|Claude and Yune enjoy an unplanned walk as the rain clears up|
in episode 3.
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!
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 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.]