Ikoku Meiro no Croisée is saccharine sweet. I didn’t pick it up when it premiered in Summer 2011 because there was a bumper crop of other shows – Nurarihyon no Mago Sennen Makyou, Kamisama no memo chou, Natsume Yuujin-chou 3, Mawaru Penguindrum, Usagi Drop, No.6, Dantalian no Shoka, Baka to test 2. So chances are, you haven’t seen Ikoku yet and then the next season of shows came along. But you should spare some time for Ikoku, especially if a show rated G has never crossed your mind as ever being worth your time before. How exciting/interesting can a show be if it’s so general and viewer-friendly (i.e. for kids)?
I’m almost never into shows where the lead character’s a little girl… moe’s just not my thing. Also, I find female seiyuus too trying and hence irritating when they go into that elevated falsetto pitch to portray the voice of young little girls (I cannot sit through an entire of episode of K-On! for this simple but fundamental reason). Fortunately, Touyama Nao does a fantastic rendition here as little Yune (omg she is SO CUTE and SWEET it’s DIABETIC). Not bad for a then newbie seiyuu in one of her earlier roles. Unfortunately, Yuuki Aoi as Alice Blanche just exemplifies my previous point as being the very reason I don’t watch shows with little girl main characters (screecher! my eardrums!). I saw the trailer for Ikoku and nothing really stuck out other than Yune’s beautiful kimono and it being a story set in Paris circa late 19th century – Japonais et Francais. The premise itself was visually promising – japonais meets parisian chic in a throwback to the good old slow days during the industrial revolution. Admittedly, I was finally drawn to Ikoku because of Kondou Takashi (withdrawals from Sekaiichi no Hatsukoi‘s Ritsu), who plays Claude Claudel, the next head of the Claudel family who takes in Yune in this pseudo cultural sharing programme his uncle Oscar Claudel, decided on a whim. So with little expectations, I’m more than happy to be able to review it and recommend it because it’s just such a lalala~~~ gentle sweet show where you don’t have to think too much about plot lines or follow difficult narratives. Plus, Yune’s just SO SWEEEET! Ok I’ve said that too many times but you get the idea.
In a gist, Ikoku is a slice-of-life show about Yune, a little Japanese girl who’s never been outside her birth city let alone another country, learning about another country (arguable, it’s another city since Parisians tend to have a different culture of their own apart from the rest of France) and its culture – that bread & cheese scene in episodes 1-2 were just so aww. So Yune’s curiosity in this different culture results in her already huge eyes becoming full of wonder, which amazingly, the animation does well in animating IMO. Everything’s quite your typical east meets west – bread instead of rice, self before your community, pride versus humility and differing definitions of gratitude and servitude.
Yune-chan lives with Oscar and Claude in the Galleries (shopping arcade) where the Claudel iron smith shop is. Claude has inherited his father’s trade as a iron-smith and lives in the shadows of his father’s renown design and artistic talents. His father was a strict man of few words, often letting his craft speak for itself. As a result, Claude has a chip on his shoulder and always strives for perfection. Times are tough with the birth of industrialisation and the threat of large shopping centres competing and taking shopping crowds away from family-friendly Galleries. But Claude works hard and Yune does what she can to chip in – she’s in-charge of cleaning the house and shop. Through their daily interactions, Yune teaches Claude a thing or two about life (in a way children most often teach adults), such as learning to be less guarded, to care for others and to be less hard on oneself. At the same time though, Yune learns what it means to grow up, take responsibility, be wary of others’ intentions and not just be concerned with their feelings (such a Japanese trait).
Although I’d say the bulk of the story revolves primarily around Yune and Claude, the middle to end of this series shifts to include more involvement from supporting characters the Blanche sisters. Initially, I found Alice to be a means of culturally contrasting a little (lovable) japanese girl with a little (annoying) french girl. Then as it turned out, the Blanche family was a way of showing the difference in class, the rich and poor, the similarities of carrying on family traditions and the passing of the times from pre-to-post industrialisation. All of these were possible through Yuna and Alice’s friendship but also through Claude’s relationship with older sister Camille (the uncharacteristically gentle Yahagi Sayuri).
Watch Ikoku Meiro no Croisée because it’s heartwarming and what better way to end the year/get through winter than with a cup of hot cocoa and a warm, fuzzy show you can marathon in a sitting? It’s a simple story of the innocence of loss and a loss of innocence. Pay attention to the music though because ko-ko-ya’s OST is filled with french parisian flavours plus the occasional traditional japanese tracks. The insert songs reflect the overall gentility of this show and Yuna’s singing is such a sweet lullaby for the ears – I’m amazed at how Touyama Nao does this little girl’s voice in acting and singing. You won’t regret watching Ikoku, it’s one to remember if not for the delightful voice acting, then the setting circa 1920s Paris and the chic-cafe worthy OST.