Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Ikoku Meiro no Croisée Episodes 1 and 2 – Foriegn Exchange Program

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée Episodes 1 and 2 – Foriegn Exchange Program

I’ve complained on a few occasions about how often anime set in Europe messes up key details or even basic cultural facts. (That was a minor theme of my Gosick posts, for example.) Periodically, though, you find a series whose whole premise is based on mirroring European life—typically in the Victorian era—in the most accurate and minute fashion possible. Emma (the manga/anime, not the novel/movie) is probably the most famous example, with manga author Kaoru Mori setting the standard for getting the details right.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée feels so much like Emma that the two might be distant cousins. Although set in France instead of England, and without the same degree of romantic angst that characterized Mori’s work, the art style and the general attention to world building bear remarkably similarities. But while this new offering might even improve on the art, it lacks for drama, to the point where it feels like characters in search of a plot.

Both Emma and Ikokumeiro feature an opening consisting of nothing but scenes of daily life in the city. It's a very mellow form of opening, but then, Ikokumeiro is a very mellow show

The basic premise is that young metalsmith Claude is working in his shop when his world-traveling grandfather stops by with a little Japanese girl in tow. That girl, Yune, has been sent out to apprentice as a shop worker with Claude, which is somehow a tradition in her family. This feels as artificial as it sounds—Japan had opened itself up a bit too recently for such a practice to qualify as a “tradition” and few sane parents I know would allow their nine-year-old daughter to travel halfway around the world with a business associate—but the point is to introduce Yune into the world and provide a bit of culture shock.

Aside from providing an adorable girl to watch, Yune is meant to serve as the audience’s window in the world. She asks the questions that the Japanese audience would ask, providing a way to provide exposition and explain the differences between European culture and hers. Emma provided none of this, which meant you occasionally had scenes that made little sense not merely to the Japanese, but also to modern watchers of any nationality. But it also felt less forced in its narrative, as it didn’t need to spend its time explaining various things rather than advancing the plot.

The opening scenes of the first episode involve Yune learning what a French breakfast is like, including the importance of cheese. Heart-pounding stuff, I know

For that matter, it’s not clear if there will be a greater story to the show beyond the “Yune learns to adapt to French culture and wins the hearts of the residents” bit. Even that barely qualifies; Claude was reluctant to accept Yune in the store for all sorts of sensible reasons, but got over them by the end of the first episode. Any lingering prejudice from others is negligible. Everyone seems to treat her like a curiosity, but a welcome one.

The closest suggestion of a conflict comes from Claude’s struggling shop, located in a glass-roofed gallery. He and the other shops in the gallery are all family run and operated, and all of them struggle against the recently opened department store with its selection, versatility, and competitive prices. It’s been suggested that Yune might turn into a mascot character who attracts business to his story, but that plot will play out in an episode at most.

The department store is huge, and still so popular as to require a line to get in. It's the "new" thing, in an era obsessed with progress

I don’t mean to downplay the conflict as meaningless; it does signal important social shifts of the time, as modernization leads to increasingly impersonal business relationships. It also has heavy parallels with modern Japan, where shopping districts not unlike this French gallery are slowly being edged out by supermarkets and large brand stores, even in smaller communities. That’s not to say that the show will start engaging in open advocacy of the one over the other. But it is an interesting connection.

Sadly, that’s all that’s really interesting about it. It’s not a bad watch, as slice of life shows go, but it is completely unconcerned with being funny, or providing drama, or generally providing a reason for people to watch it. Even Yune’s character arc, as she learns about living in France and connects with Claude and everyone else, seems carefully paced as to avoid serious conflict.

This kid has the lovable scamp look about him. Given his apparent interest in Yume, I'm guessing he'll play some role in a future episode

There are some characters who might add some spice to the proceedings; we’ve yet to meet the rich French girl obsessed with Japanese culture, who is perhaps anachronistic but will give Yune a much needed companion. And the art is fabulous, with all the care and attention that I would expect from a Satelight project, despite how displeased I was with their last offering. Indeed, given some of their recent efforts, I’d take this show any day.

But without any narrative purpose to it all, the entire show comes off as an excuse for animators to draw exquisite animation of a cute girl being cute. That’s hardly the worst thing in the world, and maybe with time some grand plot will emerge to provide some actual drama. For now, there’s not much to recommend beside the saccharine. If that’s what you want in an anime series, though, this is a great place to get it.

There are plenty of examples of great art in Yume's clothing, or in replicating French architecture. I'm going to highlight Claude's metalwork as an example of artistic creativity as well as detail

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  1. October 30, 2011 at 11:52 pm

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