Kouhei Araki, a veteran editor of the dictionary editorial division at Genbu Publishing, plans to retire in order to better care for his ailing wife. However, before retiring, he must find a replacement to complete his latest project: a new dictionary called "The Great Passage." But no matter where he looks, he cannot find anyone suitable, as making a dictionary requires a wealth of patience, time, and dedication.
Mitsuya Majime works in Genbu Publishing's sales division, yet he has poor social skills and an inability to read the mood in most situations. In spite of this, he excels at having an enthusiasm for words thanks to his love of reading and careful personality. It is these skills that draw Araki to him and prompt him to offer Majime a position in the dictionary editorial department. As Majime accepts his new position, he finds himself unsure of his abilities and questioning whether he will fit in with his new co-workers. Yet amid the vast sea of words, The Great Passage will bring them together.
As a reviewer, there have been numerous occasions when I struggle to find the right words to convey my thoughts. This isn't to say that I didn't know what I wanted to express to others but rather, I wanted my message to be as clear and concise as possible. The right words can often make all the difference in how a reader interprets what you have to say. Words are capable of setting the mood, giving off tone, and in some cases, changing the very temperament of those on the receiving end. They're vehicles used to communicate feelings, painting a picture for the reader, and
naturally, when the right word, the right expression, is used, a connection between the writer and the reader can be formed.
Having constantly tested my hand at writing think-pieces and reviews, among many other things, I've slowly developed a knack for conveying my thoughts to others. Of course, there are still ideas that are hard to make tangible, but through constant diction retooling and communication with others, I've made strides in closing that gap. And for many, the dictionary has been an asset in aiding in this process. Well, that's what I would have said 15-years ago. Today, the dictionary, and by extension, a great deal of printed media has almost been made obsolete by the internet and advancements in technology. Every possible definition, both contemporary and antiquated, is just a click away. But like anything that had a home in humanity's cultural development and upbringing, there are still those that cherish the ways of yesteryear.
As convenient as it is to have hundreds of books stored on a tablet, nothing beats the feeling of pages between your fingers as you flip through a good book. Any MP3 nowadays can house thousands of songs on the go but there are still those that champion the personal touch of vinyl. Saving a moment is only one phone pic away, yet the Polaroid camera still has millions of hipsters and enthusiasts alike shaking images to life. But those are just the popular examples, ones that most outsiders looking in could comprehend the sentimentality behind it. But what about content that doesn't register with most? Appeals, that at first glance, feels very obtuse?
Fune wo Amu, The Great Passage, basically explores one facet of that kind of odd appeal, but instead of limiting it to the object of affection, in this case, the dictionary, it instead dials back to the core reason for why someone might cherish it. An understandable position once you peer into the headspace of the main character Mitsuya Majime; a man who can barely mutter his thoughts out loud without clamming up, despite his devoted fascination for semantics.
A bashful man with an obsession for wording and their meaning, yet unable to utilize this talent verbally? A unique passion that runs contradictory to his very closed-off nature? I know what you're thinking, awesome setup for a story, right? Well, almost. You see, as fascinating of an idea that this may be, when it boils down to it, the subject matter is about as interesting as the subject itself. There's a passion for dictionaries that's clearly there, but like the actual object itself, this passion is sterile and lacking in emotional range. And for a story about words and the various expressions it can convey, that's a crying shame.
But before we go any further, let's make this clear, Fune wo Amu is in no way a bad show, just a very lackluster one. In fact, it contains some of the more realistic character depictions in 2016's anime lineup, deciding to leave behind common tropes and unrealistic personalities for a more grounded performance in a world that's pretty much aligned with our own. Where emotion is usually capped off with exaggerated interpretation, this title instead decides to substitute that with nuances in mannerism and body language to help define the individuals on screen. Even the changes in vocal inflections are accounted for, a detail that most shows neglect altogether. And as if that wasn't enough, to further sell these characters as proper portrayals of adults, they adopt character models that look far more grounded than the usual offerings, recruiting the talented Haruko Kumota, the artist responsible for the inception of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, as the original character designer.
For all intents and purposes, given this dedication to craft Fune as an adult orientated slice of life drama, this should be a project I adore. It checks off all the trademarks of things I seek out in this kind of stories. Shouwa Rakugo was my favorite anime entry of 2016 for that very reason, so when I give Fune the cold shoulder, know that I'm doing so out of genuine concern for its lack of vision. For everything that Fune could have aspired for, it ultimately veers off into ho-hum territory.
Following the footsteps of an unimpressive klutz, we're introduced to the mild-mannered Mitsuya Majime, as he makes his way through a crowd of disinterested faces in the busy prefecture that hosts as the stomping grounds for his unsuccessful business venture as a salesman under Genbu Shobo publishing. Passive to a fault and cumbersome in any verbal exchange with others, Majime is far from the ideal image of Japan's working class. With nothing to draw back on but his love for words, there's very little applicable situations where he's needed. What good is it to be a word-smith when trying to hold a conversation results in awkward jibber-jabber? Trapped with a burning desire to express himself but not gifted with enough gusto or social tact to do so, Majime has long given into the idea of his usefulness being limited to just keeping his head down. So when he's approached by Kouhei Araki to fulfill a soon-to-be-vacant editorial job for constructing a new dictionary, the stars couldn't have been more aligned.
With a task that's tailor-made for his dilemma, Majime is finally given an outlet to unload his passion in a constructive way. And in the process of doing so, is able to warm up to people in ways he hasn't been able to before.
With a setup that could carry with it the same potency as 2010's The King's Speech, while allowing for a more relatable backdrop due to its quaint, smaller-scale setting, Fune had all the makings of a humbling journey with promises of a cathartic conclusion. It's the kind of script that would go on to become Oscar-bait material in the hands of any veteran director, and for anime, another testament to its strength in crafting maturely handled stories. And in some ways, Fune is another entry in that category, just not one that would register high on my list of exceptional examples.
The story of this dictionary taking form is ultimately just a container to help examine the cast of characters in various stages within their life. Because of its daunting 10-year production cycle, this allows us to slowly pick apart the things that make them tick as individuals as well the small pockets of interactions that occur among themselves or whatever the situation is at the moment. So in essence, Fune wo Amu, The Great Passage, is quite literally "the great passage" of these regular peoples' lives. Instead of following the accomplishments of someone destined for a space in the annals of history, Fune instead shifts its focus to an industry that gets no standing ovation from anyone. The unsung "heroes" in their publishing field. But despite that angle, it's never really about applauding their efforts as it is about showing unison of the ways of old with the changing times of new. And with a dictionary being used as the vehicle to express that idea while having a young, soft-spoken protagonist who's out of touch with the world around him, the message ultimately becomes bigger than anyone involved by the time we reach the final conclusion.
Now, if the show had translated this idea as well as it sounds on paper I would be singing its praises, but as I've expressed before, that's not how it works out.
You see, here's the problem, if I wanted a maturely handled cast of adult characters who express various emotions and understand their situation with sobering clarity, while at the same time being genuinely engaged, there are animated movies like Only Yesterday or TV series like the aforementioned Shouwa Rakugo around. Both of which operate in the familiar fairgrounds of anime material but done so in a way that any person of intended age could take seriously. Fune doesn't share in that quality in the way that you'd expect, coming off as milktoast in a miscalculated attempt to be adult in quality. So despite this restraint depiction that is genuinely authentic in portrayal, the actual content comes off unrealistically lopsided. An issue that's easy to identify once you key in on the kind of agenda it's trying to push.
It wants to remain within a limited operating capacity of expression as if it's afraid of being too playful as to lose the audience's respect. There's attempts to alleviate this, with characters such as Masashi Nishioka, who's the "life of the party," constantly prattling to entertain the group while also using it as a defense mechanism to keep from having to truly express his concerns. Or even with the tact on middle sequences in every episode that uses chibi dictionary caricatures to alleviate the monotony of the show's consistently unassertive tone. I personally found it distracting but the intent was understandable. When the show is in danger of being too dull, this becomes its offensive approach, but when it really comes time to demonstrate any other kinds of emotion, the show diverts it in ways that become too apparent.
When our main character finds himself infatuated with a woman, instead of using it to do something meaningful with him, it takes the easy route by having a romance predicated on one word of dialogue uttered and a cluttered letter, instead of something that would genuinely blossom over a course of time. Yes, he takes initiative to get to that point but for a show dealing with adults in a fairly realistic setting, the conclusion is only viable in something pumped out by a sappy Pixar production. The show has the humanistic aspect nailed down but skittishly avoid the endeavors that truly make us humans, human. The essence is missing. The struggle is removed by diverting the content away from it or by skipping that natural rough stage altogether. Would The King's Speech win the Academy Awards for best Picture by avoiding the uphill endeavor of the main character to express himself out loud? Probably not. Where other titles would show the gradual growth that molds the main character, in Fune it's quite literally timeskipped away.
And as a result, we get content that's more appropriately suited to lullaby the audience to sleep at times than something that you could fully get invested in. It being so maturely handled isn't a good thing, it's the problem, because, at the end of the day, it isn't realistically portrayed in all facets of adult life, just the pieces that soothe the gentle moments of melancholy or small pulses of satisfaction that it want to box everything in.
The only time the show doesn't suppress itself with this reserved nature is at the very end, where it has scenes that loosen the vice grip on the characters feelings to finally be allowed to freely exhaust that pent up emotion that was always there.
And again, Fune is not a bad show. It's all of its strengths that makes the weaknesses too hard to look away from. You really want the best for it. You really want to put it on the pedestal as the exception to the rule. But with content that only half commits, it's frustrating to have to give it a back-handed compliment instead.
From using the Ferris wheel as a motif to express the connectivity of life in a slow spinning cycle, to the very earnest appeal of its cast, Fune is a show that I wanted to fully get behind. Clocking in at 11-episodes, it's something you could finish in one sitting. With Amazon Prime's abysmal marketing of this series, it has mostly gone unnoticed by many. And despite all of my qualms, I would still like it to receive a far bigger viewer base. It didn't accomplish as much as I wanted it to but the show was still able to muster up all of its efforts in the end, culminating into an uplifting conclusion that sees life going on with words bringing connection from one generation to the next. This may not be much of an endorsement but I still think Fune has something that shouldn't be so easily discarded. And if only for that reason alone, Fune wo Amu gets a pass from me.
When someone opens a dictionary, what does usually come to mind first? Depending on who you ask, the answer varies from looking for definitions on unfamiliar words to just simply enjoy seeing how words are given meaning in so many unique ways. Words are very powerful, they can dictate how the world moves. They are needed by leaders, innovators, educators, and even by ordinary people in their daily activities. Without it, humanity can’t progress and evolve. Forming and stringing words are basic human skills but we often find times when we can’t clearly express our thoughts, making us seek a solution to that problem. Dictionaries
serve that purpose. Even as I am writing this review, I constantly try to formulate sentences and choose words carefully. I ask myself questions, do these words clearly reflect what I’m trying to say? Will my point get through the reader despite my limited vocabulary? Words can be a double-edged sword, they can also detach people out of misunderstanding. Down to its core, words are ultimately building blocks for a person’s capacity to share ideas.
It’s such a delight that a show like Fune wo Amu tries to show an enthusiasm for dictionaries and words in general that most people usually take for granted. I like how it presents a metaphor of a sea of words with a dictionary that symbolizes as the ship that sails across it which really fits in the narrative well. Several obstacles are encountered along the way in making a dictionary. It looks mundane and time-consuming, not to mention it takes years for a dictionary to make, but it’s really rewarding for people who have the passion for it. The stakes are not that high and intense as everyone can just quit when they had enough but that’s not a concerning issue because the story tries to focus more on how the cast maintains that glowing light of dedication, not to succumb to the external pressures dumped on them.
The characters in the show are mostly simple but not to the point that they feel unnecessary and bland. All of them have roles in the story and they carry it out well. The only character that gets enough development is Majime who’s the main character. There is Nishioka as well, he gains considerable character development after he works with Majime for a while, but he ends up static after a few episodes later. Depth is not of immediate importance character-wise as it has become evident later that the show attempts to be more plot-oriented more than anything else. Even Majime’s romance subplot was only breezed by to make way for the story’s main objective, the completion of The Great Passage, in which his involvement is of the greatest. I like to see the cast as a part of something bigger, giving less emphasis on their individuality but remaining interesting and relevant.
On the more technical aspects, I love the character designs. I looked up the person behind the character designs and found out that it’s the same person behind Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu which is another fantastic show. The animation can get derpy at times but overall, it’s not very distracting. The soundtrack matches the atmospheric mood the show it tries to emulate. Imagery of scenes are wonderful especially at presenting metaphors and symbolisms.
Overall, Fune wo Amu is a show recommended to those who are interested with words, meaning, context, the overall semantics. It’s also a show recommended to those who likes seeing stories revolving around passion and dedication for something great and noble and seeing it get fulfilled in the end. It’s a shame that some viewers overlooked this hidden gem at the season’s lineup as I personally think it’s one of the best shows to have come out this year. Just remember the next time you pick up a dictionary that it’s the fruit of hard work and dedication, a culmination of human’s curiosity for meaning.
Fune wo Amu, or The Great Passage, is a series that, indeed, had the rights to greatness. It took a mature premise, starred adult characters in a realistic setting, didn't include unnecessary comedy nor fanservice (well, except the cartoony dictionary interludes, I guess), and wasn't insulting to a thinking person's intelligence. Besides, much like the protagonist of the story, I also love words and work in editing, among other things that directly correlate with the mission statement referred to throughout the series. So, 10/10, right? Well, no.
See, I really wanted to like FwA more,
and was certain it would be the strongest contender for that elusive Anime of the Season title. But I tend to value anime titles by how well they manage to present what they set out to do. Giving FwA a free pass just because it wasn't shit nor tried to pander to the statistical average would be disrespectful to both the title itself and the intelligent viewer seeking it out. The problem is, all those things you seek out in a mature anime like this also have to be well-executed. FwA is anything but that. It's perfectly average—so content with the little it tries to do, as if afraid of its own ambitions. By the end I was convinced that the director didn't really like characters he wanted to show.
(Let's go off on a tangent here for a little and look up the director himself, one Toshimasa Kuroyanagi. Other than this, he has also directed three other titles, all of which are relatively recent and have received notably mixed reviews. I'll let you seek out and read the reviews for yourself, but the thing to take away here is that even people who were positively surprised or initially hooked on the respective titles still didn't end up enjoying them all that much, so it's probably him to blame for the show's mishaps.)
Let me explain in more detail. The premise the show tries to execute is really good. It's something an adult could see and think to themselves, "well, this is something I could relate to". Adult-oriented stories are generally harder to tell because you can't freely substitute the essence with beach episodes or anything else like that (looking at you, every single high school anime ever). Even if it's a slow-burner, things should constantly be advanced and such, especially considering the time span covered in the story.
FwA, however, does something really weird with the concept: it grows so bored of its own slow pace it ends up substituting a tightly and methodically woven narrative with some amateurish, poorly set up dramatic moments with uneventful lulls inbetween. Virtually all the plot "twists", if you could even name them as such, can be seen from a mile away. They're so predictable and lacking of emotional impact they deserve it's... sad. See, instead of feeling sad for the characters, I end up feeling sad for the show itself—so meta! But this is ultimately a character drama, so then, perhaps, it has memorable characters and clever, thought-provoking dialogue? Well...
Take our protagonist, Mitsuya "Micchan" Majime, for an example. He is extremely introverted, stiff, borderline autistic in his inability to relay his feelings directly and openly—but on the inside, he burns with passion for words as an instrument of mutual understanding. Actually a decent character conflict right there. So does Majime go through some sort of character arc that helps him become more fluent with words or otherwise be developed as a person? No, not at all—he basically just becomes a more accomplished dictionary editor—you know, the position he was hired on in, like, episode 1. He just does what he always does, and tackles every problem the same way. We never really get to experience the feeling of accomplishment for what he is doing because we don't feel the progression of his effort nor the change of his outlook. Much like the ship oft-referred to in-universe, he just drifts along the story with token involvement in all the various events happening around him. His on-screen chemistry with other characters is nonexistent almost to the point of being a non-person, and you end up wondering what exactly is the reason they all stick to him that much. Did they just read the script? The relationship with his love interest feels particularly forced. It could be that I just don't understand Japanese women in particular, but for some reason I don't think that is how romance works.
Then we have perhaps the most enjoyable character, the ever-charismatic Masashi Nishioka, voiced by that crazy-talented sweet-voiced guy you hear every season (slight exaggeration). If at some point around the middle you wonder if he wouldn't actually be far more worthy of being the main character... you would be absolutely right! He is, indeed, the only developed character in the story who goes through a proper arc, endures hardship and self-doubt, and ends up far better off and more accomplished than Majime as a result of his own decisive actions. There is a very important contrast to point out here: Majime's accomplishments feel set up by the script; Nishioka's, on the other hand, feel like the result of overcoming challenges set up by the script. See the difference?
One could say there isn't enough time to properly develop characters in a single-cour anime. And if you really think this way, please think again, because this is absolutely false. Just earlier this year we had a much more accomplished adult-oriented show that slowly and methodically told an adult-oriented story where people behaved like real people, drama was poignant but not forced, and it did so with a great deal of subtlety in 11 episodes out of its total 13. If you haven't yet guessed what I'm talking about, you probably haven't seen it: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. See also: every good movie ever—somehow being 90 to 150 minutes in total runtime doesn't prevent them from fleshing out the characters they focus on. It's a matter of directorial mastery to show what needs to be shown and cut down on anything that doesn't. A mastery mr. Kuroyanagi, I'm afraid, doesn't yet have.
So, to sum up this <strike>rant</strike> review, would I recommend Fune wo Amu? The answer is: yes, but just barely. It does get its point across, however weak it is and however timidly it does so. It never really feels dumb, convoluted, or otherwise bad. You can definitely recognize its characters as realistic and the setting as plausible. It's probably better than most anime out there—and that's it. But you don't have to take pity on it for the rare breed it represents, nor pretend to enjoy it more than it deserves just because you're the target audience (and because liking a mature-looking show somehow makes you look better). In everything you do or experience, you should always strive for higher quality and never settle for something that only narrowly escapes mediocrity—I believe that is one of the larger lessons to take away from The Great Passage... even if its makers haven't.
(By the way, I hear the live-action movie is pretty well-received. I haven't watched it yet, though.)
Communication is an abstract idea in which you use certain mediums to express what’s currently on your mind. Performance arts, visual arts, and language are few of what people use to communicate with each other. And of course, when you use language as a medium of communication, you need words to deliver your ideas to others. Since words vary from how you use them, people may misunderstand the point that you want to give. They attempted to compile these words which will be later known as a dictionary. As soon as the printing press was introduced in 15th century, groups of individuals began to compile
these words and defining them according to how they were structured, used, and said. Dictionaries are useful indeed. As I make this shitty commentary, I used web-based dictionaries just to check if I used the correct words in my sentences. Compiling words is not an easy job. It needs attention, “care”, and lots of proofreading. Words should be placed alphabetically/ phonetically or they might be “out-of-place” from the column. This is why, sometimes, a dictionary is compared with a ship which navigates through the sea of words.
For a series that metaphorically compare a dictionary to a “ship”, it sure does have a lot of holes beneath it.
Based on a novel by Shion Miura, The Great Passage (2016) is a Japanese animation series which focused on a dictionary editorial team from a publication company named Genbu Shobo and their struggle to publish a dictionary named, well, The Great Passage. Our main character Mitsuya Majime, a pretty awkward guy with a shaggy hair and a slouchy back, was transferred from the sales division to the dictionary department via a recommendation from Masashi Nishioka to the retiring editor Kouhei Araki. Although he’s pretty good with words, our MC had a hard time expressing his self to other individuals because he had a hard time communicating with laymen. He expresses himself with rather a verbose way and could not understand modern slang which may find weird and uncanny for some.
Workplaces used as settings on Japanese animation are generally uncommon. It is a refreshing experience to watch a show that somewhat deviates from the medium’s norms. Some (including me) might find it unique since it deals with dictionary production. While they explain how they produce The Great Passage, they also used it to develop the character of Majime and his senior Nishioka which I found pretty good. Their character development is what the charm of the show came from.
Although the show is unique in its own right, its delivery is somewhat appalling in the later episodes which is pretty ironic when the show speaks about the importance of delicate handling and care. The pacing of the show was rather too fast for this series, leaving the MCs character development lacking and stale. But, at the same time it rather benefited Nishioka’s character development for he was the focal point of the 1st half of the story. If the main point of the animation is to make the MC a catalyst to develop his co-office mates’ characters, then I would be okay with it. What’s frustrating is that the show tried to develop Majime’s personality but falls short in a rather bad way. They left him like he did not matter in the later episodes which gave us a rather bigger hole of questions in the story rather than resolutions.
Do I still recommend it? Of course. There may be faults in this show but overall it is still pretty enjoyable if your taste is leaning to these kinds of titles. One may say that it was a comfy experience, they’re not wrong.
Light Novel adaptations have had something of a poor reputation over the past couple of years in anime. For every actually good one, there are 5-6 terrible highschool harems led by Yuji Everylead the Bland. But this upcoming Fall 2016 anime season looks like it might be the exception....maybe?
Anime is a form of entertainment usually marketed towards an otaku fanbase, making it difficult for people unfamiliar with that culture to step in. The noitaminA programming block was created to serve as a gateway to that audience. But how well have they kept their promise throughout the years?