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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