When I first saw the DVD box cover to Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, my need not to judge Anime based on the cover came out in full force. I thought, “Croisée is a show released by Sentai Filmworks that’s overly pink with a cutesy cover, akin to Moe shows released by Sentai Filmworks like Koihime Muso, Listen to me girls! I am your father!, and Taytama, and while it is not a Moe show but is pink anyway, Bodacious Space Pirates. Anime is one of those mediums where judging stuff based on the cover will save your life nine times out of ten, but that missing one is where 2011’s Croisée comes in to remind that not all things that have these semi-aesthetic tropes hide potential for dread.
Fully titled, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth: The Animation (I will shorten it to Croisée for my sanity) was directed by Kenji Yatsuda, who directed various seasons of one of the few magical girl properties I actually like with Shugo Chara!, and the currently airing as of this writing adaption of the Arata The Legend manga. Croisée was adapted from a still running manga by Hinata Takeda Croisée dans un labyrinthe étranger, whose other European centric work like her illustrations for the Gosick light novels fits nicely when I discuss Croisée’s 19th century France setting.
Oscar Claudel, French grandfather/Van Hohenheim impersonator (if Hohenheim could age), returns from a trip to Japan bringing back with him more than just lanterns and tea cups. Oscar has brought a young raven haired girl named Yuna, who has traveled to 19th century Paris to apprentice in Oscar’s artisan metal craft shop Enseignes du Roy. Located in the window shopping district Oscar helped establish named the Galerei du Roy, Oscar’s grandson Claude (yes, his name is Claude Claudel, a hilarious farce whenever spoken in the Japanese track) keeps himself occupied by being the shows semi-manager and only employee. Oscar introduces Yuna to Claude as his new assistant, and after enough cultural grinding of differences to prove a point (i.e. Yuna introducing herself with a bow that confuses Claude), the Claudel’s try to adapt to the new guest, whose way of life is foreign to that of France.
The bulk of Croisée’s twelve episode run entails Yuna adapting to France’s strange alien ways. From dusting and polishing the store’s various lamps and signs, to grocery shopping for those stereotypical two-feet long loafs of French bread, to generally managing the store front, Yuna’s life/Croisée as a whole is filled with more comedic cultural misunderstandings than quick pump-you-up action. A show that is not slow, but takes a casual pace, Croisée’s plot centers more on Yuna’s interaction with characters like the Japanophile rich heiress Alice Blanche and her sister with a hidden past, Camille then say the action packed escapades of the finally released in English Rose of Versailles. No, you’re in for some shots of tea time and Yuna discovering that she has to force herself to like the classic French breakfast of coffee and cold bread with cheese. Hilarity ensues.
While they tend to wear their emotions on their sleeve, Croisée is filled with interesting characterization centered on the objects of the era. Claude’s hard working shopkeeper role facilitates a hatred for anything that could take away his business, like the popular grand magasin (French department store) with their factory low pricing, to technology like the newly popularized photography that he feels steals attention away from the artistic heritage of his metal work (historically, earlier 19th century photography was ghettoized as an artless replica of the heavy portrait mercenary work of the time). Alice’s and Camille’s relationship is interesting, comparing Alice’s vocal envy for how she adores her older sister destined to continue on with the families’ lineage by marrying into another wealthy family. Where Camille on the other hand contrasts herself as a caged bird, fit with her era appropriate crinoline skirt frame and corset. (I guess that art history class I once took did come in handy. )
Pros: Visually detailed period settings and fashion makes the show stand out. Unique characters might tend to speak their emotions a little too freely, but are still deep nonetheless. Croisée uses cutesy elements to provide genuinely funny comedy. Music has this nice blend of acoustic guitar, violin, and piano that gives the show that extra feel of a period piece. Note, the OVA episode 4.5 also features great vocal songs.
Cons: With a heavy amount of the budget going to backgrounds and period design, the faces on the character models are often distractingly uneven (for instance Claude always looks pissed), which is only a problem compared to how nice everything else looks. A few episodes have dialog audio problems where it either briefly slips into Mono, or some other problem. Cutesy exterior is going to put off potential viewers. First couple of episodes are a little weird when you have French characters like Claude and Oscar speaking fluent Japanese, teach Yuna to speak French, start to all speak French, yet everyone in the end is still speaking Japanese.
Sentai Filmworks has all of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth out in a rather cheap single set which includes the previously mentioned OVA 4.5 episode (or as I like to call it, the “everyone sings episode”), and some rather good extras (for once) with some super-deformed features worth mentioning. I do not like to exaggerate (lie), but Croisée hit a soft spot with me that left a feeling that maybe it is one of the better recently aired Anime. I strongly recommend you check Croisée out for just how well it preforms even when Yuna’s cute expression on the cover might turn you off.