Title: Ikoku Meiro no Croisée aka Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth aka La Croisée dans un Labyrinthe Étranger
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 4 Jul 2011 – 19 Sep 2011
Synopsis: As the 19th Century draws to a close, Oscar Claudel, the retired owner of a sign making shop in the Galerie Du Roy in Paris, has left the shop in the hands of his grandson Claude and has used this opportunity to travel and sightsee around the world. His most recent journey took him to Japan and he returns to Paris with a young Japanese girl named Yune, who has come to Paris to work and learn about French culture, much to Claude’s consternation.
Setting: Paris is rendered with an amazing amount of loving detail.
Themes: Uses its characters and setting to make some very thought-provoking comments about French society.
Side characters: Some are very engaging and enigmatic.
Lead characters: Not as interesting; Yune is too innocent, and Claude gets rather angsty.
Pacing: Good in the middle, but the beginning is slow and the end is disappointing.
Mood is critically important in iyakashei anime. Characters aren’t too far behind. Setting and aesthetics also matter, but plot isn’t nearly as significant a factor. All of these together contribute to the genre’s limited appeal. Ikoku Meiro no Croisee is a historical iyakashei anime set in 19th Century Paris that explores the issue of culture clash. The story follows Yune, a young Japanese girl in France as she adjusts to, and is accepted by, her French hosts in a time when both countries went through massive changes. While the show has some pertinent messages about both countries’ cultures and a few instances of thematic elegance, it’s let down by a lack of oomph, particularly near the very beginning and very end.
The depiction of Paris is simply wonderful. The city’s rich architectural and stylistic history isn’t just respected; it’s placed on a pedestal. There’s a sense of awe of French design evident within the amount of detail Ikoku Meiro‘s animators employ in their rendition of the city: the structured arches, curly ironworks, spherical streetlights, worn cobbles and bright tiles give Ikoku Meiro‘s setting a feel that’s both authentic and revered. There is a touch of idealization in the way Ikoku Meiro sees the city, but the anime doesn’t ignore the consequences of 19th Century Paris’s obsession with beauty and modernity. It’s when the story takes a step back to look at some of the problems faced by the very richest and very poorest of Parisian society that Ikoku Meiro makes its most profound statements.
Some of these statements, particularly during the middle episodes, are made with an admirable thematic elegance. One episode uses stray cats as a metaphor for the freedom (or lack thereof) of those bound to the upper class while another episode about a projector show is littered with moments of characters seeing things that aren’t actually there. One of the most interesting characters is Camille, the oldest daughter in the well-off Blanche family who, inwardly, struggles with the expectations and limitations of her class. The manifestation of her jealousy, both towards her whimsical, and less restrained younger sister, Alice, and Yune is subtle, and makes for a fascinating insight into her character.
However, the impact of Ikoku Meiro‘s commentary on Parisian society is muted at times because we see it from Yune’s utterly innocent point of view. While she’s often charmingly adorable, this works as a double edged sword, and she doesn’t come off as a strong lead character. Yune occasionally fails to appreciate the full extent of the events around her, which isn’t helped by her intense focus on Claude. Honestly, the angsty Claude just isn’t that interesting a character. Much of the conflict between him and Yune is due to his inability to open up, which gets frustrating after a while.
It takes three or four episodes before Ikoku Meiro moves away from some of the more superficial contrasts between French and Japanese culture and starts tackling the more interesting aspects that run deeper in both societies. With that said, I’m happy to forgive a slow start, since that’s pretty much an intrinsic property of the iyashikei genre. However, after an impressive mid-section, the last two episodes were a bit of a letdown. Once the side characters exit stage right, it becomes clear that the two leads, Yune and Claude, are far from the strongest and most engaging characters this show had.
The Rating: 7
Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun