Sometimes the measure of a story lies in what it has to say rather on how successfully it holds us at the edge of our seats. True, stories are about struggle and they need to provide us with a situation we are more or less afraid to experience in real life: conflict, death, loss, and many other similar concepts. But then, there are stories like Fune wo Amu that incorporate all these themes in a real-life story that could have happened to any of us.
Japanese Title: 灯
Fune wo Amu played with time in ways that made me wonder if each episode was the span of a day or a year. I made some horrible assumptions along the way, like in last episode’s review when I hurried to send Mr. Matsumoto to the afterlife. All the hints were there, but the actual death was delayed for half an episode. On the other hand, I also rushed to identify the Ferris wheel as the symbol of the main theme of the anime: the circle of life (and made a very fitting comment about it during my last review). At least that was a successful assumption.
Despite the accuracy (or not) of my assumptions, the fact remains that Fune wo Amu used the death of Matsumoto-sensei to highlight its main theme and end the narrative in a full circle. ‘The work doesn’t stop with the publication of the dictionary,’ observed the elderly editor, only for Majime to remark that ‘it will forever be incomplete.’ Dictionary editing is a work that never ends. Language is alive; new words are born while others die. And in a world where everyone is trying to communicate their feelings, dictionary editors have a responsibility to build a ship that will enable everyone to storm the sea of words.
I could have wasted a few hundred words analyzing each scene and going to details about how I felt and how the characters felt and how each scene played, but I think that such meticulous reviews miss the point, and the point of Fune wo Amu is that people need to work together, feel proud about their accomplishments, and when it’s time, pass the baton to the next generation.
The Great Passage is finally published.
Nishioka is a dad: I didn’t see that coming. Of course the series left hints here and there, like the ring on his finger, but we had no idea who he married. He married Miyoshi (YES!) and has two daughters. And he seems happy. He is also working hard as the Vice Chief of the PR departments to promote the dictionary and bring it to as many eyes as possible. With such a cute mascot as Kai, I’m sure that he will succeed. Heck, I want a copy of The Great Passage as well.
Dictionary Time: For the last episode, our little cute dictionaries left us with a sincere wish that their kind will continue to light people’s way. I am sure they will.
Nishioka Part 2: When Nishioka had the meeting with his department about the promotion of the dictionary, his speech was accompanied by flashback shots on a cosmic background, probably signifying the universality of dictionaries, or/and maybe their importance.
Dictionaries are tools to help people understand one another and create a better society for the world
Majime and his mentor: For Majime, Matsumoto-sensei was more than a colleague. He was a father-figure, a mentor, and a savior. The editor believed in him and saved him from a mediocre life and a mediocre job that was a waste of his talents. Matsumoto-sensei (and Araki-san) gave him a purpose and Majime wanted to repay him by having the dictionary ready in time, that is before sensei’s death. Matsumoto-sensei died the same day as the publication of the dictionary. Fate? Maybe. In a subtle metaphoric level, it was like the baton of dictionary editing was passed to Majime, but in the real world Majime was devastated. I actually felt tears gathering in my eyes as I saw Majime tearing at the balcony.
Themes & Trivia
Word of the Episode: ともしび （灯）Light
a source of illumination, such as a small fire or a torch
e.g. A light shows us the way
The Great Wave of Kanagawa: The painting of a wave that appears in the half-episode segment is a very famous Japanese woodblock print by ukiyo-e artist Hokusai. It was published somewhere between 1830 to 1833 in the late Edo period and it was part of a series called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. It’s probably the most recognizable piece of Japanese art overseas. You can see Mount Fuji in the background, behind the wave. Most people miss it. I did until recently. The wave really steals the show.
True Friendship: Nishioka and Majime are connected by the thread of true friendship. A friendship that was born not out of necessity but of respect and appreciation. The series mentioned so many times how Nishioka and Majime complemented each other. They were the yin to the others yang.
Matsumoto-sensei made sure that the journey of dictionary-making would smoothly pass from his generation to Majime’s. His letter to the editorial department was heartwarming. I want to put it here in the comments as a testament to a man who loved his work and his colleagues:
‘I apologize to everyone on the Editorial team that I was unable to see this through to the very end. I will most likely no longer be here when The Great Passage is finally finished. But I have neither worry nor regret. That is because I can vividly see our The Great Passage crossing the great ocean of words. Araki, there is something I would like to amend. I once told you that I would never meet another editor like you. But I was mistaken. Thanks to you bringing Majime abroad, I was able to push forward on this path of dictionaries once again. I am truly glad to have met editors like you and Majime. Thanks to you, I was able to live a truly fulfilling and accomplished life. If there is an afterlife, I plan to continue collecting my words and see if there is a word that goes beyond gratitude. How fun it has been editing The Great Passage. I pray for a long and happy voyage to all of you and to The Great Passage.’
I loved how the narration started with Matsumoto-sensei’s voice and ended with Majime’s voice. The circle of life. Snif. And what wonderful writing. What wonderful writing and what wonderful directing on coupling the letter with images of life going forward. If only we are all as lucky as Matsumoto-sensei and live a fulfilled life doing the thing we love most of all and in the process help create something that will be used by others to better their lives. I am envious.
The Great Passage
Dictionary work never ends. It goes on and on, and as long as there are people caring about these kind of things, the world will strive to be a better place. Fune wo Amu was a nice (Ferris wheel) ride. If you don’t have a dictionary in your house, this is a good time to buy one, go through it, and cherish it for what it is: a boat that will guide you through the sea of words and help you communicate in a more meaningful way.
Did you like the last episode of Fune wo Amu? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to check the latest reviews of our Fall 2016 list. We also have the list of anime we will cover in Winter 2017!
Fune wo Amu (The Great Passage)
Official Website: http://www.funewoamu.com/