[Synopsis]: On the cusp of beginning the creation of a new dictionary titled ‘The Great Passage’, a veteran of Genbu Shobo’s dictionary editorial department, Araki Kouhei (Kaneo Tetsuo), announces that he will soon be retiring. In pursuit of finding an equally fitting successor and with the help of his fellow employee Nishioka Misashi (Kamiya Hiroshi), Araki encounters Majime Mitsuya (Sakurai Takahiro) – an introverted man with a passion for words and verbal expression. Together, Majime and the rest of the editorial department work to create a new dictionary that will help people understand each other and express themselves in the modern day.
Within the context of Fune wo Amu, the contents of each dictionary say as much about the times we live in and the words we say as they do about the people who make them. So in this vein, it makes sense that Fune wo Amu not only centers around the act of compiling language and words for The Great Passage but the hardworking and passionate people who do so.
Fune wo Amu does a fantastic job of illustrating Majime’s introverted nature through a variety of character quirks. The way he carries himself, hunches over, and hesitates before speaking all contribute to his odd yet endearing persona. He sometimes observes people board escalators and purposefully slows his gait in order to watch them ascend. This reverence for the slightly strange says so much about his temperament and the way he overthinks things and takes people’s questions too seriously further accentuates this characterization.
What Majime’s reserved personality means for him is that he has a hard time expressing himself. He appears distant from others. So the idea of dictionaries as tools used to connect people and help them express what they want to say is a very attractive and thematically relevant one in regards to Majime. As both the protagonist and the newest addition to the editorial department, he personifies all of the dedication and affection that goes into the process of dictionary making. His subtle development and passion for words serves as the sentimental core of the show.
The rest of the cast is relatively small and most of the characters work alongside Majime in the editorial department. The only notable exception to this is Kaguya Hayashi, the daughter of Majime’s land-lady whom he meets and gradually grows more familiar with. Masahi Nishioka offers a more energetic and relatable character than Majime and though he doesn’t possess the same fascination for language as some of the other characters, he none the less exemplifies the same dedication as everyone else. The most pronounced characteristic of Fune wo Amu’s cast is their authenticity. They seem like very realistic people which is a trait that lends itself well to the show’s grounded sense of drama. While the characters themselves are good, its the show’s drawn out focus on their earnestness and enthusiasm which makes its story so bland. You gain a real sense of how much sincerity they put into their work but the presentation opts to reaffirm this over and over again needlessly in a dull cycle that only further homogenizes their efforts. There are developments regarding the company, their staff, and Majime’s personal life but they are infrequent and slow to arrive.
Given the nature of Fune wo Amu’s premise and story, its expectable that its visuals wouldn’t be one of its core assets however it somewhat subverts this through ubiquitously subtle character animation and visual metaphors. Fune wo Amu is undoubtedly a more adult-oriented, realistic, work-place drama and so the attention to detail in how the characters move around, conduct themselves, and interact with their environment goes a long way in underscoring this attribute. The midsection interludes where cartoonish dictionaries spout exposition about the industry and gleefully discuss one another’s properties felt out of place and off-tone for the otherwise very calm and subdued atmosphere of each episode.
One of the most pervasive themes of the show is the idea that words are an ocean and dictionaries a ship which people can utilize to ford the gulf between themselves and others. Hence the namesake of The Great Passage. While these visual metaphors didn’t appear nearly as often as I would have liked them, when they do they really hammer home the sentimentality of the scene and disrupt the otherwise bland proceedings with imaginative and striking visuals.
The narrative of Fune wo Amu is exceedingly straightforward. Majime, after having been plucked out of his sales position at Genbu Shobo because of his passion and aptitude for language, endeavors alongside the rest of the editorial staff to create a new dictionary. Throughout this process, the show explores Majime’s daily life and how he develops as a character both in and outside of the office as well as the various hurdles and trials the creative team must face in order to realize their dream of completing The Great Passage.
The most important thing to understand about Fune wo Amu is that it is an utter romanticization of dictionary making. The show is best defined by its most extravagant ideas. That dictionaries aren’t cold and calculated lists of words but rather important tools which help connect people and find the perfect sentiments with which to express what they are feeling. No two dictionaries are alike and each harbor their own unique personality gifted to them by the people who worked to compile their contents. Language is alive and changing and it is the job of those who make dictionaries to help people change with it. The show is full of this passionate and hopeful sentimentality and while very heartfelt and endearing in and of itself, its unwavering focus on these topics leave its story often feeling uninteresting and repetitive.
The shortcoming in Fune wo Amu‘s appeal is just how hopelessly optimistic it is. It dwells for episodes at a time on solely the earnestness and hard work of everyone at Genbu Shobo. Though the viewer gains some genuinely intriguing insight into the process of dictionary making, there aren’t enough developments or varying concepts to keep things interesting. This is partially the trapping of Fune wo Amu’s realistic setting and premise in that its appreciation for the mundane renders it unappealing in other regards. For all of its ocean and ship metaphors, Fune wo Amu struggled to keep itself afloat and interesting for the majority of its run. The show eventually found distinct purpose in its final episodes and this made its conclusion far more compelling however in doing so, the narrative cut around some of Majime’s own interesting development that I would have loved to see on screen.
Much like the characters and the general attitude of the story, the music is determined and uplifting. The soundtrack often possessed a kind of grand and trumpeting tone that fairly successfully imparted the importance and scale of what everyone in the dictionary editorial department were trying to accomplish. The music itself wasn’t particularly memorable or striking and at times its enthusiasm felt out of tune with the more mundane, dialogue-driven scenes however it supported the show’s atmosphere terrifically.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
The long and the short of Fune wo Amu is that it was rather boring. It presented a charming, authentic cast of characters and an affectionate attitude towards language and expression but in such a way that its own pervasive optimism left it feeling monotonous. Majime was a well designed character and the final arc of the show had a real sense of purpose but the majority of its length was spent reaffirming the same, extravagant principles and emphasizing the hard work and determination of the cast.
Though it offered a very realistic workplace setting and a handful of genuinely heartwarming sentiments and character moments, I gave Fune wo Amu a 5 because its narrative rarely had enough going on to keep me interested. Majime’s personality and thematic characterization were interesting aspects of the show but they couldn’t make up for its longstanding lack of direction.
I would recommend Fune wo Amu to those looking for a more measured, adult-oriented drama. Its authentic characters and grounded setting means that its style of drama is very subtle and relatively inconsequential but ultimately more genuine as a result. Those interested in workplace settings and the idea of creative, passionate collaboration would do well to watch the show and see if it appeals to them.