#1 Skipping the language barrier
Taking place in Paris at the end of the 19th century, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is about a Japanese orphan, Yune, who is taken to France by the eccentric retiree Oscar Claudel. Croisée is meant to be a slice-of-life series about the struggles Yune faces in adapting to a strange new culture. This could be interesting, if only the anime dared to commit to making this a long-term challenge.
For example, you’d assume that it would be difficult for a Japanese servant girl to get used to speaking French. This is the entire point of episode 1, where Yune has just arrived in France and has to improvise her communication with Oscar and his grandson. Watching Yune improve at French and learn to better express herself would have been fascinating. Instead, this is turned into a bizarre joke when it’s suddenly revealed that Yune is actually fluent in French… somehow?
We never learn how Yune mastered speaking and writing a language from across the other side of the world. In fact, everything we learn about her past only serves to make her inexplicable bilingualism even less believable. It’s a lazy cop-out that immediately shattered my enthusiasm for the series as a whole.
#2 Protagonists who deserve to fail
Between this show, Tamako Market, and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, I am beginning to wonder if Japan has a “thing” for struggling shopping centers. The ‘Gallery” where most of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth takes place is a stylish, old shopping arcade. Unfortunately, the local businesses are losing customers to a nearby warehouse owned by the wealthy Blanche family.
It wants you to feel sorry for these family businesses who are being killed off by a corporate giant that can not be competed against. But is that really true? Maybe, instead, people flock to the Blanche warehouse because the Gallery just sucks. Yune ends up living with the Claudels and working the register for their ironworks. It’s a shop specialized in handcrafted metal objects, where every customer that ever walks in is guaranteed to be barked at.
The unfortunately named Claude Claudel is an angry prick to whom customer service is an alien concept. He is an insufferable brat to his customers, to his fellow shopkeepers, and even to his own family & friends. Claude has particular beef with the Blanche family for being his direct competitors. He holds them responsible for ruining his business, but never stops to consider that maybe his outdated, selfish, customer-unfriendly behavior might be the issue instead. This causes additional drama when Yune becomes friends with Alice Blanche and Claude keeps trying to sabotage their friendship.
Oscar Claudel, though retired, is not free of blame either. Maybe the family finances wouldn’t be so dire if he didn’t spend his every waking hour dating Parisian women half his age. Or maybe the family could afford to buy ham if grandpa didn’t randomly disappear on luxurious vacations to the far ends of the world.
The Claudels are digging their own damn graves and I am not about to feel sorry for them.
#3 Inconclusive story threads
The issue with how the language barrier is treated in episode 1 is actually fairly emblematic of the anime’s writing overall. It’s willing to start a lot of drama to make problems seem significant, but then either forgets about resolving them or does so in the cheapest way possible.
I was repeatedly disappointed with the solutions to several storylines, but even more frustrating are the few cases where no ending is given at all. The most prominent of these is the rivalry between the Claudels and the Blanche family. We learn a lot about the personal relations between the family members, but it’s all background information that never sparks any actual development. The same applies to various other story threads that are just left to dangle, which makes the unambitious final episode extra underwhelming.
The only part of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth that is consistently good are the interactions between Yune and the French weaboo Alice Blanche. Sadly, these are all too rare. Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth would’ve done well to focus on these instead and have a more comedic angle.