Ikoku Meiro no Croisée – 05

If you’re getting tired of hearing me say how great Ikoku Meiro is, you probably want to skip the rest of this post – I’m about to do it again.

One of my favorite accolades, “simple, yet profound”, definitely applies to this series. At its heart it’s just a story of three people, nothing too complicated. But the way it quietly explores the cultural differences between East and West and develops the relationships between Claude, Oscar and Yune is artful. For example, the different ways they look at freedom. For Yune, it’s all about serving others and putting their needs first. For Claude it’s brass in hand and a city to spend it in.

Oscar is somewhat of an expert by now on both cultures (certainly by the standards of Europe at the time) and for all her shyness Yune is very perceptive about these subtle and not-so-subtle gaps. But Claude isn’t – it takes a couple of tries for him to figure it out, and he’s not above flashing his temper at what he sees as Yune’s ignorance of Parisian life. But he always comes around in the end – he may be learning more in the arrangement than Yune is. One of the paradoxes of Claude’s life is the clash between his ideals and his reality. He sees the squalor that exists in Paris and the way some are forced to live, and the way of life he cherishes slowly being bypassed by time. Yet as an idealist and an egalitarian, this repulses him. And in the intent of preparing her to face what’s out there, he inadvertently causes Yune to have an exaggerated view of the dark side of the city. It was sad to see her recoil in fear as Claude’s friend, Alan, tried to help her get home.

It’s certainly true that Yune’s kindness was taken advantage of the urchin who stole the candlestick, but I think Claude comes to realize that this is a part of Yune he doesn’t ever want to see change. We’ll see that boy again, I’m sure, after his brief reappearance after the ED. But he brought about one of the high points of the series when Claude “rescued” Yune, telling her that her safety was more important than any of the items in the store. Most weeks for most series, that would have been the emotional peak but for me, that was Oscar talking about how like the old oil lamp, bypassed by gas lighting and soon electricity, the shop and the Gallerie would be forgotten and abandoned.

It didn’t get much fanfare, but Oscar’s return was actually a major moment for the series. He’s a man with a wanderlust, but part of that comes from his belief that the shop is doomed (as did his half-serious suggestion that he and Claude move to Japan with Yune). In the manga this is made a little more obvious by the fact that Oscar says he expects to be gone “about three months”. So when he shows up that night – with a new wick to fix the old lamp, no less – it’s an important symbol of his re-committing himself to Paris, the shop, and to Claude. As he says, Yune lit a light in their life, just like the lamp.

There was certainly a little more melancholy to this episode than to the first four, as heartwarming as the ending was. It seems clear that Claude’s desire to save the shop is a losing battle in the long run, whether befriending Alice and her family makes any difference in the short run. But Yune might just be the first thing in his life other than his family and their heritage that gives it any meaning, and it’s easy to see a path where Claude could grow to accept that things change and that life could be worth living anyway. As he teaches her about his city and his culture, he’s seeing it through her eyes – and perhaps appreciating some of the things he took for granted about it. One of the marvels of Ikoku Meiro is the way it explores the cultural divide without a bit of judgement or condescension towards either side, something rare in anime and indeed anywhere. It’s due in part, I’m sure, to the team at Satelight being comprised of both French and Japanese, and the fact that they’ve probably come to appreciate the unique qualities of their colleagues’ culture.

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17 comments

  1. L

    Hmmm…

    Summary of important points:

    -Ikoku Meiro is good.
    -Ikoku Meiro is awesome.
    -Ikoku Meiro is great.

    ^_^;

    But now that you've mentioned it, that lamp metaphor IS pretty powerful. I haven't read the manga, but Oscar is the last person I'd expect to make that "three months" comment. He always seems easygoing and cheerful, so maybe that's where the impact comes from.

  2. K

    I have a feeling that Yune and Claude together will somehow save the shop. Like he used her letters to make the sign perhaps they can come up with something to draw folks to the shop.

  3. Possible, Karmafan. But it just as easily might be about accepting that life sometimes takes something as easily as gives something.

    @Luxorcism: I often read the manga "shadowing" a series I'm blogging – not getting ahead, but reading up the just short of where the anime is. I get the sense that the three months line is supposed to represent that Oscar tends to disappear for long periods with no notice, and Claude is just used to it. No question, that lamp scene was meaningful on many levels.

  4. K

    What is the manga called? I looked for it on the manga site I visit but could not find it.

  5. l

    @Karmafan

    I believe it is called the same name. IKOKU MEIRO NO CROISéE

    What a wonderful episode, although it a bit sad to have the boy to betray yune just like that(although I'm pretty sure we'll see more of him soon)(yea yea I know you call it). However seeing how Claude open show how much he care for Yune is such a heart warming.

    P.S. I really hope for a tight hug between them when they found each other.Boy do I get it

  6. Yeah, great little quick hug there.

    Yes, manga is also Ikoku Meiro no Croisee. It's out there if you look – someone clever like a FOX could definitely find it…

  7. M

    @Guardian Enzo: now that's a subtle 😉

    I may be overanalyzing things but I was getting some romance vibes this time. The hug, the holding hands, the reaching-for-his-back and the extra amount of blushing makes me think there might be some development. Those moments may not amount to much by themselves but if you add them up…

  8. Yes, I think so as well – the signs were there. But not for a while.

  9. t

    I have a hard time finding the words the describe why I like the Yune so much,it's not that she's cute,there's lots of cute characters around,but rather to me she's "classy lady",well manered,elegant,and also quite smart and educated.
    And without offence to the girl,those are things I can't say about Utao from Kami sama dolls for exemple.

    Those "classy lady" types,they seem to me as if they've been disapearing lately,I've been reading mangas from the 80s and 90s and there seemed to be more of them around back then.So I'm glad we have one here

  10. People are describing her as a Yamato Nadeshiko, but I think that's not quite it. I just think that what sets Yune apart is that she's tough and clever in a totally unpretentious (i.e. Japanese) way. She's also very dignified, which many more characters are not.

    Plus, it doesn't hurt that even as cute characters go, she's unbelievably cute…

  11. K

    Probably millions of Otaku's are wishing she was their wife.

  12. l

    @Karmafan

    Yea, and probably millions of Otaku is a lolicon. An I am damn proud to be one of them.

  13. L

    I love this show too, and you have good reason to repeat yourself about how great each episode is, because they really are outstanding!

  14. Sure wish somebody would sub 4.5…

  15. l

    @Enzo

    So did I, it seem like I was right after all when I said it seem weird that Alice & Claude already knew each other from the past. In episode 4.5 this seem to confrim that, there were childhood friend. AND yet again we saw the appearance of the boy thief. I highly doubt episode 5 is the end of him.

  16. No, Gavroche will be back for sure. And from what the raw from 4.5 looks like, it appears Claude and Camille were, er, good friends once.

  17. l

    @Enzo

    Ohh!! That was Camille? Haha, I thought it was Alice.

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