First Impressions: Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth

Travel abroad means adventure, new friends…

and working in a sign shop?

I was drawn into this gorgeous anime immediately from the opening scene of a little Japanese girl, decked out in full traditional Japanese regalia, clip-clopping through the cobblestone streets of late 19th century Paris. That’s all it took for me to fall in love with Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth.

Yune is just flippin' adorable.

The premise seems unassuming enough. A French merchant named Oscar who travels back and forth between Paris and Japan returns to his homeland with a darling little Japanese girl in tow. Her name is Yune, and her parents sent her to Paris to be an apprentice in the man’s sign shop. However, Oscar’s grandson Claude doesn’t take too kindly to his grandfather’s guest. Claude now does the bulk of the work in the sign shop, as his grandfather is too old and his father is dead, and he feels that Yune will only be in the way. Oscar assures Claude that Yune was the best sign girl in her village, and that she’s sure to draw customers into the struggling shop despite her lack of French-speaking skills.

Claude repairing his late father's sign. Too bad it didn't say, "Beware of kimono sleeves!" under that butterfly.

Yune cleans and does her best around the shop, and Claude seems to be warming up to her presence. However, the sleeve of her kimono gets caught on a sign that Claude has just repaired, and it goes crashing to the ground. Turns out that the sign was the last thing made by Claude’s father, and he’d just finished repairing it. Claude is understandably upset and says that Yune should just go back to Japan. Yune is extremely distraught and doesn’t eat dinner that night. Later on Claude shows her that he managed to repair the sign, even though a few changes had to be made. Yune offers Claude a beautiful kimono as an apology, and Claude smiles and says that he’ll sell it for her. He then uses part of the proceeds to buy Yune a children’s book to help her learn French. Oscar passes by an art shop and sees the kimono for sale, and runs to the sign shop to tell Claude that he shouldn’t have sold that kimono because it was very precious and tied Yune to her mother. Claude is aghast and asks Yune if that’s true. She explains that it is, and both men discover that she’s been able to speak French all along. The episode ends with Claude promising to gain enough money to buy the kimono back, and asking Yune to remain at the shop long enough for him to earn her trust. Yune smiles, and later reads her new book, telling Claude how precious it is to her.

"Wow, I traveled thousands of miles just to watch this guy weld? I should have stayed home and gotten a job at Bath and Bodyworks."

I realize that this anime doesn’t sound that gripping when the plot is laid bare on the page, but the gorgeous artwork really makes this slice-of-life story come alive. The art is bright and detailed with overall tones of yellow and brown to convey the old-timey feeling of Paris over a century ago. Yune herself is the brightest spark of colour on the screen with her lovely kimonos and hair accessories. (I feel that this is symbolic; she brings colour into Claude’s life, see?) Though she didn’t get to speak much in episode one, I’m already a fan of Yune, and Claude as well. Yune is kind and sweet without being cloying, and Claude is rough and slightly tsundere without being a vicious a-hole. This anime already had me at Paris during the Victorian era, and the first episode did not disappoint. While not action-packed, the pace and plot never felt slow. I enjoyed reveling in the setting and the characters, and I’m definitely looking forward to watching more of Yune’s adventures abroad.

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