Ganbare, Yune – don’t lose to cheese!
I’m completely smitten with this adaptation after two episodes, but I could totally see where not everyone would feel the same way. Really, we just had an entire episode of eating breakfast, trying unusual food, buying bread, and shopping at the Marche’. I know many smart people who would look at that for ten minutes and throw their hands up in dismay, wondering what the damn point of watching cartoon characters eat breakfast is. But that’s not me.
Really, what Ikoku Meiro seems to boil down to is atmosphere. From the backgrounds to the premise to the character designs to the music, it really comes down to creating an atmosphere, a place where you as the viewer want to be. Paris in 1898 is a pretty attractive setting to begin with, but when you pair that with seeing it through the eyes of a bedazzled little girl from Japan, it becomes truly wonderful. We learn about this strange, seductive place just as Yune does.
There a wonderful element of culture clash here too, made much more compelling no doubt by the fact that Satelight is a Japanese studio with French influences, having several French animators on staff (producing such series as Basquash). There’s a moment in the episode where Claude says to Yune, “Isn’t it exhausting to be so considerate all the time?” I really think that question sums up the cultural differences between Westerners (and especially Europeans) and Japanese as well as any can. It’s one that I’ve often asked silently in my head, as a local was walking me to a destination in Tokyo instead of pointing or drawing a map. I adore the Japanese people with every fibre of my being, but their commitment to courtesy is one that’s still hard for me to grasp at the gut level.
What makes this journey of mutual discovery so enjoyable is not just atmospherics, but the characters as well. In a tiny amount of time I’ve come to like Yune, Claude and Oscar very much. Each is a distinct and fascinating person already, not a flat image on a screen. Yes, Yune is adorable as she suffers through black coffee and asks about every unfamiliar fruit at the Marche’ (and any other time, to be honest). But she’s also resolute, strong and principled. Claude is clearly principled, too, awkward in the social graces, but I see a young man of deep empathy and commitment to his ideals. Oscar is the closest thing to a cliche here, as the merry old womanizing Grandpa, but he’s no fool and impossible not to like.
Honestly, something as simple as watching Yune and Oscar eat Umeboshi – and then seeing Claude unsuspectingly follow suit – could entertain the Hell out of me all day. This series has me smiling from the first frame to the last, with nary an interruption. It makes a great double-feature with Natsume Yuujinchou, airing a day later – both of them sharing a sense of emotional depth and gentle affection for the characters. I love the ED here, too, as sung by Toyama Nao (Yune). Like the rest of the soundtrack the mood perfectly fits the series itself.
This is not a show that thrills and excites, though I’m sure some more traditional plot elements will be introduced once the setting is fully established. But if you’re looking for a wonderful mood piece that speaks from the heart, I think you’ll have a hard time doing better.