Ne Me Quitte Pas: Atmosphere and Culture Differences in Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

Down in Paris they walk fast
That is, unless they’re walking slow
And in cafes they look away
That is, unless they look right in
And in the gardens I get lost
That is, unless I’m getting found
And if you are the ghost of New York city
Won’t you stick around?

-Regina Spektor, “Ne Me Quitte Pas”

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée is the latest anime series attempting to illustrate the West’s fascination with Japan, and Japan’s fascination with the West, by bringing an adorable Japanese girl named Yune to a shop in 19th century Paris.  While it’s true that this series focuses far more on provoking the audience into recognizing Yune’s cuteness above anything else, there is a far more serious undercurrent to the structure of the series, much like the song regarding Paris that is quoted above.

How the male lead, Claude, sees Yune upon her introduction.

Yune, for all of her adorableness, is also a girl who, as Claude discovers towards the end of this first episode, is far more intelligent than her looks would indicate.  This in and of itself is a bit of a commentary on how people tend to perceive others from unfamiliar cultures, and subsequently how they attempt to communicate with them.  It’s no coincidence that Yune is drawn so small and far more within the tradition of “anime style” in comparison to the European men that occupy the rest of the series.  She is often shown partially obstructed or peeking out from around larger things or people, and Yune’s age is never disclosed in this episode, bringing up the question of whether her diminutive stature is due to being young or simply to illustrate the fact that she’s Japanese.  In addition to this, because of her looks and demeanor, she is underestimated by both Claude’s grandfather (who wants to put her outside of the shop as an advertisement) and Claude (who thinks she’s an unnecessary addition to the shop, unable to understand a word he says).  It’s also worth noting that the series, although it doesn’t have Claude and others speaking French for obvious reasons, does a fantastic job of conveying barriers through language.  This is especially noticeable when one realizes that Claude and Yune barely speak with each other in this episode.

The song mentioned above, “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” by Regina Spektor, uses deceptively simple language and a whimsical singing voice to convey feelings of loneliness and separation that go together nicely with the way Ikoku Meiro no Croisée presents itself and its main character to the viewer.  Spektor’s lyrics immediately popped into my head while watching this episode, giving the series an added atmosphere of longing; the title of the song literally means, “Don’t leave me.” Spektor’s repeated pleas for various deities and passing ghosts that appear within the heart of their city settings to not abandon their patrons struck a chord with me and cast an added depth to this first episode.  People are constantly reaching out towards each other to be understood, especially when thrust into unfamiliar situations or foreign scenery, and this is reflected very well by Yune’s interactions with the few people she is introduced to along with her response to the city itself.  Hopefully, in future episodes, the series will also continue this atmosphere of introducing the city as an additional character.

This isn’t to say that it should be expected for Ikoku Meiro no Croisée to provide biting social commentary on foreign relations.  In fact, the next episode preview is titled “Cheese,” and features several face faults as Yune presumably attempts to eat the substance in question.  It indubitably will be adorable, coaxing the desired reaction out of the viewing audience.  However, it will be nice to continue to look for these small culture clashes and bits of commentary among the beautiful scenery.

9 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Episodics, First Impressions, Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

9 responses to “Ne Me Quitte Pas: Atmosphere and Culture Differences in Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

  1. Blackholeheart

    It would be easy to dismiss this show as purely a “cute girl doing cute things” offering and while it’s certainly enjoyable enough on that level, two things let me hope there’s a bit more going on under the hood.

    Firstly it’s one of the few shows can recall directly confronting western discomfort with Japanese mannerisms and humility and the only one I can remember to explicitly & correctly call out the origin of our discomfort. I’ll quote Claude; “How could you make her do a pose that slaves do?” and “She has to do as she’s told and she can’t say what she’s feeling, I wouldn’t be able to bear that.”

    Secondly there’s the issue you mentioned about the perception of her age, though I think the situation with the book imply’s she is older than she appears to her western hosts.

    One thing I’m enjoying about the structure of the storytelling is that by focusing on Yune we are learning about the inner life of Claude and his Grandfather while Yune herself is still something of a cipher. Claude is a hard-working, big hearted tsundere, Grandpa is a proto-weeabo who is a touch flighty but most of what we know of Yune at this point can be read as reflecting her culture, not herself, the very thing Claude called out. I’m hoping next episode will turn this storytelling method upside down to reveal more about our heroine.

    Regardless, it’s nice to have this level of gentle culture-clash storycraft to point at so I don’t have to admit I’m watching solely for the distilled adorableness that they have made Yune out of.

    • I completely agree. More specifically, I love that you called out to the fact that Yune in this first episode is far more of a cultural icon than a person.

      One of the things that is especially commendable about this series is the way it toes the line between its two main audiences. Generally, when a series attempts to draw in several different types of viewers it fails in subtlety, inevitably alienating at least one of the audiences it is trying to court (a good example of this is the random fanservice scene in Kami-sama no Memochou). This may not cause said audience to leave; however, they’ll certainly be far more wary when approaching the series again.

      Ikoku Meiro no Croisée is wonderfully subtle in its approach to please the multiple audiences it is reaching out to with this series. It’s simple and relaxing to watch, providing soothing material for the iyashikei crowd; Yune is charmingly adorable for those that only watch for the cute girls; for the audience that wants to dig just a bit deeper, there’s the serious undertone of culture clashes and communication. In this first episode, the series doesn’t rely heavily on any one of these things, but brings them together to form an excellent package that neither overtly panders or excludes any of its audiences (and yes, to insure that one can make the claim that they’re watching it for the depth instead of the cuteness ^ ^).

      As an aside: when researching this post, I did happen upon her actual age and it ends up being a bit of both situations. I’ll be curious as to see how the series handles this. Will they keep the audience in the dark purposefully or will they make it known soon?

      Thank you for your insightful comment!

  2. skyhack

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  3. Great thoughts here. I’ll add that much of the perception of Yune among these Western characters became clear when the obtuse passing character fell in amazement at sight of her. The most fascinating detail was that it seemed he genuinely believed she was a “doll” of some sort, and for the period, I would assume mechanical technology. This specific scene releases a wealth of information (subtly) about the general perception of this foreign girl and her looming isolation. Then I suppose, isolation and the trial of seems a nice trimming to follow in hopes of developing the character.

    She is dazzled by this new world, but it cannot be anything but a bittersweet start due to the cultural heterogeneity. Seeing her blossom from in this state of potential sadness would be interesting to endeavor and hopefully, the satisfying development of her character.

    • Everyone’s reactions, especially the random passerby’s, reminded me of a scene from “Memoirs of a Geisha” where the lead character, Sayuri, is taken to a cherry-blossom viewing party. Even within Japan at that time (I believe it was the early 1940s) a geisha fully decked out in a kimono was a rare sight, and the book comments on her receiving many stares or requests for parties. If I remember correctly, the “job” she is assigned to at the party is exactly that: to wander around and look like another beautiful part of the scenery. Unfortunately, when one is part of the scenery, or standing out from the scenery as an object (much like how Claude’s grandfather wanted to dress her up and have her stand outside like a doll) it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to character development or interaction.

      That being said, I have hopes for Yune as a character, especially considering her reaction in the waning scenes of this episode, following Claude’s apology. I don’t think that she’ll suddenly open up right away; however, her admission in the final scene that she considered the book that Claude had given her as a cherished possession, leads me to hope that she’ll eventually step out from being a set piece and receive some solid character development.

      Thank you for the comment!

  4. Yi

    Agreed. It’s very noteworthy how for most of the series, everyone talks at Yune, but no one talks to her. I think it indeed speaks to Claude
    s and the old man’s self-perceived superiority over Yune and perhaps over Japanese culture–command vs. discuss. At least they didn’t also raise their voices and speak super slowly.

    Nice to see Claude’s change of attitude at the end though when he was humbled by Yune’s language proficiency.

    • Interesting that you mention a self-perceived superiority, as I feel that the series does subtly comment on the fact that, when dealing with people from other cultures within our own, we tend to perceive ourselves as more intelligent simply due to the inability to communicate properly.

      I mentioned in the comments above that I have hopes for Yune’s character development, and I’m actually really hoping that much of this development will come from her friendship and working relationship with Claude. Claude is everything Yune isn’t (a bit rude, direct, and initially unwilling to change) with one notable exception: they both seem to be kind people who would go far to please or help someone they care about. Since they’re so similar on this far more emotional level I’m curious to see how their relationship blossoms.

      I’m glad you liked the series so much! ^ ^ Thanks for the comment.

  5. Pingback: The Obscured Concept of Poster Children in Ikoku Meiro no Croisée « Rainbowsphere

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