by Theron Martin,

Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth - The Animation

Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth - The Animation
Claude Claudel is a third-generation owner/operator of Enseigne du Roy, a sign-making and metalworking shop in the Galerie du Roy (i.e. a shopping arcade) in late 19th century France. His main concern was keeping his shop, and the Galerie where it is located, viable in the face of competition from the newly-built Grand Magisin (i.e. the period equivalent of a superstore), but then his grandfather Oscar brings home a great curiosity from his visit to Japan: a small Japanese girl named Yune, who had dreamed of coming to Paris. Claude is initially skeptical about taking her in, but Yune's earnestness gradually grows on him and he eventually accedes to allowing her to help out in the store, even going as far as to promise to eventually buy back a kimono of Yune's mother that Yune sold in order to pay Claude back for an accident she caused. As Yune gradually settles into life in Paris, she introduces Claude and Oscar to Japanese customs while they in turn introduce her to Parisian customs, with mixed results on both ends. Yune also meets Alice, the younger daughter of the wealthy Blanche family, who is completely entranced with anything Japanese and does her best to win Yune over. That proves to be an uncomfortable prospect for Claude for a number of reasons, including the Blanche family being the owners of the Grand Magisin and Claude's past association with Alice's older sister Camille.

Based on a manga by Hinata Takeda (who is otherwise probably best-known for illustrating the original Gosick novels), this summer 2011 series was snapped up by Sentai Filmworks and is available in streaming form on The Anime Network. At the time of this writing, no plans for a DVD and/or Blu-Ray release have yet been announced. Whether or not it ever will be is a matter of some speculation, for it is hardly standard anime fare in most respects and may be a hard sell to casual anime fans. In fact, Croisee is a true rarity in anime production: a low-key period piece set completely outside of Japan, one which does not depend on action or supernatural elements. It is, instead, a cute, soothingly charming little series about cultural exchange and the new understandings that can grow out of it.

The approach of the series emphasizes three main factors, the first of which is its period detail. Takeda and Satelight's animation team, headed by Shugo Chara! Director Kenji Yasuda, have done an excellent job of recreating the carriages, clothing styles, and environs of late 19th century Paris, including references to amants (essentially the male equivalent of mistresses) and how they fit into period French culture, corsets, crinolines (the frameworks used to puff out skirts), early projectors, economic realities, and dietary habits. One reflective reference is even made to a very early automobile, which places the series' time frame definitively in the 1890s, and another character postulates that the spread of electricity will soon make oil lamps obsolete. The Galerie du Roy, where much of the series' action takes place, is actually a replica of the Galerie du Roi, which is part of the Galeries Royals Saint-Huberts in Brussels, Belgium, but it fits well into the setting. The series also takes pains to explore the full range of Parisian socioeconomic life, from the homes of the truly wealthy to the working class down even to the common street urchin.

The second factor is the extensive cultural exchange, around which much of the series is built. Yune's story is not merely another fish-out-of-water tale, as in this case the cultural education fully goes both ways. While Alice introduces Yune to European-style clothing, Yune shows Alice how to properly wear a kimono and recognize that what Alice thinks is a hairpin is actually a tea-serving ladle. While Claude and Oscar introduce Yune to cheese, Yune introduces them to Japanese dishes and seasonings, including soy sauce (which was apparently not commonly known in Europe at the time) and umeboshi (i.e. salted pickled plums). Yune is appalled when Claude explains the Parisian manner of customer service (smiling at customers was apparently regarded as disingenuous behavior at that time, for instance), while Claude is regularly thrown for a loop by some elements of Yune's very Japanese behavior, such as Yune feeling that she had to sell her mother's heirloom kimono in order to make up for a perceived failure on her part or her interest in taking baths on a daily basis. Yune's exploration of Paris in the company of Claude and/or Oscar is another part of this, although the series restricts her exploration to mundane sites (except in the opener) rather than tourist attractions.

The third and perhaps most important factor is the main cast. Yune is the epitome of endearingly cute; when Alice squeals over her and wants to take her home, viewers will have no trouble understanding why. Seeing such a tiny figure regularly wearing beautiful kimonos gives her a doll-like quality, but that is belied by an inner strength and gumption which allowed her to leave her home and travel several thousand miles away to achieve her dream, an aspect which flusters Claude at times and impresses him at others. Her “earnest girl” personality, complete with an intractable stubbornness, is a fairly typical one by anime standards, but the enraptured and horrified expressions she sometimes throws out are cuteness overload above and beyond the norm; her first reaction to the taste of cheese in episode 2 is priceless. The rest of the main cast is mostly straightforward, with Claude being the taciturn fellow who finds a soft spot in his heart for Yune, Oscar being the free-spirited grandfather, and Alice being the period version of an obnoxious but well-meaning Japanophile. The exception is Alice's elder sister Camille, who outwardly seems like the ideal proper Parisian debutante-to-be but drops subtle hints that she is not only unhappy with her circumstances but may even be jealous of the unrestrained enthusiasm Alice gets to show, since (in Alice's own cheery words) “nothing much is expected of me.” Some late flashbacks showing her past with Claude are quite telling.

Beyond the first episode the series progresses without much of a plot or, really, much of a need for one. The story does progress as Yune meets Alice and gradually acclimates to her new home, but little that could be called true conflict ever takes place; in fact, the series has to manufacture the illusion of crisis at times just to generate some tension. Although the writing produces some nice sequences concerning Yune's sister and some surprisingly good content involving Alice and Camille, it apparently does not feel in comfortable enough territory to entirely sidestep anime clichés, such as the bland stock episode where Claude almost panics after Yune gets sick. The series also occasionally seems like it sticks scenes in just for the sake of having them rather than because they actually fit well. Offsetting those negatives are novelties like the business with the “magic boxes” and the portrayal of Claude's mixed feelings about his father. It also has its share of funny moments, which typically involve Alice's excessive enthusiasm, Yune's reactions to something, or Claude's well-off-target imaginings based on descriptions of Japanese items like tatami mats.

Satelight's artistic effort shines in its rendition of Yune, gives Claude an appealing look, and produces some lovely backgrounds, but its other characters are usually not quite as refined. The animation takes shortcuts in some places but adds extra details, such as animated background traffic, in others, including a nicely-animated opener. Some SD artistry is also used. By Satelight's standards, this is a solid but not spectacular visual production.

The musical score does an effective job of evoking a period feel in its use of jaunty woodwind, string, and accordion numbers and other light tunes. Opener "Sekai wa Odoru yo, Kimi to” also has this same sound, while normal closer "Koko kara Hajimaru Monogatari" is a gentle, cutesy love song. Nao Toyama (Tiger in Star Driver), who also sings the closer and a couple of insert songs, does a spectacular job voicing Yune in the pivotal role, while the credits for the French-speaking narrator suggest that an actual Frenchman was used.

The Anime Network's efficient subtitle job includes several cultural notes. It is also error-free.

Croisee does not have the flash and pop of a lot of anime titles out there and it has almost nothing that even approaches real fan service. That and its general lack of plot or heavy drama will make it a hard sell to viewers not in the mood for such a low-key title; finding the series boring is certainly a realistic possibility if one does not bite on the historical context, and watching it in large doses is not recommended. It is a cute, relaxing, and occasionally very funny view, however, one stress-free enough to make a soothing way to wind down a difficult day. Though its final episode does give a tacked-on sense of closure, it ends with the feel that there could eventually be more story to tell here.

Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B

+ Yune's irrepressible cuteness, period and setting detail, some very funny scenes.
Some will find it boringly low-key, one heavily clichéd episode.

Director: Kenji Yasuda
Series Composition: Junichi Sato
Mamiko Ikeda
Junichi Sato
Sora Eikou
Kenji Yasuda
Episode Director:
Kazunobu Fuseki
Keiji Gotoh
Tatsufumi Itō
Yasushi Muroya
Yoshinori Odaka
Shin Tosaka
Daisuke Tsukushi
Kenji Yasuda
Music: ko-ko-ya
Original creator: Hinata Takeda
Character Design: Hideki Inoue
Art Director: Masaki Kawaguchi
Chief Animation Director: Hideki Inoue
Sound Director: Junichi Sato
Director of Photography:
Atsushi Iwasaki
Chie Katō
Haruka Doi
Hiromasa Minami
Keiichi Nozaki
Tsuyoshi Oda
Shinsaku Tanaka
Norikatsu Umeda

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Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth - The Animation (TV)

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