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Aug 012011

Episode 05 -

This was markedly different in tone from previous, with a rather tense conflict smack in the middle of it. While this series has normally opted for a rather cheery, happy way of going about things, for the first time we see Yune actually despairing a bit, although I guess she was despairing in her own cute way. The fundamental cultural differences that this episode does explore provides a rather comprehensive perspective of the main roots of this conflict. Differences between France and Japanese culture in general has always been a main point to this series, but this is the first time we’ve seen some indepth exploration of the people themselves, and how they perceive each other.

Now, I personally can’t say my perspective on European culture is correct, but I’m guessing that Europeans tend to stay away from strangers. In America, this isn’t quite the same, which is why I can’t 100% relate to the points that this episode brings up. But I do understand how the Japanese mentality to constantly help others and do their best for others would starkly contrast with the attitudes of people smack in the middle of Paris.

The scene with the shop was probably the most jarring on target, where the young homeless boy stole the candleholder. In Japan, normally stealing and such is something that is extremely uncommon, mainly because of the whole “maintain a peaceful society” mindset that is so ingrained in Japanese culture. In contrast, I’m pretty sure the same idea does NOT apply in France. I guess certain western cultures in general aren’t as trusting and forgiving of others. I am glad that this episode touched upon the poverty in Paris a bit, because previously I’d been really worried that this series was trying to build a “perfect”, romanticised Paris. Historically speaking, Paris was not all tea and flowers during this time period, and the involvement of the boy is a small little poke at such.

There are two little things that do bug me though. One of these complaints, I could write up an entire post on, but my only other complaint is, once again, the historical accuracy to this series. I do understand some of the cultural misunderstandings going on here, but do modern day cultural misunderstandings apply to similar situations more than 200 years ago? I get the feeling that cultural misunderstandings were on a completely different level back then, but then again, I’m not to familiar with how things were before the Meiji era. Once again, I think I’m just being too picky.

In the end though, this proved to be a good character development episode for Yune and claude. The story itself was touching, and at times quite telling of Yune’s preconceptions of French culture. The more stark, darker tone to the conflict was a bit surprising, but it did a good job at pushing things foward.

Overall Enjoyment: 3.9/5

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Jul 312011

Episode 4.5 -

This was quite the unexpected extra episode. This turned out to be an enlightening episode about both Yune’s past, and surprisingly, Camile’s (Alice’s sister) past as well. While I was expecting something related to Yune, the little curveball where there were strong hints about Alice’s sister came as a total surprise. That, and apparently there was some sort of relationship between her and Claude back in the past. Aside from touching upon each of their pasts, though, this episode was peaceful with it’s focus on Yune’s melodic songs, as well as the visiting guitarist’s tunes.

There was very little screentime for Claude and Oscar, and instead, the episode focused on the arrival of a traveling guitarist who happens to know Japanese tunes. Of course, Yune is surprised at hearing Japanese tunes back in Paris, and is even more surprised when Alice brings both Yune and the guitarist to her garden so that they can perform a mini-concert for her. Alice is quite the demanding young aristocrat, eh? The concert itself has some very relaxed, slow and peaceful tunes, and while Yune’s singing wasn’t amazing, her voice fit the music quite well.

One plot twist here was how the guitarist was familiar with a tune that Yune’s older sister had taught in the past. The story behind this tune is that the song was written by a man who was separated from his love due to social/ethnic differences. There are very strong hints that Yune’s sister was under similar conditions, and surprisingly enough, it may have also been the same to Camile.

Camile’s very strong response, where she says that love shouldn’t be bound by such means, sticks out like a sore thumb. A flashback with a younger Camile and Claude do strongly imply that she has feelings for him, ever since her childhood. My guess is that due to their difference in social status, they couldn’t be together (or at least, her family refused to let them). While the episode was lax and goofy on the surface, at the same time the story touched upon some melancholy stories about forlorn lovers, and saddening love tales.

In the end, Yune and Alice, as well as the rest of the cast, were pretty much oblivious to the importance of the story that was told here. But for Camile, and probably for Yune’s sister as well, this story held a lot more importance and significance to them. At the same time, we do learn that Yune’s sister played a crucial role in Yune’s childhood. The character development for these two sister figures was great, even more impressive if you consider how the two have barely gotten any screentime up until now. The ambient atmosphere proved to create a nice balance with the subtle little bits of backstory for the sisters. That being said, I wonder if this love story will ever get a true happy end. Maybe Yune’s sister would know.

Overall Enjoyment: 4.0/5

P.S. Sorry for the low quality screenshots, but it seems that there won’t be any HD raws for a while.

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Jul 252011

Episode 04 -

Well, this episode was rather different from previous episodes, which is primarily a result of the newly involved character here. Previously, the primary conflicts to this light-hearted series have been the cultural misunderstandings between Claude and Yune. However, this time around there is a 3rd party, an obnoxious French girl named Alice, that is the main source of tension here, even if the roots to the conflict is because of Claude’s failure to understand a certain part of Yune’s Japanese mindset.

The spark that starts off the story is a relatively simple one; Yune simply misses her everyday baths in Japan, and tries to sneak one in during the middle of the night. Of course, Claude manages to walk in on her somehow, and cause an embarrassingly cute little ruckus in the middle of the night. Of course, Claude gets guilt-tripped into taking Yune to a proper bathhouse the next morning, because seeing Yune all depressed really hits the heartstrings for him. Even the Uncle notes Claude’s nice treatment of Yune, which gets him all pouty, and tsundere-ish.

What causes the big problem here is when Alice walks into the picture, where this obnoxious little French girl, an adamant Japanophile, tries to “take” Yune for herself. Now, while I normally wouldn’t mind the introduction of a new character, it’s a completely different story when she forces an entire conflict merely because she “wants” Yune, kind of like how you would want a valuable trophy. I don’t know how I can exactly put it into words, but Alice’s demeanor and attitude just reeks of immature fangirlism, and her threats/bribes towards Yune just left a bad taste in my mouth. It felt that Alice was forcing a source of tension between Claude and Yune, whereas previously this series let conflicts unfold in a much more natural, laid back and relaxing manner. I might also not like Alice’s involvement here because I’m very skeptical that there were many Japan-obsessed fangirl nobles in France during that time period, even if Japonism was in full force during the time period. I guess it’s just a bias on my part.

If you think about it though, even if Alice was the one trying to bribe Yune to become her little playmate, the only reason why this conflict even popped up in the first place is because Yune decided to give Alice a chance. From how I’m seeing things, I do believe the creators are trying to portray the idea that “Japanese people don’t like to be rude, and show respect and courtesy to everybody”. It might be because I don’t really believe that Japanese people completely follow such an idealized and naive notion, but I found it pushing my suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, Claude didn’t really fully understand Yune’s more open minded and forgiving mindset, which is what caused all of the confusion here.

The resolution to this was all rather simple; a rather plain little promise on Yune’s part to cook sukiyaki for dinner, which really suits Yune’s cutesy persona. Her emphasis on trust and promises is rather fitting of her character. In the end, I personally felt that the conflicts in this episode were much more forced and weaker than in previous episodes, which killed some of the charm to this particular arc. It was still enjoyable seeing Yune and Claude in action, but as you can tell, I’m not a huge fan of Alice and her antics.

Overall Enjoyment: 3.5/5

P.S. One thing this episode does have me questioning is the historical accuracy to the setting and cultural statuses of things during the time period this story takes place. It does feel that this anime is portraying a rather idealized, romanticized version of olden France, but for a “healing” series I guess an idealized setting is necessary (kind of like Neo-Venezia of Aqua). Kind of hard for me to completely believe in a idealized Paris; I guess that’s the caveat of using a real world setting for a utopian anime.

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Jul 172011

Episode 03 -

In comparison to the previous episode and it’s somewhat serious conflict (trouble adapting to new cultures, etc), this week’s installment was much more relaxed in tone. What I’m glad about here is how this series isn’t completely one sided with it’s cultural exchanges, and instead maintains a balance between Yune sharing her culture, and Claude sharing aspects of French lifestyles. This episode focuses on the simpler aspects of the two main character’s respective cultures, from seemingly normal things such as teacups and silverware, to baked pastries, houses, and origami. This series isn’t afraid to make a distinction between the two cultures being represented here, and while there is “culture clash” at times, this episode proves that they could also have positive influences on each other.

And of course, I have to say the obligatory “Yune is so adorable~” comment here because, well, she’s just too adorable. Seriously, sometimes I think it should be a crime to make such a tiny little girl so charming. But aside from that, Yune’s enthusiasm to learn about Claude’s homeland, along with Claude seeking inspiration for his work from Yune, turned out to be fascinating (yet normal) little exchanges between the two. And it was rather admirable to see how they were struggling to understand each other at times, yet at the same time appreciate the tiny little aspects of each other’s heritage. The appreciation of raindrops, as well as Claude’s fascination with Japanese Kanji, could both be seen as small tokens of respect between the two characters.

As before, the backdrops and animation are still top notch, though I am starting to see a tad bit more CGI. It’s not terribly noticeable, and the lovely slice of life atmosphere is still retained. Now my only real worries about this series is whether everything that is happening really represents french culture. While I do have an implicit understanding of Japanese culture, I don’t have quite the same level of knowledge regarding French culture. Hopefully the author researched well before writing Ikoku Meiro no Croisee.

As of now, Ikoku Meiro loves to touch upon the little interactions between Yune and Claude, and how they cope with their cultural differences. It’s a rather cute, relaxing premise, yet at the same time manages to fully explore the smallest little things about both characters. As for the rich little lady who owns the mall and has an obsession with Japan, I’m kind of worried about what role she will play in the next few episodes. Hopefully she isn’t too obnoxious, because that would definitely ruin the slice-of-life atmosphere that this series has wonderfully built up so far.

Overall Enjoyment: 3.8/5

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Jul 102011

Episode 02 -

Man, I’ve said this before, but Yune is just way too adorable. Her adorable innocence and curiosity is a huge part of this episode, and is really endearing to watch. Alongside all of this cuteness, though, is an all too-easy-relate-to problem; trying to understand a completely foreign culture. Knowing how this series is taking place during a time period when globalization was not in full force, Yune’s difficulties in trying to adjust to her surroundings is perfectly understandable. It’s quite the conundrum, especially when Claude is also having a tough time understanding her Japanese mindset. This episode goes about in trying to resolve the issue in the most universal way possible; through the taste buds. I mean, what better way to learn about another culture than through food?

The most notable detail to this episode was how Yune was being so attentive to her environment, as well as everything she saw with Claude. To Claude, her particular behavior was rather confusing, though he doesn’t really realize that she is trying to learn how to fit in with everybody around her. His confusion on her efforts at being considerate for everybody around her all relate back to how she has the fundamental mindset of trying to endure and not cause trouble for others. She has a very Japanese mindset, that’s for sure. On the contrary, Yune is having a rather tough time trying to adjust her habits and lifestyle to that of an average westerner.

Things as simple as not using a spoon, walking around with shoes on in the house, eating strong flavored dairy products, or drinking bitter coffee, are all new things to her that Yune feels compelled to adjust to so that she can fit in more. At the same time, though, it’s easy to see how she has trouble adjusting to some of these habits. While it’s both funny and adorable seeing her reactions to the bitterness of coffee, or her failed attempts at comsuming the dreaded cheese, you can tell that her difficulties at adjusting are deeply troubling her.

Even with her difficulties at adjusting to French cuisine, though, there are also fun moments as well. Moments such as exploring the city of Paris, marveling at even the simplest of vegetables because she has never seen them before, and everything else in the city that just randomly sparks off her curiosity. Seeing her energetic attitude at trying to learn about everything around her is rather heartwarming.

I’d say the main idea here in this episode is that there are a lot of things to adjust to when exploring a new culture, where some stuff you can pick up quickly and are fun, while other aspects to life will take more time to get used to. Both Yune and Claude come to this realization by the end of this episode, but they had one insightful journey along the way. The two main leads both learned about their respective cultures, as well as each other much more. I do appreciate the character development.

In the end, Ikoku Meiro so far has turned out exactly as I had expected; a cute, simple slice of life story, complete with a very small shade of a serious undertones to some of the conflicts. The setup is extremely similar to the Aria slice of life series, though I’d say that Aria had a much more unique setting. This is a series to just kick back and relax to after a day of hard work, and helps you appreciate the simpler things in life.

Overall Enjoyment: 4.0/5

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Jul 032011

Episode 01-

As I had expected from watching the preview videos, this was absolutely adorable. The main heroine is just absurdly cute with her chibi features and innocent charm, though that quickly gets thrown amidst some cultural tensions and conflicts between her and the main male lead character. This series is very unambitious, with it’s relaxing setting and music obviously an indicator of it’s tranquil slice-of-life ambitions. The artwork here is superb, though the animation here is a bit lazy on the creator’s part. For a slice of life anime like this, however, fancy animation isn’t needed anyways.

The first thing that really pops out at you here is probably the background art. The backgrounds are exquisitely drawn, and look pretty great; you could tell Satelight placed a huge emphasis on detail in the backdrops, and it really shows. However, due to this being the first episode, there is also the chance that production values were higher for this intro episode. Hopefully the production values can stay consistent for this series.

What makes this series rather different is mainly it’s combination of the setting and story. While the setting is Paris during the 19th century, what makes this premise more unique is how it is trying to touch upon the cultural tensions between the East and West, or to be more specific, Japanese vs French culture. This episode does delve into the matter, exploring things as simple as differences in basic greetings, the Japanese sense of obligation and harmony, and so forth. Yune and Claude, the two main characters in this series, had a decent number of misunderstandings and issues in this episode due to their cultural differences, though everything was resolved and sorted out by the end.

The characters here are, well, what you would expect from a slice of life series like this. They’re relaxing to watch, at times absolutely adorable, and are hardworking people that have their own charms to them. Admittingly, stereotypical characters are here abound, but in the context of the setting and time period, actually make sense for the characters. There is Yune, an adorable little Japanese girl who came from Japan, who acts distinctly Japanese throughout the episode. Same goes for Claude and acting French, though I would probably say he acts more “western” than exclusively French. Either ways, because they fit into these cultural restrictions, the two are fairly common in terms of personality.

Even if their personalities are a bit stereotypical, they were still quite charming. The relaxed, peaceful tone to the atmosphere in this episode does compliment the character interactions rather well, though I guess the resulting pacing is on the slow side. There’s nothing particularly compelling about the character interactions, but it is also something you can just watch while relaxing. Comparisons the the Aria slice-of-life series are bound to show soon if this series stays close in tone to this episode’s feeling.

First Impressions: 8.0/10

Screenshots and OP theme are later in the post.
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