Ikoku Meiro no Croisée – Series Review

[Ayako]_Ikoku_Meiro_no_Croisée_-_01_[H264][720p][7D8269CC].mkv_snapshot_16.34_[2011.07.03_19.19.15] [Ayako]_Ikoku_Meiro_no_Croisée_-_01_[H264][720p][7D8269CC].mkv_snapshot_08.28_[2011.07.03_19.09.16] [Ayako]_Ikoku_Meiro_no_Croisée_-_02_[H264][720p][D5B3B7D4].mkv_snapshot_19.03_[2011.07.11_18.46.07]
[IB] Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - 03 [720p] [CCA04F45].mkv_snapshot_19.44_[2011.07.17_20.56.02] [Ayako]_Ikoku_Meiro_no_Croisée_-_05_[H264][720p][43A611D4].mkv_snapshot_08.12_[2011.07.31_18.44.13] [Ayako]_Ikoku_Meiro_no_Croisée_-_05_[H264][720p][43A611D4].mkv_snapshot_05.35_[2011.07.31_18.41.18]

It’s hard to be objective about a series like Ikoku Meiro no Croisée.  So I’ll be subjective – I completely, utterly and unreservedly love this series.

It’s a double-edged sword, but this is a show that can definitely work on different levels.  It’s incredibly easy to enjoy as a straightforward entertainment.  Yune is adorable and yes, even moe – as kawaii as it gets.  The animation, background art and music and top-notch.  It’s full of seemingly light-hearted stories that gently tug at the heartstrings while offering fair amounts of humor.  And it offers the almost unique (for anime) backdrop of late 19th-Century Paris as a bonus.  Certainly nothing wrong with any of that.

But I see a lot of reviews of this series where that’s all that gets talked about, and that makes me a little sad – because if that’s all you see here, you’re missing an awfully big part of the picture.  Because Ikoku Meiro is one of the shrewdest and most subtle character explorations we’ve seen in many an anime season.  It’s dismissed as “slice-of-life” and “eye candy” but it’s so much more.  It’s a show that packs a tremendous emotional punch derived from seemingly very simple and humble sources – basic human interaction amongst a small cast of characters.  If that weren’t enough, it’s one of the most insightful explorations of the cultural differences between East and West that you’ll ever see in anime.

What you have is a very simple story about a young Japanese girl who travels to Paris in the late 19th-Century.  You have a cast basically consisting of the girl, the old man who brought her to Paris and the man’s Grandson.  From this very basic template comes a range of simple and elemental stories about pain, discovery, fitting in and love.  Additional characters are introduced, most important among them the wealthy sisters Camille and Alice, but the engine that drives this story is Claude, Oscar and Yune.  That the show can be so emotionally powerful using such a simple palette is truly one of its great wonders, but it does. Rarely have I experienced a series that made me feel so deeply and profoundly.  I’ve loved other series this Summer – Usagi Drop and Kamisama Dolls, just to name two – but this is one I most anticipated every week, and enjoyed blogging the most.  Just being around these wonderful characters for 23 minutes gave me an incredible feeling of warmth every week, and that’s magical.

Satelight in an interesting studio in that they have both French and Japanese roots, and that made them a perfect choice to adapt Takeda Hinata’s ongoing manga.  What you have is a labor of love from the studio and director Yasuda Kenji, where every frame is composed and drawn with loving detail and every piece of music fits the setting flawlessly.  Yes, it’s a loving look at Paris – but uniquely, it’s also a balanced and fascinating peek at how Japanese and European thought processes differ, and the friction this can cause when the two collide.  I’ve seen a few other shows try to tackle this but never with the mercilessly honest, critical but ultimately compassionate eye that Ikoku Meiro casts on both cultures.  As much as the characters themselves this is a story that loves both Japanese and European cultures, and disguises an unvarnished and cutting portrayal of each in a superficially romanticized package.

I wrote earlier about the impact the introduction of Alice had to the series, and I still think the show was ultimately better when she was off the screen.  But like everything and everyone else she had a role to play, and she was used brilliantly to do that.  Perhaps the most important thing about Alice was that she brought Camille into the picture.  In addition to being a more compelling and unusual character, Camille was also a device to explore the class differences that existed in Parisian society, and to contrast them with those that existed in Japan.  Her story ultimately provided much of the impetus for Claude’s development too, revealing crucial aspects of his character both loveable and difficult.

As for Claude himself, as acerbic as he could be, I found him to be heartbreakingly sad – a proud and defiant young man who’d seen many terrible things in his life and used his pride as a shield to isolate himself from the world.  It was Oscar’s genius in bringing Yune back to Paris that changed Claude at last.  Whether any romance develops between them eventually is a valid question, but irrelevant to the larger impact she has on his life.  Yune has the ability to see Claude as he wants to be, not as he often is – and in doing so, she provides the motivation for him to become the man she thinks he is.  Meanwhile Oscar stays mostly to the side, nudging things along gently when needed, watching his master plan play out.  What an engaging and wonderful trio they are, and the performances of Touyama Nao, Kondo Takeshi and Tanaka Hideyuki are all spot-on perfect.

I started out saying this might not be the best series of the season, but that it was favorite.  From there I evolved into thinking it was the best of the season as well, and now I’ve come around to thinking it might just be the best series of 2011.  That’s how much I love this show, and how it made me feel each and every week.  Please watch it if you haven’t already, and by all means make sure you watch the special episode 4.5, which not only contains some gorgeous music (including the spectacular “Tooku Kimi He”) but sheds a great deal of light on the characters as well.  It’s every bit the equal of the TV episodes and deserves to be treated as such.

[Buny]_Ikoku_Meiro_no_Croisée_-_04.5v2_[x264][288p][CF4C65E7].mkv_snapshot_20.46_[2011.08.26_20.18.11] [Buny]_Ikoku_Meiro_no_Croisée_-_04.5v2_[x264][288p][CF4C65E7].mkv_snapshot_21.10_[2011.08.26_20.18.34] [Ayako]_Ikoku_Meiro_no_Croisée_-_10_[H264][720p][053542D5].mkv_snapshot_23.11_[2011.09.05_13.04.06]
[Nemui] Ikoku Meiro no Croisee - 12 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_22.15_[2011.09.19_13.27.36] [Nemui] Ikoku Meiro no Croisee - 12 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_21.59_[2011.09.19_13.27.20] [Nemui] Ikoku Meiro no Croisee - 12 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_23.36_[2011.09.19_13.28.57]



  1. K

    I still haven't watched the final episode (I decided I will wait for the The Anime Network subs and not have to give up the series a little longer).

    But I definitely agree with your review. This was my favorite anime of 2011 so far (there is also Penguin Drum for me but that isn't finished…and well they are very different series).

    I also agree that there is a lot more to this series than cute girls. If anything when I started watching and saw the bishoujo design of Yune that is what I was afraid of. But my fears were unwarranted and I am really glad I gave this series a chance.

    I feel this is a very humanistic type of story showing how people relate to one another: both from different cultures but also different classes. It's just a really beautiful story. There is no major drama (perhaps that would come later) but it's still incredibly poignant.

    And while Yune & Claude were my two favorite characters, I even ended up loving Alice. Alice was stereotypical in some ways but I loved that she was not a bad person. Her little childhood story really endeared me to her (plus how she became part of the Galerie du Roy despite talking disdainfully about it in earlier episodes).

    I really hope your post gets more people to watch this lovely little show.

  2. I hope so too, Kim, and thanks for posting.

  3. L

    Okay, I've said this before and it won't hurt to say it again:

    If you guys liked this series, with all its emotional impact and wistfulness, then you'll love ARIA. Enzo, I know you're watching a lot every season, but you won't be disappointed if you squeeze in an episode of Aria every now and then.

    Hell, I sometimes rewatch an episode because it makes me feel happier and more accepting of the world, just like Ikoku does, sans the drama.

  4. On the bucket list, Luxor…

  5. F

    I wrote earlier about the impact the introduction of Alice had to the series, and I still think the show was ultimately better when she was off the screen.


    Alice is love.

  6. A

    Now that the series is over I think that the one aspect that it had excelled at was how it managed to make the entire cast grow on the viewer. You might say that Alice worked better when she wasn't on screen, but I think that her bratty rich girl acts kept on getting balanced by her acts of kindness towards others and her assertiveness. In fact, by the finale, I found myself liking her a lot more than any other female in the show!

    And of course, Claude. Proving that first impressions shouldn't colour our judgments, my initial view on him was that he was a hardheaded jerkass who might have had some strong humanist views but always got them out with the wrong attitude, as the series kept on unfolding Claude somehow managed to become possibly my favorite male character of the year (he's currently wrestling that position with a Tiger :P) really, I wouldn't have thought, back when the series started that in reality Claude was a young man who is trapped in a very wrapped situation, from facing a difficult past with a father that never accepted him, and having to live under his shadow even after his death, the danger of the store being shut down (due partly(largely?) to the economic troubles) and not being able to be with the women he loves due to their social standings. And I wondered why was he so jaded …

    As it stands, this little gem is in view might've a strong runner for the best of any other year (a claim that well get a lot of people to chew on their hats with anger, I suspect :P) but 2011 had been an unusually(?) strong year in anime shows. If I had to say, I might put Penguin Drum (depending on how it ends) or Madoka as the ''best'', but this takes away the title for my own favorite.

    That and raiding ThomasRomain forums for some line arts is fun 😛

    ''It’s dismissed as “slice-of-life”''

    I think that the allergy to the genre might have played a part.

    I don't think it's a double-edged sword, Enzo. The fact that this show can be enjoyed for face value (moe aspect, production values, feel-good aspect etc.) AND can be enjoyed for the different layers and depths to the cast is, in view, a plus. It means that the show can be enjoyed on different levels, that there is more to talk about them. Sure, it's a pity that some can only find only the shallower aspects of the show to talk about (either they are too enticed or bored by it that it colours everything else in their view) but that doesn't mean that there isn't more to the show than that.

    The way I see it, and this is why some of the responses on the AS forums early on the show sort of irked me a little, is that there is was tendency to dismiss this show for very silly reasons, that it couldn't possibly have depth because it was a slice-of-life, that it was going to be labeled the best due to Yune being moe rather than it actually having merits to let it back that claim.

    I personally try (the key word here, I don't know if it some across like that in my writing) to look each series into what it's core is, and not just at the surface level. In that aspect, what Ikoku has is a very sweet looking surface, but a very bittersweet core, with a lot layers in between the two that creates a wonderful story about a young girl learning to grow all the while forming a bond with a likewise young but troubled man who is trying to figure out what he wants to do.

    It certainly a more layered and better story than Blood-C, No.6 or Sacred Seven had.

  7. S

    I for one enjoyed IkoMeiro but could never get into Aria.
    I bought the first manga volume and I was instantly annoyed by Akari's overly optimistic attitude.
    I also tried watching two random episodes on Italian tv but it just didn't click with me. I think it's due to the lack of drama.
    IkoMeiro has plenty of drama, from Claude's father's death to Shione's sickness to Camille's entrapment in the high class society. OTOH Neo-Venezia is a bit too perfect.
    Well, this is just my view and it's possible that Enzo will like it instead, so definitely try it for yourself, Enzo.

  8. I plan to when time permits. But you're right – IkoMeiro is definitely more than a moe, smiley happy-fest. It has very real and powerful human drama.

  9. r

    Thanks to your insistence on the late released Winter podcast I decided to give this series a try- and man was it worth it. Thank you, Enzo, for allowing me to discover this gem of a series. I'm gonna go and try to make more people watch it. It just doesn't get the love it deserves.

  10. Thanks, awesome to hear. Criminally underrated, this one – my top series of 2011.

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