In the 19th century, a Japanese girl named Yune arrives in Paris to work at the Enseignes du Roy. There she meets Claude Claudel, a blacksmith who makes street signs. Caught in a new cultural experience, both Yune and Claude learn from each other while they try to keep the shop open despite the declining customers. Once a popular marketplace, many nearby businesses are closing as they are engulfed by the waves of change. Experience culture shock at its cutest in Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth.
Source: Sentai Filmworks
This show is incredibly frustrating for me. This isn't because it's poorly done. It isn't because it's badly written or the characters are flat or the animation is shoddy. No... It’s because this anime could have been so much more than it turned out to be. What frustrates me more than anything is the untapped potential of this show. It just needed a little more polishing and focus to achieve brilliance. Allow me to elaborate further. Story: This show is about a young Japanese girl, named Yune, who travels to Paris in order to intern in a metal works shop with an elderly man named Oscar and his grandson Claudee. It is about the cultural misunderstandings that arise between the three of them and other characters who appear in their lives. It actually turned out to be a sweet slice of life anime. There was something endearing about these characters and the communication between them. However, my big problem with the show is that I was never quite sure what the point of it was. What did the creators want me to know after watching this? Ultimately, all I can gather as an absolute message is "There are differences between cultures, but we can still find love in our differences." It's a good message and one that more people in this world need to learn... however, the story also tried to tackle other themes that I thought were far more poignant than the message they settled on. These other themes, on the other hand, just felt like vignettes that weren't meant to be focused on for too long. For instance, there are parts of the show that seriously ask what it means to be useful. Are you useful because you can do a job well? Must you yourself feel useful or is it enough that someone else sees your potential? Can your "use" in life just be to be loved by someone else? I loved that this question was addressed and I thought it could have been a really beautiful theme to settle on. Yet, they end this argument in a pretty bad way, with a message that I could see being misconstrued. The creators also could have developed more fully the idea of what happens to people when their own culture is too stifling. Ultimately, it feels like none of the characters in this story (except for possibly Yune and Oscar) are satisfied with what their society tells them they should be doing. We have characters that are limited by class. One of these characters is essentially told, from a very early age, that the best path to pursue would be to be someone’s lover (never husband or wife) but merely a lover. Another character is told that all they are good for is marriage, thus this character feels more like a commodity. The ideas of class, love and marriage weave together in this show with no real resolution. These issues are largely only addressed in flashbacks but are never resolved in the present. Thus, we have characters who are dwelling on the past but not even endeavoring to change the present. They have already given up, thus this part of the story is over before it even begins. This show does ask some great questions but it doesn't ponder them long enough. It doesn't give us time to dwell with the characters before it is time to go on to the next question. Plot points come up too quickly and too briefly for the audience to really grasp what they mean. It's like the creators didn't recognize how much they could say about these issues that they brought up. Animation: Aspects of this animation are absolutely lovely. Paris looks beautiful. However, I love the fact that Paris doesn't feel like a foreign place. In the midst of all the beautiful sunset shots and architecture you are able to witness the mundane life of shopping or even the shadier parts of Paris where thieves live. Paris feels more like home and not as romanticized as I expected it to be. It was a refreshing representation. I also enjoyed the atmosphere. I liked when the lights were dimmed down. It made the show feel calmer and like the characters had an atmosphere to talk. However, this show does have a great deal of awkward animation moments. The characters look really stiff most of the time. The hair in this show bothered me especially because it rarely moves. Unless you have a breeze or someone rustling another person's hair it stays absolutely still. This is especially noticeable on characters like Alice and Camille who have a lot of wavy blond hair. It is genuinely unsettling to see them move. Furthermore, the heads didn't always look right. I can't count the number of times I would be looking at the back of Claude's head and asking "why is your head so tall?" The clothes also didn't move like fabric. All in all, the characters were often stiff and bizarre. Sound: I love the decision to use French in the introduction. It was a good choice that reinforced one of the main aspects of the show. All of the voice actors did an excellent job with their characters. They helped me feel for these people and their problems. The background music was alright. It set a sweet atmosphere for the show but didn't really help to draw me in. I didn't find myself getting drawn into an emotional moment because of the music. It was alright. Characters: The creators developed these characters well. Each person had pasts, opinions, hardships, loves etc. However, the creators didn't know which characters to focus on and they didn't have nearly enough time to give them all the attention they needed. Yune is a sweet and caring girl who often lies in order to comfort others. She also has a fierce loyalty that is unwavering. In spite of understanding all of this about her, I think she could have done more. She is a character who could be more active in her role as a protagonist. She isn't often the cause of action. A majority of the time she performs actions after another character suggests them or drags her into them. This isn't the best quality for the lead character because it doesn't allow for plot to happen very quickly. The decisions she makes on her own actually are quite interesting and usually cause a lot of character to be revealed (such as giving Claude her mother's kimono or following the cat in the last episode). I enjoy the fact that I dislike Claude. Hear me out. He has enough flaws in his character that he felt like a real person to me. He is a bit selfish, domineering, narrow-minded and controlling. Some of his scenes were actually unsettling for me to watch. Yet, he doesn't realize how much he acts out of fear or anger. He is an interesting character to watch but not somebody I would necessarily want to know. He was one of the characters, though, who carried a lot of potential plot themes with him. A lot of unique ideas were put forward by this character but never developed which leaves me frustrated when the plot concludes. Oscar is more of a mediator between Claude and Yune than an actual character. He is there to explain misunderstandings and cultural phenomena since he is well traveled. However, his character, by itself is just a likeable womanizer. Alice irritates me to no end. She is flat out rude, demeaning and possessive. One episode does a good job of giving this character a place in the show, but it’s too short. We don't have time to sympathize with this character between her squealing and ignorant comments. I wanted way more scenes with Camille. She is such a quiet character that not all of her story gets told. However, the cold politeness of her personality makes for incredibly interesting scenes. She could never be the protagonist of her own story, but when you put her in scenes with other characters what develops is incredibly intriguing. It's too bad she doesn't appear more. This show underestimated what it had the potential for. I truly believe that this show could have been pretty brilliant if it had tried to be. It isn't bad for the show they tried to make but they threw in too many different ideas without a focus. It is a very good show but irritating for the potential they squandered.
Very few anime can pull off what Ikoku Meiro no Croisee can. It perfectly balances lightheartedness with drama with a cast that's unforgettable, and it just brings about a sense of magic that can be felt fiercely. Story: The story perfectly balances sadness and joy in the environment it is in and has created. The balance transitions very well from the dramatic aspect to the joyful aspect with little to no awkwardness surrounding the situation. The situations themselves aren't sappy or uncreative either. The sad moments are sad and the happy moments are happy. The moments are all full of emotion and just are very great to watch. The many different situations are all very creative and wonderful. The many aspects of society's ups and downs are very much present and well though out. It also does a good job at expanding the characters and making them come to life with its magic. The cultural difference in the anime is also very balanced. It's there, but it's not forced down your throat either, and as a result you get to enjoy watch the difference in culture, without feeling like it's what the anime focuses on instead of the situations, settings, music, and characters. This story is just great at its balancing act and very creative situations that it just touches your heart. Characters: The characters in Ikoku Meiro no Croisee are just brilliant. Yune and Claude compliment each other very well as leading roles. Yune's innocence, joy and determination just makes her all that she can be. The fact that she's now in a country that's rather far away from her own doesn't seem to shake her one bit, because she knows to trust people. Now that doesn't men she's stupid by any means. She is a joyful character, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have any other emotions. Quite the contrary actually. Yune does get worried, shocked, scared, and yes sometimes even sad about what's going on. She is a well-rounded character, and should be known as such. Claude on the other hand, isn't a very open character at first. He's stubborn, aggressive, skeptical, and brutish. However overtime, he learns to give up his little insecurities one by one and become more open about himself and his concerns. It is shown he cares about people, but only those he trusts and cares for. Claude's development is justified and understandable. Now that I've touched on the main cast, the other characters are in need of explanation. Oscar and Alen are more or less comic relief. They're generally seen picking on Claude, or being there joyful selves, they do get worried when something bad happens. Alice is just amazingly over the top. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to hate her, but she's so over the top that I just find it hilarious. Her antics are just vivid and very funny. Camille is a reserved character that doesn't force herself to be true to herself. While she could have been expanded on just a tad bit, for the most part she is interesting in her development. The vagrant child is a bit of an enigma. While he doesn't talk a lot, he's better that way. We can see his emotion conveyed well, and while we don't know much about his past, I feel it's better when shrouded in mystery. Overall, the characters are just amazing and well thought out a lot. Art: The art is just perfect. The settings and backgrounds are well thought out and designed flawlessly, so it looks amazingly real. The character design also works really well, in the sense that it has a lot of thought and talent put into it. It looks real. The art is just very realistic and amazing. You can see that they didn't waste effort making it. Music: The music is just pure magic. It sets the mood of the anime very well, and it fits perfectly with the surrounding. It has that touch of subtlety that makes it more grand. It works at conveying the emotions perfectly and it is just amazing. Overall: Ikoku Meiro no Corisse is just a fantastic anime. It is just beyond awesome. Its story is heart felt but fun, the characters are creative but human, the art is captivating and the music is just fun. It's really hard not to like this anime.
When I reviewed the Croisse in a Foreign Labyrinth OVA, I noted the theme of culture shock meets cultural change. In the twelve-part series, add to this the conflict of the individual and the society that person is thrust into. For all concerned in the development of the plot, there is a tension between expectations vs. longings. The whole series is a set of three developing back-stories, or, you might say a tale of three families. Start with the Claudels, grandfather and grandson, who represent the hard-core working class. The family have worked the trade of iron mongers who have for three generations created intricate designs for signage for the gallery of shops in their district, the glass bound Galerie du Roy. Claude’s' father has passed, but the teen-age blacksmith gives indications that the relationship was rocky. Jean Claudel was undoubtedly a master-craftsman, and Claude is just starting to come out from under his shadow to prove his merits in iron-working. As for the two surviving members, grandfather Oscar has been a rover ... the reason he had gone off to Japan to study his craft seems to have been a lark, but it gives him reason to bring young Yune back to Paris. Claude is far more serious and brooding than grandfather, and this seems to have come from an association with a girl who has begun to drift away due to the difference in their social status. Yune comes to be part of the family as one interested in life outside her Japan and will work for her living in the glass-and-iron shop in the Galerie. Yune often serves as a glue to keep any further splintering of the family Claudel. Family secrets to reveal! Now, over to the far end of the social ladder. Here we meet the Blanches, the family of wealth and status. Biologically speaking, we know there had to be a father and mother (the latter does make a brief appearance), but all we see are sisters Alice and Camille with any of the staff who are to manage and ameliorate their lives. Alice is a Japanophile who raves over Yune and would ferret the girl away from the bleak situation of life with the blue-collar Claudel clan. But the key to the Blanche family is the older sister Camille. She utterly adores her younger sister, but, in her youth had fallen in love with Claude. Camille risked much not to have the blacksmith's son found on the premises, and she knew the greater risks of strolling into the Galerie du Roy to visit Claude. Now Camille is preparing to have her debut, knowing the overall plans of the family is to have Camille marry 'well.' Camille had suggested that when she married, Claude could still be her amant (lover), a notion that shocks Claude. This seems to have cooled Camille toward Claude, but we might still see embers. That leaves us to ponder Yune's family left behind in Japan. We know little, again no more than an older sister who became blind prior to Yune's travels to France. Yune seems to blame herself for the blindness over some childish belief that some magical charm she offered caused the tragedy. Oscar assures Yune that such magic is not possible, and does offer Yune unconditional love as her protector, his own special type of mahou. Claude is a harder nut to crack in this way, but the twelve episodes show that he does mellow out over the tiny Japanese girl who came to Paris to take in the wonders of another culture. But it takes Yune endangering her life to make Claude discover the importance of the foreign girl to him ... and vice versa. The music is gentle, depicting the spirit of the spirit of the anime, which one might say unfolds too slowly. I beg to differ, but twelve episodes to chart the lives of a handful of people and how they matter in the roles and stations they play ... priceless slogging along. The animation is standard, though it captures the essence of the plodding along Paris of the late nineteenth century, where change does happen. How do you CGI that? The heart of this anime is its Iyashikei tone, a sense of healing going on. Particularly when we learn that Claude's hatred for the Grand Magazin, which so dulls his bitter personality, is not because the new-fangled department store threatens his livelihood at the Galerie du Roy. It's more personal than that. Subtle revelations about each of the main players in this story, this is what fuels this modest tale of shock and change and society which dictates too much in the daily (and unashamedly mundane) lives of the common person.
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