|Smart, Mature, well written, and just a cut above everything else||The Teach Me Sections feel like a distraction|
How do you even begin to talk about an anime series like Fune wo Amu? Its a rare occurrence, but every now and then there are some anime series that just make it really hard for anyone to accurately describe them or the experience that they create. And Fune wo Amu is exactly that kind of show; Its an example of a work transcending its medium and becoming something that can not only be considered art, but is truly meaningful and perhaps even transformative as an experience. Art, entertainment, stories, fiction, just the mere idea of conversation and speech, all these seek to connect with and touch people in a very fundamental way. Anime, which is the culmination of various different disciplines, ideas, concepts and crafts, is perhaps the most apt and perfect medium for an experience and story like Fune wo Amu.
What is Fune wo Amu? Fune wo Amu is many things. On the surface, its a slice of life anime series about Dictionary Editors (no less) creating a new dictionary for the ages (over the course of an entire decade of their lives). Peering a little deeper, however, reveals a story that tackles some very big ideas, chief among them the idea of human connection. Fune wo Amu may be a story about dictionary editors making dictionaries, but its also a tale that tackles the idea of what it means to be a human in the industrialized society of today (from a very specific Japanese lens of course).
But that isn’t all that Fune wo Amu does. The show’s story encapsulates so much that its almost staggering. There’s the idea of love, romance and connecting with one another on a very intimate, pure level. There’s the idea of friendship and comradery and connecting by sharing a common goal. There’s the idea of shared passions and how people rally and connect based off of that. It features the idea of trials and tribulations, and how people grow closer by facing adversity together. Its about striving to do something good for the general human race and for society, and how that births a real sense of purpose for one’s life. And then there’s even the idea of the pursuit of perfection and perpetual improvement mixed in with everything else. And really talking about the themes and larger ideas that the show covers is about as much as I’m comfortable revealing about Fune wo Amu’s story. The actual events and situations that happen, experiencing those is the real crux of the experience of watching Fune wo Amu.
And what’s perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Fune wo Amu is that its not a supernatural story, nor does it have something fantastical or immeasurable in it. The show is about a bunch of likable people, working on a project that consumes a huge chunk of their lives, and how they live and mature throughout that time. There are many shows that attempt to look at a decade of a person’s life, but I think Fune wo Amu really captures the idea of time and change in a sort of calm, reserved and elegant way.
The reason I think the story resonates so well, especially in just 11 episodes, is because of how well done and well crafted the characters are. Fune wo Amu is a mature story, its meant for adults, but not because its got gore, nudity or anything like that. No, Fune wo Amu is a reflective, inquisitive show that demands its audience think, observe and empathize with the humanity of its characters and the situations in their lives. And the show succeeds in having its audience do so, by creating a cast of characters that really just feel like real people. But these are the kind of people that you’d not only potentially encounter in real life, but they’re the kind of people you’d want to spend your entire life hanging out with. These are just nice people, they’re likable people but in the end they’re still people; imperfect and with their own challenges, weaknesses and failures to contend with.
I think weakness is a very apt word to mention with regards to Fune wo Amu’s characters. None of the characters feel like they’re annoying, aggravating or even that they have faults. No, what it feels like, for lack of a better term, is that the characters have well.. “character” to them. Mitsuya Majime, the main character for example, is a quiet, timid but earnest and dedicated man. He’s not your typical lead, but there’s a genuine sense of goodness and care that exudes from the man, as the story progresses and shows every little aspect of him. Majime is timid, a genius with words and hard working, but he’s not the best at expressing himself or communicating with people. Yet he’s insanely likable and carves a place for himself in an office of very expressive coworkers.
And Majime is just one character. Contrasting him quiet beautifully is his best friend Masashi Nishioka, who doesn’t have the same passion or drive as Majime, but loves people, understands them and is what you’d call a social butterfly. But rather than look down upon those who have passion, like Majime, Nishioka actually appreciates, respects and admires them. That’s to say nothing of characters like Araki (the former Editor-in-Chief of the Dictionary Editing Department), or the pleasant wise old man and director Tomosuke Matsumoto. There’s also a nice band of supporting characters like the office contract worker Sasaki, Majime’s love interest Kaguya and Remi Miyoshi who ends up joining a new employee in the latter half of the show.
These are characters that don’t feel larger than life, but rather feel like they’re very much living life. And while its hard to describe, the joy and the experience of seeing a decade of these characters’ lives is something truly amazing.
A big part of that decade, is of course the mammoth task that these characters end up undertaking; Creating a new modern dictionary that is intended for the more contemporary, modern life in Japan. I try to limit my use of the phrase “There’s nothing quite like this show”, but Fune wo Amu is one of the few shows that merits and deserves that honor because of how it makes something seemingly mundane, so darn interesting and emotionally resonant.
Its shows like this one, shows that push the boundaries of what could be considered pure entertainment, that really elevate the medium of anime itself. Anime is a medium that can have everything from Giant Robots and flashey Ninjas, to a quiet, sombre and reflective story about a small, scrappy underfunded Dictionary Editing Department creating their magnum Opus. Its something that you just don’t expect to see, let alone experience and enjoy.
Now… For all the praises I’ve sung of this series, there is one big caveat to the whole thing. The fact is that Fune wo Amu isn’t a show for everyone. I say that, because I know that not everyone is perhaps capable of taking the time to appreciate a slow, elegant show like this. A show that spends its opening moments developing a tone and atmosphere rather than creating a sense of drama or real impact. Its a show that’s aimed at a much older, maturer audience, one that has probably grown up reading and appreciating classical literature. Like a good novel or story, Fune wo Amu is a slow burn that quietly sows the seeds for something amazing.
At its core, Fune wo Amu is a show about people and real life, and its a show that does a fantastic job of showing something that I’d argue actually matters. Seeing a bunch of people dedicate their lives to a passion project that is made to benefit everyone in society, is the kind of story and the kind of message, that is actually inspiring and heartwarming.
Its nearly impossible to watch Fune wo Amu and not begin to question and think about what direction your own life should be taking, and where and what you should be doing with yourself. The fact that an animated series, a piece of fiction and entertainment can inspire such thoughts and feelings of self-reflection? I think that, is what makes it high art.
And its because the core and the majority of this show is so good, that I’m more or less willing to give it the glorified recommendation it deserves. Will this appeal to everyone? Probably not. Its a slow show sure, and its a quiet one that doesn’t immediately grab the attention. But its a show that has heart, passion and charm, and can be powerful enough to drive you to tears, whether they’re tears of happiness or tears of sadness.
I also won’t say that the show is perfect. There are imperfections here and there. The biggest is perhaps the rather tone deaf “Educate Me!” interludes that seem to be in every episode for some reason. The idea is noble, since its using cute mascot characters to try and educate the audience, but the shift in tone is so different, so jarring and frankly, so childish, that it really feels out of place in the show. The animation has its dips in quality here and there as well, although the art direction is simply stellar.
Speaking of direction, The music direction and voice work are just exemplary, with the right tone felt throughout with regards to the sound track. The voice acting is of course, top tier, and one of the big reasons as to why every character feels like a person, more so than a character. Its worth noting that this show actually has a rather small cast of characters, but the chemistry and the way each and every actor plays off of one another, is something to be commended and respected.
And the thing about the entire production is that it prevents Fune wo Amu from being the mundane story that its detractors probably think it is. If the pacing, the artwork, the direction, the dialogue, the writing, the voice work, the sound work, if even one of those things had lagged a little, then I don’t think this show could’ve been as good as it is. And the fact of the matter is that its really easy to not notice how good the craftsmanship is for a show like this, because of how it all flows together. That’s the unfortunate problem with experiences like this. If the artists and the production staff do their job right, then the audience will hardly notice anything, and instead be entranced in a rather gripping experience.
It’s also worth mentioning that Fune wo Amu is a complete, satisfying, thoughtful and emotional experience. Fune wo Amu starts its story with its first episode, and slowly but surely moves through its entire tale in the span of just 11 episodes. A series of 11 episodes, one that will probably only be appreciated by those wise and mature enough to understand it. A show that will probably always stand out as a welcome exception in the anime medium, rather than the rule. How is that not a show worth watching?
In closing, I do think that its a tragedy that more people didn’t see this show in the Fall 2016 season that it aired. US audiences for sure, were unable to see this legally, as Amazon had exclusive rights to the show, but never released it on their service (at least, as of writing this review). I do hope that Amazon does decide to release this show at some point, because its just the kind of show that can easily be buried and forgotten with time. If you can, I think you owe it to yourself to give Fume wo Amu a shot. It may very well be an unforgettable experience. It gets an A+ and a heartfelt recommendation from me at least.
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