“It takes a while to get used to.” – Clarisse, on many things the characters face in this show.
The first thing I thought about the show after the first episode was that Yune was a pretty brave person. The main character of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, her story begins in Paris, France in the 19th century after what seems to be tagging along with a French traveller, Oscar Claudel, in his journey from Japan in order to help out at his grandson’s ironwork shop. Why this happens, how it happens, and what Yune aimed to do weren’t being listed, and barely glossed over during the course of the show (other than Yune’s helping out seemed to be more like being a maid than anything else), because that apparently is not the point. Rather, our goal is to see Yune, and Oscar’s grandson Claude, try to start to make sense of different cultures (Yune’s Nagasaki heritage vs Claude’s middle-class upbringing in a turn of the century France) as she does what apparently amounts to a homestay at that point in time. One of the things that was endearing to me about her was her willingness to go full throttle with trying to understand a new culture and a new country. Things noticed include initially finding out how much she prepared for this trip in the first episode language-wise, or her struggles later on in trying to become tolerant of some idiosyncratic food (lol cheese) to help prepare meals for her housemates better. As someone who’s fairly hesitant to abruptly change things, as well as someone only having been outside of his country once years before with family in tow, Yune’s courage was impressive.
Besides that, the main concept in Croisée seemed to be how change is always near, and how one responds to it. The central example of this comes in interactions with Yune and Claude, as the duo initially have little in common and see things in different ways. Claude is someone who seems set in his ways on initial glance. A product of inheriting the ironworking business from his father and Oscar, as well as someone who’s lived in the city for all of his life, he comes off as very street smart and wizened to the ways of his world, only given as much information as necessary to get by while keeping himself at arm’s length away from others. Yune, as per her intent to learn more about her new surroundings, is much more welcoming, quicker to trust and is more forgiving of things. Both are pretty stubborn individuals (though Yune is seen as much more so than Claude in her insistence in doing things frequently during the show), and their respective recalcitrant natures tend to create a lot of the conflict in the show when neither sees eye-t0-eye on something.
Another example of change comes from the setting, as the show is located around the end of the 19th century time-wise. Claude’s workshop, “Enseignes du Roy”, is part of a larger glass-roofed “Galerie” that is clearly near the end of its time, as boarded-up specialty shops are littered throughout the background. A department store that recently opened up, “the Grand Magasin”, is nearby, and is the new place to be as it contains everything. While we don’t necessarily see direct closings of shops, the concept weighs heavily on Claude, and for its job stealing presence (among other things), he’s not a fan of the store, nor of the owners of the store, the Blanche family. Our main duo come frequently in contact with two sisters of this family; the elder, Camille, who used to know Claude in the past and still holds him in some regard, and the younger, Alice, who holds the deed to the Galerie du Roy and is obsessed with Japanese culture as a Shinobu from Kin-Iro Mosaic is obsessed with blonde hair/England, instantly taking a liking to Yune (and then some. It helps that she’s voiced by Aoi Yuuki in her Hana Oshiroi-type of mentality for those in the know). As we get to know the sisters as well, socioeconomic issues of that time (who one is able to fraternize with/get married to, e.g.) are put into focus. However, these aren’t the main focus of the show, as it opts to focus on the characters and their interactions with each other, and less on how they interact with society.
Because of that, and a more general look at things rather than a specific focus, Croisée doesn’t take that leap into a really impactful show for me. There are a lot of questions that are brought up with different levels of urgency, but a fair amount don’t get answered, as Yune living in the “here and now” of her setting takes precedence over all. It would be interesting to focus more on socioeconomic relations (besides what’s already listed, a cursory focus on a poor young boy throughout the series ends up not really adding much to the work), more on the struggles of the end times for the Galerie, or more on how Yune affects those around her/vice-versa (they tell rather than show that the other residents of the Galerie get to know the random person from Japan well). At the same time, while we get some interesting vignettes about Yune’s role in Paris as well as how things were for her at home (my favorite episode was actually the extra episode set between episodes 4-5 about songs from Japan), they end up being very superficial. Yune, Claude, and others slowly become more comfortable with each other, but whatever we learn about the characters ends up being too late in the series to have a meaningful impact, nor is it fulfilling enough (Yune still remains very much a mystery regarding why she initially decides to come to France, among other things). Overall it feels like there could have been more “substance” to the show, and it ends up feeling like something akin to a snack which doesn’t even tide me over for more than a half-hour or so.
That being said, it is still an entertaining show. The character’s interactions are fun (frequent trolling happens when Oscar tends to be around, Yune’s assertiveness/stubbornness at some things, Alice in one of her exuberant moods, e.g.), and I can never dislike an episode where a character finds out some interesting aspect of their new world (again, episode 4.5), which doesn’t happen enough here. I wish there was more world building, as I believe most viewers of this show would not be familiar with 19th centrury Paris, and the glimpses of that place I did get were pretty informative and interesting. The music done by ko-ko-ya (with an assist from others like Megumi Nakajima) does a great job at helping to set the mood (of course, it helps that the choro music influence on guitar from Shigeharu Sasago of “Choro Club” fit well here), and can help make a moment in the show much more poignant that would otherwise be.
While ultimately I feel like Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth could have been a more powerful work than it ultimately was, it was still a fun watch, and I don’t feel like my time was wasted at all in watching it.
It’s been a while since this blog has participated in the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa Project, which was usually do to my inattentiveness leading to missing deadlines for noting interest in participating. It’s always fun trying to see who in the end recommends the choices of shows to try, and my choices were Aoi Bungaku, Natsume Yuujinchou (the first season), and my eventual pick. In this case, convenience won out, as I had the series DVDs for Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth at hand, while internet was spotty enough to possibly make my watching of the other two shows a little more frustrating. This show was another one of “stuff that I should probably watch”, because I assumed it somehow fit my preferences, and it sort of did. If I ever get time again, I’m definitely going to try watching the other two works, as they’ve also been on my radar for sometime now, and I hope to participate in this even again next year, maybe with some other writers in tow. :3