Ikoku Meiro no Croisée (The Crossroads of a Foreign Labyrinth) may not be the best anime of the new season, but it is certainly the prettiest. This is an example of iyashikei or “healing” anime: gentle, upbeat, feel-good slice-of-life material, generally with beautiful scenery. Aria is a classic example of the genre. If you liked Aria then you’ll probably like this, and if you hated Aria the same principle applies.
Ikoku Meiro is set in Paris of the 1890s, centered around a covered shopping arcade called the “Galerie du Roy [sic].” A shop called “Enseignes du Roy” is owned by a young artisan named Claude (Takashi Kondo) who makes elaborate wrought-iron signs.
Claude’s grandfather Oscar (Hideyuki Tanaka) has just returned from Japan and has brought back a number of beautiful things, including (to Claude’s surprise and horror) a little Japanese girl named Yune (Nao Touyama). Oscar says that she has been sent by her family to live in the West, and that she has worked as a kanban musume (signboard girl) and will bring business to the shop. Claude is horrified and wants to send her home, but she soon wins him over.
Frankly I find this a bit unnerving and I’m not the only one. Jason expresses the problem with characteristic bluntness:
…the premise just seems ridiculous…eight year old Japanese girl with a lot of expensive kimonos gets shipped to Paris and is not somehow working in a brothel is beyond me.
Thin Slicing the New Season
At least Aria is set in a distant future in which all the people have apparently become much more decent and civilized. Now we are expected to believe the same thing about 19th century Paris. But if you are going to watch this show you are just going to have to accept that this is a world in which awful things just don’t happen and people can safely entrust their children to kindly foreigners.
If you can get past this problem the series has a lot of charm. Yune in particular is adorable: a tiny little Yamato Nadeshiko and a perfect ambassador for Japanese culture. (The appeal to Japanese viewers is obvious, while Westerners may find the YN stereotype more tolerable in a little girl than in a grown woman.) This is a perfect opportunity to sit back, relax and feel good about the world.