Japan is oftentimes seen as a place full of idiosyncrasies, especially to Westerners who would view their customs as quirky at best and bizarre at worst. For Westerners, visiting Japan whether for business or leisure would likely result in severe culture shock, but what if the reverse were to happen? What if a Japanese person were to visit a Western country and attempt to engrain oneself into the culture? By logic, the same thing would occur, considering the inherent differences. The clash of Eastern culture and traditions with Western culture and traditions is the most prevalent theme in “Ikoku Meiro no Croisee,” an anime which speaks to me in an extremely deep sense as an individual who had an eastern upbringing. However, this message would be more muted to other individuals, so is the series worth watching for western audiences?
First things first: this is not an action-packed anime at all. Even though the plot starts right away, it is a gentle ease into the series, and the elements of the story are delicately served, like garnish on a fancy main course. However, the compare and contrast begins right away with Yune, a young Japanese girl who came to Paris, and Claude, the son of a blacksmith signmaker whom Yune stays with. To some, it would be amusing, but to me, it touches a sensitive nerve not of hatred but of sympathetic culture shock. Yune reacts to Western cultural traditions with curiosity and tries hard to make herself fit in, like taking on chores at the “Enseignes du Roy” sign shop and forcing herself to eat cheese and bread. All this time, she attempts to act cheerful and dignified, despite some things clearly being outside her comfort zone. This is in complete contrast to Claude, who reacts to Japanese traditions and food with a sense of disdain and dismissiveness, as if they were from another planet and he was forced to accept them. A welcome character is Claude’s grandfather Oscar, who brought Yune to Paris and acts as a calm intermediary between his grandson and Yune by filling in the gaps in understanding between them. One sees not only the differences between the two cultures, but also how the two cultures react to their counterpart, and the contrast is quite amusing. The grating and conflict between Yune and Claude begins to evolve into true understanding for each other, which is welcome and makes for very heartwarming storytelling. Another layer is added when the character Alice Blanche gets introduced as Claude’s counterpart. Alice, who would be considered a “weeaboo” if exported into reality, is a near-clone of the annoying Renge from “Ouran High School Host Club,” and her hilarious attempts at impressing Yune or integrating aspects of Japanese culture in her own life often go horribly awry (such as serving green tea with milk and sugar). However, even though the character development is there and the progress made amongst Claude and Yune is praiseworthy, the delivery of this development is not so great, as transitions and evolutions are lumpy and choppy. The same can be said about the plotline, which has little sense of direction, and instead feels loosely strung along and held together with Scotch tape. Furthermore, there are quite a few subplots where the initial steps are taken to begin them, but followup events and grand finale conclusions are later cut short or abandoned to move the main story along. The dialogue does an excellent job, however, at keeping the story moving and the characters developing, but asking only dialogue to do this is too much and it gets overwhelmed.
The dialogue also has to compensate for the added drag that the drawings and coloration add to the series. The atmosphere is very gray, with very matte colors chosen for the scenery, and even light sources are extremely muted rather than warm. It makes for a very relaxing show, but even Yune’s optimistic attitude do little to lift up the somewhat gloomy mood present most of the time. While the colors brighten up with increased saturation when scenes feature the Blanche family, the less said about Alice’s obnoxious squealing poisoning the mood, the better. The abundance of shadows and lack of music lend to the calm mood, with the stillness reinforced by the minimal, delicate animation sparingly applied throughout the series. If Yune could have been portrayed and drawn with a brighter color palate, it would have done a lot to lighten up not only the scenery but the mood as well. Despite all this, however, the story doesn’t trundle along and drag its baggage like a child reluctant to walk, but instead the situations in the episodes flesh out the characters despite the lack of plotline, and thus signifies a good use of time. The ending doesn’t feel rushed at all, and eases one in, though there is a bit of tension added in for extra substance. While it does ultimately chop off abruptly, due to the inherent nature of the series’ structure, there arguably is perhaps no way to have a true closing ending, or at least one which can be done efficiently. How does one become “fully integrated” into another culture? How does one truly understand another culture? Even if one were to achieve either of these goals, it would have required so much time and so many sacrifices that the good that would have come out of reaching a so called “destination” would have been little cause for celebration and return on investment.
So perhaps I sounded a bit down and critical of “Ikoku Meiro no Croisee,” due to its lumpy, though heartwarming character development, aimless plotline, bland animation and colors, and lack of music. But judged a different way, the anime does make the viewer feel good and delivers a compelling message. The dialogue and interactions amongst the characters is refreshing and entertaining, and the east-meets-west theme is done accurately and played to spectacular effect. So is it worth it for western audiences to watch? Only for those who know what they are getting into and keep expectations in check. If “Ikoku Meiro no Croisee” floats your boat, it is well worth your time to check it out on DVD. Even for Westerners.