I’ve been a big fan of Fune wo Amu right from the start. It represents something close to what I think of as the NoitaminA ideal, the idea of creating a place for mature and challenging anime that would never (or very rarely) be produced otherwise. I may be one of about six people who still cares about that, but I do – and I like that series like The Great Passage still exist on the Block or otherwise, especially as they’re becoming rarer and rarer. That’s why I haven’t loved the the past few episodes quite as much as the first two – they felt a little more conventional, a little less “other”.
So – when I say this episode represented a return to form of sorts, take in in the context that even the form it was in was pretty damn good. It’s just that eps like this one are why I fell in love with Fune wo Amu. It was an ambling, low-key and smart masterpiece of observation – and a deceptively strong piece of character drama as well (and once again displayed some very clever direction, this time via the elegant use of split-screens). This is something of a season for stealth main characters – Momoka in Girlish Number is certainly one in my view, and I’m beginning to suspect that applies to Nishioka in this show as well.
As with Momoka, I think with Nishioka it comes down to a matter of perspective as the key – although the details are very different. Majime is interesting but he’s a true believer, a natural when it comes to the art of the dictionary. Nishioka is someone more of us can relate to, someone who’s struggling to find his place in life. Nishioka’s skills are practical and mundane. His romances aren’t epic love letters delivered to fairy tale princesses in the moonlight – they’re clandestine relationships with co-workers where affection is expressed by a wry insult and a quiet, exhausted cuddle after the lights go out. Which one of those is the more relevant to most of our lives?
I was scolded a bit for referring to referring to Nishioka’s romance with Remi as “passionless” last week, and maybe that was justified – though I don’t think I was wrong in my intent so much as my phrasing. In a way I found the scenes they shared this week more romantic than the Kaguya/Majime drama from last week, strange as that sounds, because there was something so real and earthy to them. I don’t know if these two are in love, but they’re certainly friends – and my experience tells me that probably gives them a better chance in the long term. You get he sense that these two really understand each other, feel at ease with each other. And that makes it that much more welcome that Nishioka finally seems ready to stop worrying so much about what his co-workers will think of their relationship – in the end, he has to take charge of his own life because his bosses certainly have no regard for his long-term welfare.
I’ve also bonded very strongly with the way Nishioka has slowly found his niche within the little family of the editorial department, and the discourse over “Saigyou” was a perfect example – in addition to being a wonderful display of the philosophical musing that Fune wo Amu is so good at. It’s Nishioka who organizes Majime’s thoughts, makes sense of them – because it’s Nishioka who can look at what the multi-faceted definition of that word might mean to a real-world reader picking up “The Great Passage” and reading it.
It’s always Nishioka who picks up the ball when it comes to the practical. Professor Oda (I should note he’s being played by the legendary Tobita Nobuo – “Dayon!”) has sent over a manuscript which totally ignores the stylistic conventions Nishioka has asked him to follow. Nishioka has to go to Oda’s office and engage in a high-stakes game of chicken over the revisions Majime has done – one which ends with Oda implying that Nishioka should beg for forgiveness from his knees if he wants Oda’s continued cooperation, and Nishioka blackmailing Oda over the clues he’s picked up that he’s having an affair with a student. Someone in every organization has to be willing to get his hands dirty when the project demands it, and Nishioka is that guy here. It’s not the glamor job, but it’s an absolutely vital one.
What should a dictionary be – should it be purely objective, or should it carry some sense of the personality and beliefs of the contributors? Few of us ever stop to ponder questions like that, and there are sure as hell no other anime that I know asking us to. That’s a huge part of why Fune wo Amu is such a vital series, but it’s not the only part. It also tells the type of human stories rarely told in anime – stories like Majime’s, yes, but also of an ordinary man like Nishioka finding his passion in life and learning to take pride in what he does – and who he is. Passion comes in many forms, I suppose (as I noted last week) but while not the flashiest, the passions in Nishioka’s current life (and relationships) are probably the ones that feel most real to most of us.