I love dictionaries for two reasons. First, they are full of magic. A dictionary contains every single book that was ever written, every article, essay, message, and love letter. Dictionaries contain all the building blocks you need to be able to express yourself in the written word. Second, a dictionary reminds me that my vocabulary sucks and I have to try harder if I want to be able to improve my writing.
These two reasons were enough to make me feel excited about Fune wo Amu, or what is more commonly known as The Great Passage.
Japanese Title: 茫洋
What is this Anime about
Fune wo Amu (The Great Passage) is based on the best-selling novel of the same name, written by Shion Miura. The film version of the novel was released in 2013 and has been selected as the Japanese entry in the 86th Academy Awards (2014) for Best Foreign Language Film.
The plot is similar in novel, movie, and anime: Araki, a veteran editor for the dictionary department at the Genbu Shobou publishing company, is looking for a successor. He is approaching his retirement and he wants someone to continue his work. Araki finds him in Majime Mitsuya, a salesman who is not good with words, after he hears one of his conversations with Masashi Nishioka, one of Araki’s coworkers who is a great talker. He decides to use the couple to compile a medium-sized dictionary titled Daitokai (The Great Passage).
The opening theme is Shiokaze (潮風) by Taiiku Okazaki (岡崎体育) and the ending theme is I&I by Leola. Kuroyanagi Toshimasa is the director, Aoyama Nobuyuki did the character design, and Ike Yoshihiro took care of the music. The project is coordinated by Zexcs.
Fune wo Amu delivers exactly what it promised before broadcast: an anime full of words, warmth, and passion. We are greeted by an ocean of words and just before the opening credits, the main protagonist quotes the most famous line in the book. The series is going to be about words, dictionaries, and the passion for creation. And in the center of it all will be three people: Araki, the editor who wants to find a successor to continue his work; Nishioka, a young dictionary editor who has more talent in speaking than in editing; Majime, the awkward salesman who is a word otaku.
Majime is not unlike many people I’ve met: he lacks a way with words but not the words themselves. His social skills leave something to be desired, but his passion for books is unparalleled. He is weird but talented and stuck in a job that doesn’t suit him. In his first encounter with Nishioka Masashi, his mirror-opposite, Majime tries to do his job as a salesman for a publishing company and give a bookseller some promotional material. He moves in an awkward way and phrases his words in not so eloquent ways. He is not even aware that he entered the store holding a bag from a competitor bookstore. Nishioka, who in contrast is fluent with his expressions, advises Majime to start ‘reading the air’. Majime takes the expressions and proceeds with a dictionary-like explanation of how the word was used metaphorically. And this is exactly what Araki, the soon-to-be-retired editor, needs from his successor: a love for words that comes from a genuine interest.
Majime is the strong point of the plot. A troubled young man who finds it difficult to express himself. He lives alone with his tiger-striped cat who he calls Tora (tiger) and every night drowns in a sea of words that symbolizes not only his self-doubt but also his inability to connect to others through speech.
Word of the Episode: OMG, there is a ‘word of the episode’ in dictionary form before the end credits. I am not fluent in Japanese, but I love dictionaries and this was a nice touch. The word for Episode 01 was:
Vastness, noun: of very great area or extent; immense:
Dictionary Half-Time: The half-time break had another great touch: We were treated to a small lesson about dictionaries and how each one of them is different from the other. As the little dictionaries said themselves, ‘Every dictionary has its own personality.’
Flying Words: Was it just me or did Araki use THE FORCE to find Majime in the sales department? He is a word Jedi. So that makes Majime a padawan. Awesome.
Themes & Trivia
Boat Making: The English title is not a direct translation of the original Japanese. The Japanese title of the anime, Fune wo Amu (舟を編む) means ‘Assembling a Boat’. It refers to one of Araki’s quotes from the book and the one of the first sentences spoken in the anime:
A dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words.
Beautiful isn’t it?
Shion Miura: Shion Miura received the Booksellers Award in 2012 for this novel. She is also a manga aficionado: She has declared herself a particular fan of the BL genre about love stories between young homosexual men.
The Great Passage: The title is most likely a homage to Daigenkai (大言海), one of the first dictionaries of the Japanese language, edited by the legendary Japanese lexicographer, linguist, and historian, Ōtsuki Fumihiko (大槻 文彦, 1847 – 1928). Matsumoto-sensei refers to him in the opening scene after the credits.
Ancient Words: The oldest known dictionaries were Akkadian Empire cuneiform tablets with bilingual Sumerian–Akkadian wordlists, discovered in Ebla (modern Syria) and dated roughly 2300 BCE. They were not called dictionaries until an Englishman called John of Garland coined the word in 1220 because he had written a book called Dictionarius to help people with Latin diction.
I think that Fune wo Amu is going to be one of my favorite anime this season. Its protagonist is incredibly interesting, especially for a guy like me who has an obvious problem of communicating properly in face-to-face discussion. I’m not that better in writing, but at least it feels more comfortable.
The animation is not amazing but it’s better than most shows I’ve seen lately. It is fluid though and the character movements feel realistic. I was impressed though with the direction and the music. Kuroyanagi Toshimasa wasn’t afraid to play with the angles, the point of view, and the way he handled crucial scenes like Araki’s ‘USE THE FORCE’ scene. We have shots from above, from behind, and from the sides. The focus, refreshingly enough, is not always on the person who’s talking at the time. And then you have Ike Yoshihiro’s beautiful piano pieces to accompany the scenes.
An Ocean of Words
I am already attached to Daitokai. I want it published as much as Araki does and I can’t wait to see how the Dictionary Department will work now that Majime joined the team. Did you like the first episode? Let me know in the comments below!
NEXT TIME: Encounter (逢着)
Fune wo Amu (The Great Passage)
Official Website: http://www.funewoamu.com/