OP: 「潮風」 (Shiokaz) by Taiiku Okazaki
Written as: Extensive Ocean — like the dream-conjured sea waves of a hundred thousand words suffocating an unsuccessful salesman’s comprehension of language.
I think it makes sense to write these potentially pretentious openers about how these episode titles are written, given this is a series all about definition and understanding the meaning behind words. I expect these titles to give insight into the episodes beyond the obvious, with this example being how “Vastness” is written – in the way Hajime dreams of the words coming like ocean waves. I’m no expert on Kanji, so if anyone else can chime in on these definition, that would be sweet. It only makes sense to put effort into discussing the details of Fune wo Amu when it’s clearly so passionate about its own subject matter.
I’m ever so grateful that shows like Fune wo Amu continue to exist despite the shifts in trends in anime. 2016 has been an upstanding year for anime, with less tired magic school light novel anime than usual, but with the “trapped in a fantasy world” replacing it – which, for my money, is a better trade off and has actually delivered some recommendable titles this year. Yet Fune wo Amu is a different creation altogether; an anime I’m surprised is being made but am ever so happy it is. It’s based on an acclaimed 2011 novel that has previously been adapted into a live-action movie that also won several prestige awards in Japan and was submitted as an offering for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars. This suggests that the source material comes from a place of quality, and this anime version backs up that theory. This is an adult drama, a true Noitamina title that we haven’t seen since 2009/2010. I don’t know how something so modern can feel so nostalgic, but that’s where we are with this first episode.
Anyone reading the synopsis of this show must be thinking: “How can an anime about making a dictionary be any good?”. It’s an expected reaction, and I’ve read some criticism that this episode was too slow or boring for some, but chances are if this doesn’t tickle your fancy or have you curious, then you were never the target audience in the first place. With such an obscure and seemingly everyday premise, this isn’t going to attract a large audience, which is a shame in itself, but also an expectation with anime of this ilk. What shines through is that this is a story about understanding the hidden meanings, interpretations, and definitions of words, and that comes across in the passion these characters feel, especially with our lead.
Majime Mitsuya (Sakurai Takahiro) is a funny one – a not very good salesmen who has a borderline obsession with words, to the point where he even dreams about Kanji characters in his nightmares. He may be a word otaku (if that’s really a thing), but he’s instantly likeable in how genuine his mannerisms come across; he’s unassuming and gentle but clearly has a lot on his mind that he doesn’t have the opportunity to express. We get a valuable slice of his life in the way his room is cluttered with books, the way he interacts with his cat, and eats dinner with the lonely old woman upstairs. Those little moments are charming and help establish how he’s just living each day as it comes without any true purpose.
But that purpose comes at him without warning, after his encounter with Nishioka Masashi (Kamiya Hiroshi) where he points out how bad he is at his job. The talking-to he gets from him unearths his passion for defining words, which just so happens to help with the search for a new replacement at the dictionary department, after the senior editor has to retire. What follows is a sense of whimsy and purpose when Majime shows off his natural instincts with words and trying to define them as clearly as possible. When you think about it, trying to define “left” is a tricky thing to do, but Majime does it without thinking twice.
If I had one negative with this premiere it would be that it was a tad over-dramatic and a little on the nose at the key moments. It fit together like a puzzle a little too easily, but it’s a unique enough premise so I’m willing to give it a pass. However, all that is minuscule compare to the joy this premiere gave me. I appreciate when a Noitamina anime feels like it belongs, and this is exactly what we needed to finish off an already strong offering of new anime. I can’t wait to see where this seemingly mundane story goes, especially since it’s already got me interested in the inner workings of forming a Japanese dictionary. Perhaps it’s a difficult thing for English speakers to wrap their head around at first, but there’s an element of poetry and interpretation to the Japanese language that I’m keen to learn more about in the coming weeks, and hope there are others who feel the same way.
ED: 「I & I」 by Leola