Today I review a series about a young Japanese girl going to work in 19th century France. So maybe it’s not that kind of labyrinth, but Paris can be a strange and confusing place if you’re used taking baths and having miso soup for breakfast.
Title: Ikoku Meiro no Croisée The Animation (Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth The Animation)
Original airing: Jul 4, 2011 to Sep 19, 2011
Duration: 23 min/ep
Genres: Slice of Life, Historical
Where I watched: DVD
Brief Synopsis and First Impressions
The story takes place in the second half of the 19th century, as Japanese culture gains popularity in the West. A young Japanese girl, Yune, accompanies a French traveler, Oscar, on his journey back to France, and offers to help at the family’s ironwork shop in Paris. Oscar’s nephew and shop-owner Claude reluctantly accepts to take care of Yune, and we learn how those two, who have so little in common, get to understand each other and live together in the Paris of the 1800s.
Like my last review on Colorful, this anime came to me by way of a sale on the Sentai Filmworks site. Considering how many titles we ended up ordering through them, you shouldn’t be surprised if many of the upcoming reviews I do come from the same source. I chose this particular title in the interest of reviewing a variety of anime as I had yet to tackle a Slice of Life show that wasn’t centered around comedy or emotional content.
What drew me to this outwardly ‘cute’ series was the ‘clash of cultures’ concept set against a historical backdrop which, honestly, always gets me a little interested. As I was trying to fill a purchase quota on the aforementioned sale, I picked it up after only a brief consultation of its MAL score. Though this is hardly a good way to judge a show, its 7.4+ aggregate score and low cost put it in the ‘eh, let’s give it a go’ category.
All these factors made Croisée a low risk watch, but did that also mean low reward?
Europe saw a great many social and economic changes in the 19th century. With the Napoleonic era ushering a wave of modernization that kicked off the industrial revolution in France, Paris took on an even more prominent role in becoming the centralized source of progress, culture, and influence for the French. Japan also saw major changes in this century, particularly in the latter half, when the Meiji government ended Japan’s isolationist policies and saw widespread Westernization in nearly all its institutions. These events led to a mixing of cultures that neither the French or Japanese had experienced before.
It is in this time period that we see a young Japanese girl, Yune, arrive in Paris under the care of the elderly Oscar after his recent trip to Japan to join an apprenticeship in his homeland. The introduction is framed exactly as you might suspect – with Yune marveling at how different Paris is from her home, in both appearance and the customs of its people. Oscar’s grandson, Claude, reluctantly takes on much of the task of looking after Yune and slowly exposing her to life in France.
The ‘stranger in a strange land’ theme is used for the majority of the series, with each episode providing Yune with a new experience that may or may not clash with her preconceptions but almost always broadens her horizons. Adventures such as trying cheese for the first time or having her photo taken feed Yune’s curiosity while also giving her a chance to share her own culture with others.
Given the overall light and upbeat tone, social issues relating to the time period are kept very tame, with most of the tension arising from the class struggle between poorer merchants and the aristocracy. The sign making shoppe (Enseignes du Roy) run by Claude and the rest of the stores in the small Galerie du Roy face have lost most of their business to the Grand Magasin, the large department store in Paris. This creates added bitterness in Claude toward the Blanche family, one of whom spitefully owns the Galerie du Roy and takes a spirited interest in Yune.
Claude’s attitude toward this family, along with most everything else, sees little development over the course of the series with the preferred focus being the various slice of life moments. The series does additionally hint at some personal issues , such as Claude’s past with his own family, a possible failed relationship with one of the Blanche sisters, and sad memories of an elder sister that Yune tries her best to keep hidden.
Aside from affecting the characters’ interactions in small ways, most of these are dramatic teasers that don’t veer too far from the fluffy narrative. When they do, they present a hard contrast from the lighter themes in the rest of the show. It may be for this reason that the characters and the story itself avoid going too far into these less cheerful topics, but these undertones always seem to be present nonetheless.
In all other respects, Yune’s charm and the slowly growing bonds between her and the people around her are the clear focus of this series. Viewers looking for more out of the story are bound to be disappointed, as even the most tense problems most often take a backseat to Yune’s sweet natured approach to them and her cuteness overall. The episodic style ensures that, while there is continuity, story threads are contained. The whimsical tone that permeates even serious moments also relives most of the tension.
Without much a plot to move things along, the series is left to rely on the characters to draw initial interest as well as carry it forward throughout the series. The characters feel distinct and genuine, for the most part, playing off one another naturally; as slice of life stories tend to do. Given the lack of an overarching plot or focus on personal issues, the show is less about developing any one character than about the bonds between them.
To do this, the show makes maximum use of Yune and her arrival in Paris to spur this growth where it didn’t exist before. Cute, optimistic, and forever trying her best, it’s tough to find a reason to dislike her. Her strong sense of culturally ingrained respect even impresses those she disappoints, as is most often the case with her hapless host , Claude Claudel. As someone who keeps to himself most often, he finds Yune to be a challenge as he tries to keep her out of trouble and out of his own affairs. Further complicating this is Alice Blanche, whose exuberant Japanophilia has her demanding to see Yune as soon as she catches wind of the girl’s presence.
These characters heavily contrast one another to illustrate their social differences as well as Yune’s effectiveness in bridging the gaps. As a hardworking merchant who has seen his fair share of hard times, Claude is dour, rigid, and at times harsh with people. Alice’s privileged upbringing makes her selfish, demanding, and generally unconcerned with others. Both personalities clash with Yune’s modest yet determined personality, but both are inevitably changed for the better thanks to their friendship with her.
Claude in particular sees a level of development that most of the characters, Yune included, do not. In being forced to make concessions and go out of his way to accommodate her, Claude’s tendency to let his anger get the better of him is frequently challenged. With Oscar being the one to counsel him toward this most often in the beginning, Claude’s own guilt over the thought of hurting Yune’s feelings and his honest desire to make her time with them comfortable lead him to improve his attitude.
Croisée shows 19th century France and its people in beautiful, albeit not stunning, detail. Like the rest of the show the art style is soft, using a muted but expressive presentation that does a good job of building the world the characters inhabit. Scenery and clothing are depicted accurately for the time period, but more importantly are interesting to look at in the various settings the show visits. It avoids wearing viewers out on any one setting by shifting locations from the shop and Galerie to busy city streets and mansion scenes. Even the shop interior adds variety by using Claude’s workshop and his iron-working tools as a backdrop for a number of scenes.
Character designs are similarly authentic, yet varied and attractive. Among the French characters, Alice is the one to look out for with her wealth affording her many different styles to enjoy. They all feel natural and realistic with the one glaring exception in Yune. With cuteness likely the only quality in mind, her almost chibi form looks unnaturally young next to the other characters. The contrast seems to be intended to further express her as a novelty, exaggerating her features in an almost stereotypical depiction of a far eastern girl. Though this becomes more tolerable the more you watch, she never ceases to look slightly out of place in scenes she shares with other characters.
Musically, this series offers standard anime tracks for its OP and ED, using a typical upbeat/somber pairing to bookend each episode. The songs are well performed and the OP in particular manages to feel more European with its rhythmic waltz-like style, but neither song is a standout piece. In the same vein, it achieves a quiet brilliance with a soundtrack filled with classical pieces that range from whimsical to contemplative. There is an instrumental depth, with well timed harps and clarinets, that is difficult to notice if you’re not listening for it but still accents the scenes wonderfully.
The voice acting in this series is remarkably well done, with Nao Touyama and Takashi Kondou playing Yune and Claude, respectively. Dialogue never feels forced, coming off as relaxed and natural as the actors seem very comfortable in their roles and interactions with each other. Nao in particular does at a great job in selling Yune’s meek but expressive style of speech. She even lends her talent to a very sweet and memorable insert song in a bonus episode halfway though the series (linked below).
I would be remiss in not mentioning Aoi Yuuki’s part as Alice. She is quite popular these days with colorful performances even in supporting roles that often steal the show from the main characters. This role is no different, as she shifts from an almost maniacal laugh to quite curiosity within moments and always makes her impact onscreen.
Hard pressed to define itself as more than a moe Slice of Life show due to its tonal and artistic choices, Croisée still manages to have a number of enjoyable elements that can be appreciated by the average anime audience. Its narrative, slow moving as it is, gives plenty of opportunities for the characters to grow on you as they strive to better understand one another.
The lighthearted story is rife with comedic moments that play out in expected yet entertaining ways. Yune’s first experiences with cheese and coffee are funny callbacks to anyone who has tried strongly flavored foreign food for the first time. Alice’s over-enthusiastic interest in Japanese culture, while knowing next to nothing about it, is reminiscent of so many westerners in the early stages of anime obsession and otaku culture (I’m trying not to say weeaboo here, but…). Even Oscar’s playboy antics are amusing, especially given Claude’s initial horror over the possible reasons for his grandfather to bring Yune back with him in the first place.
The biggest criticism that can be brought against this show is the fair observation that it achieves very little. As mentioned before, the bonds that form between these characters are the highlight, but the constant reminders of deeper issues can lead viewers to think it will cover more. It can be frustrating to see these hinted at time and again without ever seeing them come to fruition, along with the social issues that Yune experiences which are merely touched upon without making the effort to tackle them seriously.
There is also plenty of company among those who are turned off by the blatant sweetness this show espouses. Some scenes, especially those between Alice and Yune, are clearly meant to appeal to viewers who gush over moe content, and this sort of thing can grow tiresome after a short while for the less inclined. Along with this, the lack of any meaningful story can make the series feel boring for those who need more engagement from their anime.
But if you are able to enjoy a series for its relaxing atmosphere and charming characters, Croisée can be a much more rewarding series. Those that find Yune endearing will adore watching her find joy in everyday life, and even those who dislike that sort of characterization might be turned by her infectious charm. The many heartwarming moments make this an excellent introduction to slow & soothing Slice of Life, and a solid entry in the genre for longtime fans.
Summary and Recommendations
Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is a charming example of Slice of Life anime about new experiences and friendship. Through good manners and steadfast determination, in addition to being adorable, Yune earns admiration from doubters and fans alike.
While the fish-out-of-water adventures of Yune navigating 19th century Paris are not exactly riveting, there is merit to be found in the delightful characters and the bonds they form. As the pint size protagonist undertakes the challenge of learning French customs, her own Japanese culture is endearingly displayed for the townsfolk in turn.
Though Satelight isn’t well known for producing highly detailed animation, the characters and scenery have a varied authenticity that viewers can appreciate. With a mix of piano, violin, and accordion music, coupled with the accurate clothing and scenery, Croisée gives the impression of a classic European city.
The tame narrative and lighthearted tone struggle to provide much beyond this though, offering simplistic plots that tend to be more about the experience than either the journey or the destination. Frustratingly, additional character depth is teased but barely built upon, leaving viewers to wonder about how much the series leaves unsaid.
While there was potential to do much more with the premise, viewers in the mood for a laid back, uncomplicated anime will enjoy the many cross cultural references and the relationships between the characters as Yune wins the hearts of those around her.
Watch if you:
Prefer light-hearted, simple storylines
Like cute and charming characters
Enjoy family friendly anime
Don’t watch if you:
Really can’t stand moe
Find shows without a riveting plot boring
Are watching for historical significance
This anime is perfectly serviceable in most areas, but a lack of depth in the story and characters hurt its score. My rating is 3.5 out of 5 Yunes.
I feel like I’ve already written about not letting your expectations be led or missed opportunities in anime narratives. For this one, I want to instead discuss the separate, but similar, topic of letting an anime be what it is.
As I mentioned in the intro, my initial draw to Croisée was the historical spotlight on the time period and possible drama arising from cultural misunderstandings. The fact that it didn’t really dive too deeply into this is hardly the fault of the anime and its creators. My expectations are my own, so it’s up to me to find anime that satisfies them rather than the other way around.
I could belabor my disappointment over what the series didn’t do but it would be unfair to judge the anime based on that, especially since the series never really aimed to cover what I thought it might. From the beginning Croisée was focused on Yune and on the interpersonal relationships she formed. It didn’t market itself otherwise, and did a fine job with what it aimed to do.
It’s tempting for reviewers to criticize a show because it veers off from what they think should happen. I am frequently guilty of second guessing anime while I’m watching it, which is evident in my episode reviews of The Saga of Tanya the Evil (strange thing to talk about in a Croisée review, I know), but when I can take a few steps back (and sufficient time) to look at the bigger picture I’m compelled to reconsider my opinions.
No additional Croisée reviews for me to share, but if you know of a good one let me know in the comments.
For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.
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