There’s a sort of valedictory quality to Fune wo Amu. Not to be too dramatic about it, but it’s hard to look at the 2017 anime schedule and not be struck that much more by just what an odd series this is – that, and the idea that it could be the last of its kind, both for NoitaminA and anime generally. Probably not – but shows like it are becoming rarer and rarer, and the medium seems to re-emerge from these creative dark ages a little bit less vibrant and diverse each time. One of these times it’s probably never going to come back.
That’s why when we get a series like 91 Days or The Great Passage I really treasure it, whatever its flaws may be. And this one is about as perversely stubborn about being different as any anime could be. The fact is that the characters are passionate about something the vast majority of the audience – and humans as a group – just don’t care all that much about. And not only that, this dichotomy is the very essence of Fune wo Amu. Because this is a story about passion – their passion – and when you understand it as such, you realize that it’s quite universal after all. And that the story itself has a lot more in common with traditional anime than it appears to.
We’re still seeing this post-timeskip story mostly through Kishibe-kun’s eyes, since she’s the most who’s the closest to an outsider in this quirky little world of the Dictionary Editing Department. One day when searching through the archives she finds a “secret” binder – effectively a kind of code book for Majime, written by Nishioka. He leads her on a merry little chase that ends up with Majime’s love letter to Kaguya, and through it she get a reaffirmation that the two of them are far more alike than different (the series in microcosm). In The Great Passage, a love of words isn’t simply a character quirk – it’s a divine calling, a service to humanity. And a dictionary is no less than an indispensable tool to let people express themselves and be understood.
“The Great Passage” has finished its fourth edit and is now undergoing the final pass, and there are dramas big and small playing out around that (though in this story both are treated as equally important). Miyamoto-kun (Asanuma Shintarou) from the paper company is still trying to satisfy Majime, and it’s surprisingly tense every time he walks in carrying a sample. I think that’s because Miyamoto wants so badly for this project to be successful – not because it will look good for him at work, but because he cares about the dictionary for its own sake. He’s a member of this oddball troupe too, even if he doesn’t work for Genbu Publishing itself.
The biggest drama, though, surrounds Matsumoto-sensei. He’s like an old wind-up pocket watch that’s running down, and he and everyone else knows it. They all want to finish “The Great Passage” for him, and they know time is running out. Yet this is an undertaking that’s constitutionally resistant to hurrying right down to its DNA, and that provides a real sense of frustration and conflict. That’s all the more true when Kishibe discovers a word that’s been omitted from the book – and Majime (in another really clever bit of directorial flourish) frets that it might only be the tip of the iceberg.
It again strikes me that while this is not conventional anime plotting, the emotions driving the story are very familiar. We have a team of underdogs trying to accomplish something against a wave of resistance and skepticism, and racing against the clock to finish their task. That’s nothing new for anime by any means – it’s the ages of the characters and the nature of their quest that makes The Great Passage seem like such a square peg. It’s asking a lot for an audience inured to the increasingly generic thematic landscape of anime to see past that unfamiliar exterior to the emotional heart beneath it – probably too much. But it’s something, at least, that at least there was one more series willing to do the asking.