Ikoku Meiro no Croisee – 07

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Ikoku Meiro is back at the head of the class after too very good episodes that were nevertheless not quite as superb as the first month’s worth.  Episode 7 is possibly the best anime episode of the season, and not even Natsume Yuujinchou and Usagi Drop – both of which I adore – instill the same level of empathy I feel with the characters here.

We got a little of everything that makes this such a great series this week, starting with another spot-on observation of the difference between Japanese and Western cultures – this time, regarding their attitudes towards children.  Claude’s statement that children “are wild animals with no cognitive abilities” was very typical of pre-20th Century Europe, as contrasts Yune’s very Japanese belief that children are born innocent and pure of heart (and she’s the living proof).  Of course there cultural divides as presented in Ikoku Meiro are oversimplifications, as necessitated by the medium – but they’re born of truth, and very revealing.

Yune really showed just what a remarkably strong little creature she is.  It came as no surprise that she was compassionate towards the little boy (Gibu Yuko) who had stolen the candlestick – she’s a kind and giving person – but she showed real steel in standing up to Claude about it.  Yune showed what true empathy is with her simple statement that she wanted to feel just a little of the pain he felt as a homeless and abandoned child, something much more profound than a simple gift of a heel of bread.  She even passed on the custom of the cheek kiss, having just learned from Alice that it was how Parisians showed people they felt close to them.  In her way, she was trying to show the boy that he wasn’t truly alone.

By contrast, this was the first time that I felt truly angry at Claude.  In part it was for his undue harshness with Yune over the matter of the child, as he usually catches himself when he realizes that he’s upset Yune even a little. But his words this time were unusually angry and persistent.  Even more, it was his callous attitude towards the boy.  For an idealist, Claude shows a shocking lack of empathy here – “I don’t even have breadcrumbs for the likes of him!”  Claude has so much anger in him for such a young man, and it belies his true kind nature – which his Grandfather sees clearly.  And to Claude’s credit, he always gets to the right place eventually, once the flush of anger has left him and he’s had time to consider his true feelings rather than his impulses.

If Claude’s fall was his deepest this week, his recovery was that much more spectacular.  It was incredibly difficult for him to swallow his pride and go to Alice of all people for help.  For anyone besides Yune and Oscar, he’d never have done it (including for himself) but this is yet another demonstration of just how much Yune has changed Claude.   This is all part of Oscar’s master plan, I’m sure of it – the old man is the unsung hero of this cast, but he’s a deep soul and his influence is powerful, if subtle.  His smile as he watched Claude fuss over Yune was one of the most genuine and joyful expressions I’ve seen on any anime character this year, proof that anyone can be beautiful on the outside if they’re beautiful on the inside, no matter their age or gender.

The entire storyline around Yune’s illness sent up warning flags for me, because it can such a cliché in anime and so overwrought if executed in a clumsy manner.  But as with almost everything else with Ikoku Meiro, it was brilliantly played here.  This was a different time, of course, where there was really no such thing as a simple cold and any illness could be life-threatening.  It was a perfect vehicle to bring Claude and Yune closer together, and to help Claude learn a little humility as regards his station in life.  The abandoned boy’s gift of the ragged flower as a gesture of thanks probably impacted Claude more than it did Yune, though she certainly felt the emotion behind the gesture.  This was an excellent use of a supporting character to shed more light on the central cast.

I can’t praise this episode highly enough for its emotional power and the unerring truth of it’s character interactions – it was absolutely wonderful, right up to the moment Claude kissed Yune and told her “In this big city of Paris, the three of us have only each other as family.”  That was exactly what Yune needed to hear, and only he could be the one to say it.  I find myself I could wishing I could keep eavesdropping on the three of them forever – they’re an absolute joy to spend time with.

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  1. L

    I agree in this episode we learned a different side of claude which can reflect like you said the attitudes that people had on social issues like children, work force, class differences etc. To me what this showed was how the private sphere was more important than the public sphere at the time. Claude attitude as cold and mean as it sounded was a reflection of that thinking.
    Yune on the otherhand grew up in a communal society where everything and everyone is important in its advancement regardless of the class system that existed in Japan. Even when children were seen as trouble in some communities that were poor they were sent off to geisha/courtesan house for a hope of a better future and boys were sent to work in someone else household. Regardless it worked in the advancement of the community in which they went into.
    Now when these two ideologies clash its interesting to see the differences in thinking. I loved that claude was the one that was learning to be more kind and humble even to those outside of his family to show not only is he grateful for what he has but that he is in a position to help someone as well. It was really cute how he fussed over yune and even cooked help her feel better. All of this helped bring the two of them closer together which brought a big dumb smile to my face. Oscar is officially the man with a plan. ^_^

  2. That long shot of Oscar smiling is one of my favorite anime moments of the year. It was such a great choice by the director – it would have been much more obvious to keep the shot on Yune & Claude.

  3. d

    Think you are too harsh on Claude. The poor man has to handle a shop all on his own. His only family is using up the family's money traveling and courting younger woman. Now he has a third member of the family to support. He business is doing badly, and the gallery is on the verge of failing. The food they eat:bread and cheese is simple food; evident of their poverty. Yet Yune gives food away to someone who stole from them. The poor man has enough on his shoulders without Yune being a charity. Yune being reserved and doing things herself and not telling people things are what causes him extra undue stress.

  4. l

    "By contrast, this was the first time that I felt truly angry at Claude."

    And then Alice came up and tell him "I will always come whenever you bully Yune" which is exactly what I'm thinking about. For this instance, I have come to accept Alice as part of the group.To those thinking Alice annoying, too bad I'm not supporting you now folks.

    Next episode seem to be talking about Camille and Claude past. I'm glad this show does not get sidetrack and show us what we want to see instead of holding back until episode 21 unlike some.

    P.S. Oscar is the mastermind behind the scene but for what purpose? To melt Claude heart? I guess I can't well agree to that until after I know more of Claude past. Fortunately it next episode.

  5. @Deafvader – this is the first time I've been accused of being hard on Claude! I agree with all your points – I've made most of those myself in his defense. It's just that he took a few steps past the point where he should have stopped this time, IMHO, and his anger at the boy seemed too personal to my. In contrast to Yune's sentiment – "I just want to feel a little of the pain he's feeling" – Claude came off as small and bitter. Of course, as he always does, he redeemed himself gloriously.

    Ikaze – I never said Alice was a bad person – just a bad dramatic device. To your specific point, it feels to me as if her interest in Yune is mainly self-motivated – "I want!" At best, she sees Yune as a beloved pet she wants to steal from Claude – and her continued statements about taking Yune away from Oscar and Claude are hurtful and threatening. She needs to tone that down.

  6. t

    You've said pretty much all there was to be said.

    All I'll say is that when Claude said about children "is that what they believe in japan",I just wanted to jump right in there and quote him some Jean jacques Rousseau since that was pretty much Rousseau's belief and it doesn't get much more french than him. (some random know it all: actually Rousseau is from switzerland… Me: shut up!)
    Then again,due to the times and social status I doubt Claude studied the writings of Rousseau or other well known french authors.

  7. Actually, Claude's statement is quite in line with one of Rousseau's famous quotes:

    "If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated."

    And given that Claude gives off the signals of a firebrand egalitarian, I would be surprised if he didn't know Rousseau's work. But of course, Claude is misrepresenting Rousseau there – Rousseau believed that children deserved and needed an education and given that, would naturally develop into compassionate, reasoning adults.

    He also believed strongly in egalitarianism – mostly – as witness his new "Social Contract". But that's where I consider Claude a hyporcrite – he talks a big game, but his feelings about the boy could have been spoken by Marie Antoinette. That's where real-life experience can be a teacher, and I think it was for Claude here.

  8. d

    Overall a great episode, but I kind of thought parts of this were too oversimplified. The Japanese love children, the French hate children… The Japanese feel compassion for the poor, the French chase them away…

    Along the same lines as totoum, this is about the country that produced Les Miserables. Compassion and charity for the poor is not exactly a foreign concept.

    If they had presented the differences as coming from Yune and Claude as people (or Yune as a child / Claude as an adult) I would have no issue with it, but they seem to be saying that Japanese culture is kind and compassionate to children and the poor, and French culture leaves them to starve in the streets. This is ridiculous, and I feel reinforces a sense of Japanese cultural superiority which is completely misplaced in a series about cultural exchanges.

    Interestingly, modern day Japan also seems to be in denial about whether poverty exists in their country.

  9. I agree it's an oversimplification, Draggle – as I said in the post. But given the format, I'm not sure there's any other way it could be done.

    I would point out that "Les Mis" (not to mention a Tale of Two Cities and many other like novels, Hugo or no) was written as a protest against the very lack of compassion for the poor that's inferenced here. I do think that Yune's idealized view is being presented as naive, but naturally – as this is France – it's Claude's view that's going to be put to the test directly.

    I would also point out that in some other instances earlier in the series, Yune's Japanese viewpoint is quite directly criticized by the author – in terms of her excessive submissiveness and lack of self-confidence. So I think there's some balance in the presentation here, though again, the setting being Paris Claude's is the perpective being put to the test more often. The larger point is that there are two very different world views here, and I enjoy the fact that they're being compared and contrasted intelligently.

  10. a

    You make a lot of excellent points. Claude's attitude toward the lower class was quite irritating, given his denunciations of the wealthy class that is making his life, and those of others in the middle, so hard. Instead of having the wisdom exhibited by Yune, who just views the child as another human, albeit less fortunate than herself, Claude decries him as a blight. The breadcrumbs statements was absolutely mean-spirited.

  11. e

    Hey, thanks so much for blogging how awesome this episode is, because I had stalled after episode 4 and after watching what I agree is a fantastic <3<3<3 episode, certainly the best of this series so far, if not this season, I feel way more motivated to watch the eps inbetween and after and also this episode made me appreciate Alice more, she wasn't an annoying Scrappy character here, but a great catalyst that brought everyone closer together :).
    Imho this episode for the first time in this series, reached Aria levels of heartwarmingness. And that is something few series ever accomplish :). And JunichSatou writing this now makes more sense then ever :).
    So thanks again, this episode made my day :).

  12. You're welcome, Engage. This show is a pleasure to blog. I love it about equally with Usagi Drop, but the emotional tone is much bigger here – it's easier to write about.

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