“An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
Yune is a small Japanese girl who accompanies traveler Oscar Claudel to Paris France, living and working at the Enseignes du Roy. The shop’s current owner, and Oscar’s grandson, Claude Claudel, reluctantly accepts her presence, learning more about Japanese customs and concurrently caring for Yune. Despite the dramatic differences of culture and beliefs between the two, Yune and Claude come to understand one another, sharing more about their backgrounds and interests with one another in a Paris of the late nineteenth century, where the West begins to take an increasing interest Japanese culture. Their everyday lives are joined by Alice and Camille Blanche, who are upper-class members of society; the younger of the two, Alice takes an immediate liking to Yune and attempts to impress her at every turn, while Camille reflects on her own feelings for Claude and regrets that class differences keep them apart. The collection of stories about Yune and Claude’s everyday lives in Paris form the basis for the loosely-structured narrative in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth (Crossroads in a Foreign Labyrinth), providing glimpses into the lives of a Parisian family in the late 1800s and a Japanese girl’s immersion in a culture completely unlike her own, finding interest in the French way of things. Recommended for me from a friend, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth ends up being a reasonably interesting anime that seeks to capture the more mundane, everyday comings-and-goings in a shopping district of Paris. Beautifully animated and with a gentle soundtrack, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth also brings to mind my own travels through Paris a year ago en route to my first-ever conference: when a terrorist attack on Brussels disrupted transportation across France, my own flight from Paris to Rennes was cancelled. After rearranging my flight bookings to ensure I could return home at the conference’s end, I hopped on a shuttle bus from the Charles de Gaulle International Airport through the streets of Paris to Gare Saint-Lazare, managing to purchase tickets and boarding the train to Laval with only four minutes to spare.
Despite having spent such a short time in Paris and having not explored any of the major attractions (the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Louvre come to mind), travelling through the streets of Paris led me to wonder: what would life in a major European city be like? Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth answers this query, albeit from a new perspective — the Paris depicted is that of the late nineteenth century. Owing to the peaceful period that is depicted when Yune visits, it is safe to assume that Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is set well after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, likely in the 1890s. During this time, Yune grows accustomed to Parisian culture and even tries to eat cheese, a major element in French cuisine, despite her own unfamiliarity with it. All the while, she surprises Claude and the others with her actions: distinctly Japanese, they would seem out of place in France. These interactions are amusing and heartwarming, presenting one facet of the culture shock that both Yune and Claude experience when they meet. It’s a world away from the multiculturalism that is a very strong part of the Canadian identity: cultures and values coexisting is how I’ve always known the world, and from my perspective, it is unusual to be in a homogeneous culture. Spending most of its time depicting the journeys that Yune and Claude share in reconciling their different backgrounds and learning more about one another, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth combines the humorous with the dramatic to illustrate the ups and downs of life. This creates a very abrupt but also natural-feeling atmosphere, showing that events in life occupy the whole spectrum of tragic and serendipitous events: the adventures (and misadventures) that both Claude and Yune experience end up changing them subtly, and while Claude’s stubborn, blunt nature remains very much unchanged throughout Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, the dramatically different perspectives Yune brings with her have a nontrivial impact on his own outlooks and actions. Hence, while Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth might deal with a series of seemingly disjoint stories about Yune’s life in Paris, the thematic elements points towards the notion that awareness of different cultures and values invariably affect one’s own perspectives.
Screenshots and Commentary
- It’s been quite some time since I’ve done a full series-type discussion on a long-finished anime in this format. Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth originally aired during the summer of 2011, running from July to September. During this time, I had just finished Sora no Woto, returned from my trip to the Eastern Seaboard and began was watching Shinryaku! Ika Musume!. This is Yune, a Japanese girl whose surname is never given, and who accompanies Oscar back to Paris to help out around their shop.
- Practical, blunt and easy to exasperate, Claude comes across as being quite unfriendly and cold towards Yune, in contrast with Oscar, who is rather more open-minded. The owner of Enseignes du Roy (lit. “The King’s Signs”), a sign-making shop, Oscar is often travelling about seeking the companionship of a lady friend, leaving Claude to the day-to-day runnings of the shop.
- Voiced by Nao Tōyama early in her career (the roles that I best know for her, as Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujō and Kongō of Kantai Collection, come later), Yune is considerate of her hosts’ thoughts. Taking quickly to aspects of French cuisine, she finds cheese to be somewhat disagreeable, but does her best to hide this and even works towards growing accustomed to its taste. I find that North American take on cheese is a bit more casual than that of the French, where there are at least four hundred varieties of cheese, and where consumption can reach fifteen kilograms per capita per annum.
- A sign-smith by trade, Claude spends long hours in front of an anvil, hammering out metal into signs for his clients. While set in Paris, France, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is an anime and as such, it is up to the viewer’s imagination to suppose that Yune and the others are speaking French rather than Japanese. While French is one of two official languages in Canada and the education system had mandate that French be taught in schools, I never did pick up the language owing to how minimal the exposure to the language was. Now that I’ve travelled to Laval, France (having already visited Laval, Canada back in 2008), I find French to be an interesting language that I should have, in retrospect, made a more honest attempt at learning.
- The dynamics between Claude and Yune fluctuate between hot and cold quite frequently in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth: the cold moments has me a touch irritated that Claude is not more aware of his surroundings, but he’s also considerate and caring, taking the time to introduce Yune to different elements of Paris, such as when he brings her to a Paris market to purchase some ingredients for the evening’s dinner. The Paris of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is lovingly depicted and looks beautiful, with the buildings being faithfully reproduced to be consistent with period French architecture.
- While unmentioned in the anime, Yune is thirteen in age, although her physical stature suggests that she is only ten. Much as how Claude can be quite set in his ways, Yune is also quite stubborn: her interactions with Claude force the two to meet one another halfway on multiple occasions, setting in place growth for each character. However, rather than anything dramatic, these changes are much more subtle.
- Yune’s Japanese background might differ dramatically from that of Claude’s, but Claude nonetheless grows to appreciate Yune – when she writes out kanji for her name, they act as inspiration for Claude to finish a sign. Here, the two take a walk around the streets of Paris by evening, as crepuscular rays punch through openings in the clouds to create a truly magical moment. In general, the atmosphere in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth never strays too far from neutral: moments can become a little tender or a little stressful, but do not otherwise evoke particularly strong emotions in audiences.
- A member of the upper class, Alice Blanche grows enamoured with Yune after meeting her for the first time and promptly sets about trying to invite her to tea. Similar to Alice Cartelet of Kiniro Mosaic, she is fascinated with all things Japan, although the Alice of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is rather less versed with Japanese implements than her counterpart in Kiniro Mosaic. While Alice attempts to sway Yune into living with her, Yune’s sense of loyalty means that she declines each offer.
- Some individuals regard Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth as the spiritual successor to ARIA, but I contend that there are more differences than similarities between the two anime such that the definition is not satisfied: themes and elements are different as night and day between the two anime, with the only commonality being that the anime are both slice-of-life. Other than that, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth utilises a difference in culture to drive Yune’s everyday life, while in ARIA, the inner mysteries of Neo Venezia are interwoven with Akari, Alice and Aika’s journeys to become Prima Undine.
- Most of the scenes in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth are rendered with great detail, but there are moments where the artwork takes on a more deformed, stylised format, usually to signify irony or humour. Here, Yune pouts in the classic anime style when she overhears Claude describing to Alice her single-mindedness. She’s holding a pot of sukiyaki, a Japanese dish of thinly-sliced beef boiled in a special broth that is quite warming.
- While of a generally cheerful disposition, Yune can sometimes grow disheartened on some occasions when either recalling her past or Claude’s restrictive mindset on things. Claude comes across as being overbearing and strict; his conversations with Oscar suggest that he has Yune’s interests at heart when he speaks, but the manner of his delivery is blunt.
- On closer inspection, Yune’s reaction to cheese stems from the fact that cheese is not a part of the traditional Japanese diet – it was introduced during the Meiji Restoration but only became more widespread during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the joys in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was the fact that minor details are portrayed well to convey the location, and it is welcome whenever an anime or manga authentically illustrates locales overseas.
- Claude’s conversations with Alice frequently degenerate into squabbling; Claude despises her attitude and lack of concern for her actions, while Alice finds his stubbornness an impediment to her goals. In spite of this, he reluctantly allows Yune to spend time with Alice; each and every time Alice comes through the storefront, some sort of disagreement will ensue.
- After Yune attempts to look for a boy who’d stolen from Enseignes du Roy, Claude reprimands her. She later falls ill, leading Claude to remark that this boy, a vagrant, might have given her an illness, and looks after her. He turns to the Blanches to obtain a Japanese recipe for a congee-like dish to help Yune, and later runs into the boy, who sought to give Yune a flower.
- One element in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth that is very much under-appreciated is the soundtrack. Consisting of gentle songs that capture life around Enseignes du Roy, as well as vocal pieces, the song that stood out most for me was A.m.u.’s “Tomorrow’s Smile”. This single song seems to convey the entire spectrum of emotions that Yune encounters while in Paris, and serves as the ending song for episode eight.
- Alice is voiced by Aoi Yūki: I am most familiar with her roles as Sora no Woto‘s Noël Kannagi and Komachi Hikigaya of Oregairu. With the number of voice actors I’m now familiar with, one wonders if I have a favourite actor/actress from films originating from this side of the world. Surprisingly, I do have an answer for this: Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee are my favourite actors, having a distinct style that I can pick out from any movie they’re in.
- When they were children, Camille and Claude were close friends who had spent much time with one another. Camille had fallen in love with Claude and had resolved that the two should spend time together even if she is married to someone else, understanding their socio-economic differences preclude their being together. Over time, a distance grows between the two, and they regard one another cooly by the time of the events in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth.
- It was a bit surprising to learn that Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was produced by Satelight, the same folks who produced The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. Unlike the latter, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth has consistently high animation quality, and the visuals, both for the characters and cityscapes, are of an excellent standard. I get the sense that Satelight was trying to find their feet when working on The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan – earlier episodes were very light on details, but as the series wore on, backgrounds became more detailed, and animations more fluid.
- I admit that I am not terribly fond of Claude’s personality, but in a bit of irony, I see a bit of my own bluntness and stubbornness in Claude. One of the shortcomings in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was that his manner changes very little overall through the anime’s run: while shifting over the course of an episode, he almost always reverts back to his old self come a new episode. Granted, personality traits take time in order to alter, and so, it is likely that a longer series would have been necessary to properly depict how Yune and Claude’s time together changes the two.
- Prior to Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric incandescent light in 1879, gas lamps were the primary means of illuminating a city. By the 1860s, Paris had some 56000 fixtures, earning it the moniker “City of Light”. These gas lamps slowly began to be displaced by electric lights, which were much safer and more inexpensive; presently, gas lamps are nonetheless retained in some areas, such as Boston, for the sake of aesthetics.
- The French countryside is beautiful, as I found out first-hand when I took the train from Paris to Laval. Evidently an inconvenience, taking the train from Paris also ended up being an adventure that gave me a slightly closer look at Paris and rural France. Here, Claude has traveled into the country to meet with a client, and the pastoral feelings conveyed in this image brings to mind the peaceful ambiance seen in the regions of Gallia in Strike Witches unaffected by the Neuroi; this stands in sharp contrast with the state of things during the First World War (examples of this are vividly brought to life in maps such as St. Quenin Scar of Battlefield 1).
- From what I’ve heard, there’s a manga spin-off following Alice’s adventures with Yune, titled Ikoku Meiro no Alice-chan (Alice-chan’s Foreign Labyrinth). Aside from Alice’s squabbles with Claude, one element seen frequently in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is the dramatic differences in cultural values that Yune brings to the table. Her actions can be quite subtle: she politely and subtly declines Alice in favour of Claude, rather than outright rejecting invitations. Japanese culture is very much driven by face, so in order to avoid embarrassing others, it is the norm to indirectly decline. A “maybe” in Japanese would correspond to a “no”, standing in contrast with other cultures, such as the Dutch, who are very direct.
- So, after leaving the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, I spent around 40 minutes on a shuttle bus en route to the Saint-Lazare train station. On the way, my colleage and I received an email from my supervisor, who had received news of the attack in Brussels and was wondering if there was anything he could do to help. I was able to access wireless internet and replied to my supervisor, saying we were okay, then turned to my colleague and joked that, short of sending air support, help would be unlikely. We had grown a little pensive after learning of the difficulties in rearranging our transportation both to Laval and back home, but we managed to make things work.
- The conference subsequently went off without a hitch, and I delivered my first ever presentation overseas. While in France, there was little time to properly sit down for a French-style meal, so one of my plans for the future will be to visit France for sightseeing: with this being said, I did have a chance to sight-see in Laval, taking a walk around the old town on the morning of the conference’s opening. I’m surprised that a year has elapsed so quickly, and it was a little more than a year ago that I skipped all of my classes, setting out to Amsterdam for the flight into Paris. Back in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, Yune enjoys a sandwich while on a picnic with Claude and Oscar.
- During this picnic, Yune reveals a bit more about her past and her sister, Shione. Someone she greatly admired and had been very close to, Shione had eyes of vivid blue rather than the brown colours more predominant in people of an Asian ancestry. While our modern knowledge of genetics means that we’re aware of the genes affecting eye pigmentation (HERC2 and OCA2), as well as their hereditary patterns, the work of Gregor Johann Mendel and his beans were still revolutionary at the time of their publication in 1866; his discovery’s value was not realised until nearly three decades later. Hence, the locals dæmonised Shione, who pretended to be blind to escape scrutiny on Yune’s suggestion.
- Over time, Shione’s vision decayed to the point where she became blind, and Yune has blamed herself for this turn of events, supposing that her wish was responsible for this. Oscar reassures Yune that far from being the cause of Shione’s suffering, Yune’s words and gestures would have given her sister strength. The notion of visual prosthesis has been in consideration since the time of the events in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, but substantial advances in medical science means that technologies like these can now be fitted to aid blind individuals. Although the technology is still primitive, there will come a day where it can be used to restore sight in the blind.
- The finale presents Claude’s story as one also filled with challenges: his father was a masterful sign-craftsman but had never really seen his son in a favourable light. Claude constantly strove to improve with the aim of someday earning his father’s praise, but one day, his father fell from scaffolding in an accident and perished. Since then, Claude has never spoken much about his father, until Yune arrives, causing him to open up in a way that was hitherto unseen. Despite perhaps despising his father, Claude seems to be quite strict in his own right, although moments show that he does care for those around him.
- Thus, when Yune makes to find a cat upon hearing its bell and winds up on the roof of the Galerie, the district housing the Enseignes du Roy. It’s a perilous spot, and after searching the area for her, Claude finally manages to find her. He carefully makes his way to Yune and manages to catch her before she falls off a ledge. It is unsurprising that the tensest moment of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is found in the finale, and similarly, the outcome was quite straightforwards: there are no unnecessary or surprise deaths.
- While the rooftops might be a dangerous place to be, Yune and Claude also gain a beautiful view of the Paris cityscape. It is a fitting way to conclude Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, and now that I’ve seen Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, I conclude that this is a modestly relaxing anime that offers a perspective into Paris of the late 19th century. Ultimately, it was quite enjoyable to watch this at work: I admit that my procrastination tendencies show up in full force here, since I finished Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth back in January, watching one episode a day while on lunch break at work.
- Despite mentioning briefly that I would write about Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth early in February, I became sidetracked by the Wake Up, Girls! posts. I weighed my options about reviewing this anime, and considered shelving it, but then I looked at the calendar and realised that today marks a year since I presented my research at the Laval Virtual Conference. The paper is dated to one year ago today in the ACM Digital Library, and it costs 15 dollars to purchase. I won’t be sharing the paper, but I could probably provide an overview of that paper if one were to ask nicely. Jokes aside, that’s pretty much it for this post, and up next on the horizon will be a whole-series talk on Urara Meirocho.
In Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, the interplay between Claude and Yune’s respective French and Japanese backgrounds confers change in both individuals for the better; diversity and respect are core tenants of multiculturalism, and it is through understanding that cooperation and trust are built. This is the reason why multiculturalism are desirable, unifying shared human values and bringing the best of all cultures together; acceptance and understanding is what it means to be Canadian, where enjoying Cantonese cuisine while watching the Calgary Flames defeat the Pittsburg Penguins to match the franchise record of ten consecutive victories in a shootout is a part of life rather than anything noteworthy. Although small in stature, similar to Yune herself, the theme of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth nonetheless has a large presence within the anime: Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is enjoyable for this reason, even if the juxtaposition of happiness and sadness can come across as jarring, and where Claude’s personality comes across as being irritating at times. Ultimately, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth earns a recommendation — the total sum of the anime’s message, sincerity in Yune’s character, authentic depiction of a late-nineteenth century Paris and a cathartic, beautifully-presented soundtrack makes the anime a worthwhile one, capturing the atmosphere surrounding the city. Paris might have been a stepping-stone on the way to my destination in Laval, but the short few hours I spent in Paris, coupled with Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth means that I am interested in visiting Paris again to sight-see somewhere in the future.