespect women, you disrespect your elders, you disrespect humanity, you disrespect basketball... UGH.) I have a feeling Himura would do the same for any woman, but Alex is his and Kagami's mentor. This is personal. And if it's personal for these dear characters, then it's personal for me.

Remember, Haizaki behaves like this in uniform, right before his next game. If the authorities caught him, he'd probably be kicked out of the tournament. He doesn't care. He even states that he doesn't really like basketball. But he used to be on the same middle school team as the Generation of Miracles, and he'd like to take down at least one of his old teammates.

No one likes him. Aomine, Kuroko, and Kise all speak from experience when they say he is bad news. To make it worse, Kise's knee is apparently acting up. I have a sinking feeling that Haizaki is the type to take advantage of that.

Kise and Haisaki have a history. I completely agree with the sentiment
Kise expresses here, but I decided to censor the crudeness, since I'd
rather not worry about my readers' reactions.
Oh yeah, and Kuroko's old captain, the scary Akashi? He kicked Haisaki off the team back in middle school. That's a pretty significant testament to this guy's disposition.

Speaking of Akashi... I only caught brief glimpse of him in this episode. All he did was walk with his teammates, but that's enough to excite me. Over the past 50 episodes, I have learned to fear this small, pink-haired athlete. He's only had one significant scene, but his reputation precedes him. The entire Generation of Miracles clearly respects him. He has never lost a game—in one episode, someone said that winning is as natural to him as breathing. He doesn't slack of in practice, even though he's miles above most of his peers. And he became captain of his team even as a first-year. I have anticipated seeing him play for about 50 episodes, and I think I'll finally see him in action this season. Excuse me while I go squeal in excitement...

Akashi Seijuuro rises in the background of the ED sequence. Look
at those cat-like eyes... he scares me far more than Haisaki, and
in a very different way.
I really need to find a friend to watch this with. I love cheering, squealing, and jumping up and down on my own, but the real sports fans look like that have fun when they have friends to cheer with. Then again, I might not be quite as expressive if I had an audience. Maybe it's better this way.

My cheeks hurt from smiling. Goodness, I can be quite the fangirl at times. Time to calm down and go to sleep.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Rewind: Space Brothers

I underestimated Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai) when it began airing in Spring 2012. The frame Crunchyroll used to represent the first episode looked annoying, perhaps even crude—at least to me. But others around the 'net seemed to like it, and the summary made it sound decent. So I gave it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Mutta and his dog Appo watch a rocket in one of the EDs.
Screenshot taken at the end of ep 85.

Here's what I wrote in my "first impressions" post that spring:
Space Brothers:
(1) Hey, this is pretty good...
(2) Go, big brother, go! As an older sibling myself, I identify with the main character wanting to stay ahead of his brother.
(3) It's not too late to follow your dreams. I believe in you, Mutta!
(4) Eh, predictable romance. Oh well. Hope it won't take away from achieve-dreams-in-space and brother angles.
(5) I'm really, really going to like this one.
Now that I've finished all 99 episodes, here's my response:

(1) Yep, it was pretty good.

(2) Sure enough, I continued to relate to Mutta, the main character, throughout the show. Sure, he's a Japanese man with a few years of career life under his belt, and I'm a young American woman in college. But we both are older siblings, and we both have pretty awesome little siblings. I wrote a post on the topic in June 2013.

(3) Dreams. That's another area where I relate with Mutta: we both gave up on our dreams at some point, and we both regained determination to pursue those dreams. (And then, for me anyway, a bigger dream)

(4) I wasn't thrilled with Mutta's crush, but it wasn't too intrusive... and it wasn't completely dismissed either. Altogether, they handled relationships pretty well.

(5) I did really, really like this one... for the first several dozen episodes. By the end, the excitement was pretty much gone.

Honestly, I'm impressed that a seinen show like this one reached 99 episodes. I expect that length for flashy shounen like Hunter x Hunter or Naruto, but this was a surprise. Space Brothers is not flashy. It's set in the near future, and it deals with outer space, but it doesn't really fit in the sci-fi genre. Still, it is very suspenseful at times, complete with literal cliffhangers. (I got a kick out of that.) It's heartwarming.(I'm a sucker for good familial relationships, especially between siblings.) It's relatable and promoted beneficial reflection for me. And it's often fun.

Still, the last several episodes—perhaps the last cour or even more—were relatively ineffective. I went months between episodes, and then I'd only watch a couple at a time. The ending didn't even feel like a proper ending. Sure, questions were answered, and loose ends were acknowledged... mostly. But goals weren't met. I realize that the manga is still ongoing, and perhaps no proper ending has been written just yet. But I can only react to what I've seen, and the anime ended weakly. There was no climax, no emotional high or low... just waiting for a big event that never appeared on screen.

Don't get me wrong. I greatly enjoyed most of the show, and I recommend it. It just lost my interest at the end. And part of that could be due to my own mood. My anime-watching habits can be finicky.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Replay: Top Ten Posts of 2014

Halfway through 2013, I committed to blogging at least once a week. So far, I've (barely) managed to keep that commitment... although I had to push the designated blogging day from Thursday to "sort
Three of this year's most popular posts are
also, at the time of this writing, the most
popular this week. It doesn't always happen
that way.
of Friday night, depending on where you live." Thus, 2014 represents my first full year of weekly blogging. In the past year, some new readers have popped up and said hello in comments. I want to thank all of you, no matter how long you've known about my little blogspot, for the time you've given to read my thoughts. It means a lot.

Anyway, here are 2014's ten most popular posts.


If you've stuck around my blog for very long, you know that I'm a sports anime fan. This post gives my (now outdated) ranking of sports anime, complete with explanations. I also included a list of qualities I look for in a good sports anime. Since I posted this, my rankings have changed a little. For example, I've re-watched Cross Game and Big Windup!, so I now remember how great those are. 

This post jumped in popularity thanks to Lauren at Otaku Journalist. She puts together weekly lists of geeky links. One week, she was searching for a sports anime-related link to include. She announced this on Twitter, I gave her a link to this post... and ta-da! Instant popularity. I knew Lauren's blog was popular, but the number of people who checked out this post gives me a better idea of just how popular she is. I'm thankful she decided to include my post among her links!

2. Rewind: Clannad (January 4, 2014) 

When I write Rewind posts, I often just reference my memories, old posts, or any recommendations I might have written on Anime-Planet. This time, I decided to change things up: I embedded my Tweets about Clannad into my post. People seemed to really like the result. My Tweets show my evolution from a skeptic to a fan. I wrote my post about Clannad After Story the same way, but it didn't gain the same kind of popularity.


Four of my post popular posts this year were about Hunter x Hunter. I guess that shouldn't be surprising. It's a great anime, and it just finished this past year. Plus, these were some of my deeper posts this year. "Gon's Dark Version of Redemption" has spoilers for episode 131. 


5. Anime-Planet Just Got Even Better (February 28, 2014)

Anime-Planet teamed up with Crunchyroll, Hulu, and others, so we could watch anime without leaving A-P. I was pretty excited about the idea of my favorite anime websites teaming up. I haven't actually used the video streaming feature on Anime-Planet that much, but I liked the idea. And when my post was shared on the Anime-Planet Facebook page, I got a few more views than usual.


I'm no longer happy with this title, but it's too late to change it now, so oh well.

7. So Swamped, I Forgot to Post (April 19, 2014)

I'm reluctant to include this link. I watched incredulously as this post gained views. It's just a filler Swamped post. Doesn't even have a picture to search for in Google. Really, guys? Did you really want to read this? 

This is a screenshot of Killua, Gon, and Pitou during one of the most
memorable scenes of Hunter x Hunter. I won't explain, for fear of spoilers,
but this scene impressed me. (ep 116)
8. Despite Suspense Abuse, Hunter x Hunter Develops Well (February 26, 2014)

There was a point, at the very beginning of 2014, where I got annoyed with Hunter x Hunter's pacing. I felt that suspense was overused. Around episode 116, the anime seemed ready to pick up again, and I wrote this post.


The title of this post plays on an anime title, The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior. I'm glad this post was popular enough to land on this list. It was used as a talking point on Beneath the Tangles' second podcast. I had fun discussing both anime and introversion with Japesland and Kaze.

10. Rewind: Brother's Conflict (February 7, 2014)

Before you bother watching Brother's Conflict, read my post. Or read another review. Or at least consider these few sentences to be your warning.

---
And that's it! I had honorable mentions, but I decided to leave them out. If you're interested in last year's top ten posts, click here.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Rewind: Black Lagoon

Black Lagoon is about a boring businessman who becomes a pirate. Not a One Piece-type pirate, but rather a more realistic, modern pirate who deals with scary crime syndicates.

I don't remember when I first watched Black Lagoon, but I remember why I like it: explosions, analytical main character, guns, some humor, fights, and general excitement. The main character, Rock, toughens up considerably throughout the series, although he never evolves into a gun-slinging strongman; that's Revy's role.

Meet Revy, the gunslinger that pulled Rock into the crime world. She
seems to be his opposite in every way: female, tough, bloodthirsty,
and less fond of clothes that cover a person's midriff. But her rough
character complements his analytical character very well. (pic from ep 1)

I think there's some rather interesting character development—I remember almost being impressed by some of Rock's dialogue. It's been too long to recall the details, though. And honestly? This anime isn't exactly profound.

As much as I enjoy the battles in Black Lagoon, not every aspect of this anime appeals to me. I can't write about it on this blog without a content warning. In addition to the swearing, violence, and crudeness, there are some seriously disturbing episodes, especially at the start of the second season (labeled The Second Barrage some places, but not so easily distinguished on Hulu).

I rewatched the first two episodes in order to get a screenshot. I forgot how fun this show can be, and I'd like to rewatch the entire first season. Unfortunately, I'm still way behind on other anime, and my Christmas break is quickly slipping away. I'll have to save this for another day.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Anime Secret Santa: Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

Merry Christmas, dear readers! For those of you who don't know, Alain and Kate of Reverse Thieves coordinate an Anime Secret Santa event for anibloggers every year. This is my first time participating.

My "Secret Santa" left me three great recommendations after looking at my Anime-Planet account. It would have been a hard choice. Thankfully, only Ikoku Meiro no Croisée (Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth) was available through my usual anime sources. I hope to watch the other two eventually, but I'm glad I was "forced" to watch Croisée this time.

Claude and Yune enjoy an unplanned walk as the rain clears up
in episode 3.
Croisée has no explosions, no sports, no action, and practically no romance. It's simply a sweet show about a little Japanese girl, Yune, who has just moved to Paris in the early nineteenth century. She lives with Claude, a young blacksmith, and his grandpa, Oscar. Most of the show is set in their home and shop, or in the Galerie (sort of a mall) that their shop/home is part of. Over the show's twelve episodes, Claude and Yune work to understand and care for one another, despite their different value systems. Normally, I'd get bored and drop it after a few episodes. But I persevered for the sake of this review.

At first, I found little things to appreciate: the lovely artwork, the way characters learn about each other's cultures, etc. Then I noticed big themes emerging, including freedom. Finally, by the sixth episode, I noticed great use of symbolism. I went into nerdy English major mode at that point. Can't get excited about an anime in the normal way? Time for some good, intellectual fun! 

Croisée seems to be a simple anime about the meeting of two cultures. But it goes deeper than that and uses those cultural differences to reveal the ideas and structures that restrict one's freedom to move about and relate to others.

This theme really picks up in the fifth episode, "Lost." Claude encourages Yune to be free and do her own thing. He doesn't understand why she prefers to work with them in their shop instead. To him, freedom is independence, the ability to explore what you personally enjoy without constantly considering others. A little later in the episode, Claude restricts her freedom in how she relates to others. He is worried that she's too naive and explains that in Paris, people are suspicious of friendliness. If you're too friendly, customers will think you're trying to take advantage of them. Or, even worse, people will take advantage of you. He is specifically concerned about her kindness to a little street brat.

Claude's closed-off approach to people, as well as the way he prioritizes Yune over customers, confuses her. She explains that in Japan, a person cares for their customers first and foremost. She puzzles over the differences in the way they relate to people, and they way they define freedom. Freedom in the Galerie seems to mean one must neither meddle nor be to friendly.

Not much later, when Yune is watching the shop, the little street boy steals a candle holder. She blames herself and runs after him. Instead of finding him, she gets lost. After Claude's talk about friendly strangers, everyone in the Galerie seems scary. No one she approaches will talk to her, and anyone who does reach out to help frightens her away. When Claude finally finds her, he explains that not everyone is scary; people are simply cautious until you become a part of their circle. Yune makes a profound statement at the end. She notes that she restricted her own freedom when she predetermined that everyone is scary.
In the seventh episode, Yune says farewell to the little street boy.
She's trying to obey Claude without abruptly cutting her ties with
the child.

The little boy has no name, but he shows up repeatedly throughout the show. Yune wants to feed him and understand him. When he steals to pay for food, she sees his need—not just for food, but for a place to belong and a person to care—the same needs she feels. Claude, on the other hand, notes the need through the boy's appearance, and he sees only a thief. He wants to protect the store from theft, and protect Yune from any betrayal or disease the child brings. This clash of values is worth reflecting on. Claude seems callous at first, but I don't think we viewers should be too quick to judge. We should consider: do we see people as threats or as hearts? Are we driven by fear or by love?

The sixth episode, "Crinoline," examines the social restrictions through metaphor. A crinoline is the frame that women used to use to make their skirts ridiculously big. When Yune tries on one of her wealthy friend's dresses, the crinoline restricts her movements, and she has to skip the corset altogether. She notes that the crinoline looks like a birdcage. Her friend's older sister, Camille Blanche, says, "It really is like a birdcage." Later, it becomes clear that fashion isn't the only birdcage Camille feels. The crinoline makes it impossible for Yune to catch a cat. And as Camille looks out the window to see Claude, we begin to suspect that her birdcage keeps her from catching a different kind of cat.

The cat metaphor is continued in later episodes. Cats are used to explore freedom and relationships, including the fear of lost relationships. If I were writing about this for a literature class, I could write a short paper on the symbolism of cats alone, so I'd better cut myself off. In fact, I'd like to spend an entire post on the way different fears and cultural restrictions keep the characters from loving one another. I think I would benefit from reflecting on parallels in my own life and in the Church—meaning the entire body of the Christian family, including my local church. The idea of being free to love is, I think, foundational to how we relate to people both inside and outside the church family. But this is meant to be a more holistic review, so I'll take a moment to examine the other elements of this anime.

The art is beautiful. The settings, especially, have a watercolor texture. Fashion and artistic ironwork are shown in intricate detail. I wasn't surprised to find out that the original mangaka, Takeda Hinata, also created the Gosick Light Novels. I only watched part of the Gosick anime, and that a long time ago, but I can see similarities in the detailed Western fashion. The gentle, beautiful animation fits the series well. My only complaint might be the character faces; everyone looks the same age. Even Oscar, the grandfather, looks like a young man with a fake beard. But this is a fairly common trait in anime, and only worth passing mention.

The music is lovely, too. The opening and ending themes seem to be sung by a young, innocent girl, and they frame each episode perfectly. If you watch, make sure you continue watching through the ED—not only is the song pretty, but there is always an extra scene at the very end. You don't want to miss out on that.

I appreciate the characters as vehicles for exploring the anime's themes. But, at most, I only feel passing care for any of them. In fact, one of Yune's friends is downright annoying. Alice Blanche is a stereotypical spoiled rich girl. I've seen versions of her throughout many anime: high pitched voice, blonde hair, lack of consideration for others. At first, especially, she treats Yune almost like an object. As the anime goes on, she learns more about Yune and loses some of her spoiled ignorance... but only some. That said, Alice does become a vital part of the plot. Her facination with Japan, and thus with Yune, come from her childhood dreams. She wants to travel, and if she can't travel, she'll start with imagining and learning about other places as a way to escape her family's stifling way of life. She doesn't explicitly say most of that, but it is implied. Her story becomes interwoven with fantastic symbolism I wrote about above.

Again, as an English major, I found plenty to delight in throughout this show. In fact, to use a key phrase from literary criticism, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth both "delights and instructs." But it has faults. There are inconsistencies. Yune supposedly came to Paris for an apprenticeship, but she certainly doesn't seem like an apprentice to Claude. He doesn't try to teach her anything about blacksmithing. In fact, he doesn't like it when she watches him work. I don't know if "apprentice" is a mistranslation, or if it's just an excuse to get Yune to Paris. Either way, it has very little to do with the actual plot. She helps in the shop, yes, but only by cleaning and keeping an eye on things. She's not really learning a trade.
Yune and her older sister in a memory of Japan. I'm mostly including
this screenshot because it's so beautiful. (ep 11)

In addition, Oscar at first explains that Yune's parents think it's time for her to "leave the nest" and find and apprenticeship. She's always wanted to go to Paris, so she comes back with Oscar. Later, Claude wonders how her beloved older sister let her go. Further, Yune's memories of her sister taking care of her, and of her sister's problems as an outcast, leave her parents out of the picture. Really, of the four characters with backstories, Yune's backstory is the most unsteady.

Overall, Ikoku Meiro no Croisée is a pleasant anime. I think I'd have liked it a little more if I watched just one episode a week as it aired, instead of trying to watch it all in the last week and a half before Christmas. Plenty of amusing and sweet moments are sprinkled throughout the twelve episodes, and I smiled a lot. But it wasn't exciting... or rather, the only excitement I felt was that of a literary student, as I watched the symbolism and character threads come together. I waver between giving Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 3.5 or 4 stars out of 5. Since my enjoyment was mostly intellectual, and the story failed to sweep me away, I'm landing on 3.5 stars for now. Chances are high that I'll write another post about this show, but chances are low that I'll ever re-watch it. It's good, and if this review rouses your interest, I recommend you check it out. It's available on Hulu. But if, like me, you're not exactly a big slice-of-life anime fan, you might prefer to spend your time on something else.

[Edit: Justin of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses was my Secret Santa. Thank you, Justin, for the great recommendations! I hope to watch Rainbow (I can't remember the rest of the name) and Summer Wars eventually, since I think I'll prefer those, but this was all I could get ahold of for now.]