First Impressions – Fune wo Amu

I know one thing: if Manglobe still existed, they’d never let a potential commercial tank this big slip through their fingers.

OP: “Shiokaze (潮風)” by Taiiku Okazaki (岡崎体育)

fune-wo-amu-01-1As is often the case, NoitaminA provides us with the last major premiere of the season.  It used to be the case that it was invariably among my most anticipated, though that hasn’t so often been true in recent years.  It is this time, though – Fune wo Amu was one of the two or three shows I was most interested in, given the subject matter and pedigree of the source material.  And I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint, even as I wonder who the target audience is going to be.

fune-wo-amu-01-2I could probably count on one hand the times I’ve preferred English versions of anime titles to their original Japanese counterparts, but this series is one of them – “The Great Passage” is a magnificently evocative phrase, a pretty literal translation but somehow that much more romantic.  The title in question refers to a new dictionary being put together at Genbu Publishing, seemingly the most comprehensive ever attempted in Japanese if the premiere is to be believed –  great boat to traverse the divide ignorance of language creates.  It’s also the title of Miura Shion’s novel, which has already inspired a live-action film which took the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture in 2013.

fune-wo-amu-01-3But why is it an anime?  I’m not remotely surprised to see the criticisms of the premiere as “boring” or “too slow” – the kind of anime which my muggle friend in the movie business would meet with “Why does this even have to be animated?”  This is a series for lovers of words, clearly – not those who love to talk, but those who love the minutiae of words.  The way their meanings morph with context and time, the role they play in shaping the world and our daily lives in it.  It’s dialogue-driven, by its very nature, but this is not the machine-gun dialogue of Steins;Gate (though its series composer directed that show).  This is measured, meandering speech – the dialogue of daily life.  And to those who aren’t a part of our daily lives, watching and listening to them would probably make them seem pretty mundane.

fune-wo-amu-01-4The creation of dictionaries (we even get an eyecatch omake with anthropomorphized dictionaries sharing their personality quirks) is the passion of Matsumoto Tomosuke (Mugihito) and his kouhai Araki Kouhei (Kaneo Tetsuo).  But Araki is being forced to retire to care for his ailing wife, and though he’s promised to find a successor before he does, that’s a big challenge.  As Matsumoto-san points out, a dictionary editor must be protective of words but not to excess, must have a perspective on language as a whole.  And it’s clearly not a star position at the publishing house, judging by the way those in other departments flee when they hear Araki is out looking for potential replacements.

fune-wo-amu-01-5Help comes from an unusual source when one of the department’s junior editors Nishioka Masashi (Kamiya Hiroshi) stumbles upon Genbu sales rep Majime Mitsuya (Sakurai Takahiro) making a call on the local hon-ya.  Majime (the joke is that his name means “earnest and dedicated”) is no natural at sales – he mumbles and fidgets, and even walked into the shop carrying a competitor’s bag.  But when Nishioka tracks him down after leaving the shop to give him a stern talking to, Majime reveals himself to be something of a word-taku – finding eloquence when discussing language which eludes him in normal conversation.

fune-wo-amu-01-7There are a lot of quiet moments here which I really loved, like the scene at his boarding house where the lonely old Ooya-san invites Majime and his cat to share her meal.  And especially when Araki “interviews” Majime by asking him to define “right” – which is a hell of a lot harder than it first seems, when you think about it.  Clearly, this is not the show for everybody – it’s reflective and low-key, as niche an anime as NoitaminA has done in a long time.  But for someone who loves language and all its subtleties, The Great Passage is a real treat – especially knowing that one cour should be enough to give the novel a complete adaptation.

ED: “I & I” by Leola



  1. I loved this episode too, my only qualm being that the dictionary segment was really out of place.

  2. I dunno, I loved that. It felt kind of innocent and silly.

  3. Z

    I loved this first episode. I thought the word play was interesting and at least four of the characters were adorably endearing. I mean, how could you not love that obaachan? It was certainly more beautifully animated than I anticipated: the words clinging to the feet in the waves, the wood grain on the stairs, the customers in the shop finishing their meal and crossing between the camera and the conversation we are watching. It was all just so enchanting. It looked better than real life while still keeping up the appearance of reality, which is a good enough reason to animate it for me.

  4. Z

    Ah, and I also enjoyed them giving the episode name at the beginning of the episode, with the definition of the episode name at the end of the episode. I hope they keep that.

  5. T

    I miss manglobe though.. Is Fune wo Amu really only available in UK?

  6. A

    It was a really nice episode:) looking forward to more.

  7. D

    I absolutely loved this from the off, it’s the kind of show which Noitamina ought to be doing even if it doesn’t sell.

    It looks exquisite with its attention to detail, and I could practically smell the fusty dusty books fillijng up Majime’s one room in the old boarding house.
    The attention to detail in the office environment was also good, and really showed up how the dictionary section is the neglected end of the publishing company.
    One of my most anticipated shows, and I’m not disappointed.

    It’s kind of annoying that outside of Japan the show remains tucked away on Amazon with no promotion at all. OK, so while for Crunchy/Funi anime is their raison d’etre, for Amazon this is a tiny minority interest and they’re treating it as such. It’s not even easy to find unless you go keenly looking for it. I had to use search on the English title to find it.

  8. l

    Thank you! I wasn’t aware of it being on amazon. Added it to my watchlist rightaway!

  9. T

    I couldn’t find it on Amazon (US) – could you share the link?

  10. T

    Thanks for confirming, was hoping it would be available in US by now but no..

  11. e

    Well it was worth the wait 🙂 .
    It was evocative – fantastic pre-opening sequence. One of the cases when CG really enhances the visuals without being much in your face. A literal ocean of words. Loved it – yet down to Earth and it made me interested in the characters. Their task hits one of my sweet spots already – browsing dictionaries… looking up terms… one definition leading to another… the journey… – hence a backstage look holds a lot of appeal.
    I also liked the talking dictionaries insert but I would have placed it at a the end of the episode rather than smack dab in the middle. Bit of a mood breaker :> .

  12. M

    We need this to be an anime so that we have something different than 20 new anime about cute girls doing cute things / idol anime every season. I understand that those kind of anime needed cause it sells and support the industry, but really I need an anime like Fune wo Amu once a while to keep me interested in anime.

    Great episode, I would think Japanese dictionaries will be more difficult to compile with the kanji and historical usage of it.

  13. Great premiere, etc. etc.

    But can we talk about how good that cat is? They probably spent the most animation frames just on making it look as real as possible. Even going where no cat anime has dared to go and having him lick his butthole in the background XD.

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