Honesty compels me to say that I like this series less every time Alice Blanche is in it. She’s the most conventional part of the story by far, and despite the best efforts of one of the very best seiyuu in the business, Aoi Yuuki, something of the simple charm and magic of Ikoku Meiro is lost when Alice is on screen.
It feels as though Alice serves two major functions in this series. The first is to provide a certain kind of traditional anime appeal, and the second is to provide the catalyst for driving the plot. I could care less about the first, and I’m of mixed mind about the second. I’m pretty happy with the internal workings of the Claudel household, and all the inherent emotional potential there. But I could see where that might eventually prove a little slow-paced for most palates, so a little outside drama might not be the worst thing in the world.
Fortunately, with Alice we get Camille – her considerably more intriguing and less annoying older sister – as part of the package deal. There’s a lot going on with Camille, whom Alice idolizes. Externally, she’s a model upper-class young woman of the late 1800’s – perfect posture, always impeccably dressed, soft-spoken and polite. But she’s also a keen observer of her world, and unlike Alice seems to look beyond the superficial. The symbolism of Yune calling the crinoline a birdcage and Camille calling attention to it is hardly subtle, but it does fit. Yune and Camille are both possessed of a keen intuition, manifested in Yune realizing the “confining” nature of the garments the Blanche sisters are forced to wear, and Camille’s immediate recognition that Yune is more than a porcelain doll.
What’s more, there are strong hints that Camille and Claude have been in some sort of relationship. Just exactly what is hard to say as there’s nothing spoken aloud, but the earlier impression that Claude and the sisters knew each other quite well certainly appears to be correct. Yune’s birdcage may have simply prevented her from petting a cute cat, but Camille’s might just have been considerably more confining, if her subtle allusions are to be believed. Claude seemed quite concerned when Yune told him she felt Camille had regrets, and Camille was certainly discreetly (as if she were capable of any other way) eyeing Claude as he waited for Yune in the garden. Clearly, he had a good reason (in his mind) not to go inside.
The antics at the Blanche mansion certainly had their amusing highlights, such as watching Alice and Yune attempt to stand still for a photograph with very little success while Camille stood regally by behind them, still as a statue. But any episode that doesn’t feature much Claude/Yune/Oscar interaction is the poorer for it, and I’ll be glad to see more next week. As we learn more of Claude, certain impressions are becoming more solid. He’s proud, he’s strongly political (a bit of a firebrand lefty) and firmly committed to upholding tradition as he sees it. He’s also somewhat angry, and that’s one thing we haven’t had much light shed upon just yet. Is that starting to change with Camille’s introduction? Certainly, any romantic relationship between them would have been severely frowned upon at the very least and outright forbidden at worst, and being told that he couldn’t be with a girl he loved could certainly have caused both Claude’s anger and his class-based politics. Oscar knows his Grandson very well, clearly, and I can’t escape the notion that he brought Yune back to France to melt Claude’s heart. And honestly – how could Claude or anyone else stand a chance of not having their heart melted by Yune? That, at least, is something Alice and I have in common.