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.
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.