Fune wo Amu – 11 (Fin)

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Last week restored my faith in Fune wo Amu’s ability to engage and pull its audience in with an up-against-the-wall crisis that requires a tremendous group effort to pull off. But that same goodwill didn’t quite carry over in the show’s eleventh and final episode, which only reinforced a problem I’ve had since the eighth episode pushed us forward so many years without warning.

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I understand how the show basically needed to show us the ultimate payoff of a published Great Passage, but I maintain that it didn’t have enough time to tell that story, nor would extending the effort across, say, a full 26-episode series would have been possible before getting stale, monotonous, or over-contrived in an effort to stoke up some drama.

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Before the dictionary officially goes on sale, Matsumoto suddenly succombs to esophageal cancer he only told his comrades a day or so before his death. His death has been telegraphed so much, it didn’t elicit a shock in me so much as a shrug. Again, his death only underlines the problematic nature of leaping so far ahead in the dictionary’s timeline to a point where most people only look slightly different, but suddenly Matsumoto is at death’s door.

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The missing words episode was a temporary diversion from the fact the development of the dictionary didn’t feel as epic as it should have because the show skipped too much time.  Ditto Matsumoto’s death. He seemed like a nice guy and all, but he was a character with a tendency to spout flowery philosophy and little else. Post time-jump, it was hard to get a handle on the characters were; spending so much time with the new hire didn’t help matters.

So yeah, Fune wo Amu was, to me, the definition of “watchable,” but I won’t lie: I’m glad there’s no twelfth episode, because I’ve been mostly checked out since episode 6, when Majime’s attainment of Kaguya was sold as the Most Important Thing going on in the show, without ever really getting into why the two liked, let alone loved, each other.

The show had glimmers of greatness, but couldn’t help but feel either too drawn-out (earlier in the story) or too rushed (after the time jump). And there’s only so many ways you can present the metaphor of a ship lighting the way.

Considering how carefully the dictionary at the heart of its story was planned and prepared, Fune wo Amu too often felt unsure of itself and random in where it chose to focus its attention. That made it hard to stay involved.

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Fune wo Amu – 10

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There’s a missing word in The Great Passage. The ship has a hole in the hull before it’s been launched. That’s actually a good thing; better now than when it was on sale. But Majime can’t let this one word go.

There could be others, so he mobilizes a small army of temps, and together with Kishibe and Araki, sets to work re-checking each and every one of the Passage’s 240,000 words.

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It’s a massive undertaking due to the limited time frame — which is never actually stated, but must limited, or else everyone wouldn’t work almost around the clock and not leave the editorial office. Fatigue inevitable sets in, and like it did in “33”, the first (and best) episode of Battlestar Galactica, it’s engrossing to behold.

Not necessarily Majime’s too-on-the-nose dreams of words escaping through a tear in his “construct“, but in the way people start to get slower and more tired, but still have a job to do, and struggle through. It adds a welcome touch of adventure to the proceedings.

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Of course, eventually Majime has to send everyone home to get some real sleep (no Cylons chasing them, thankfully), and he comes home to a Kaguya who is nothing but warm, loving, and caring, feeding Majime a home-cooked meal before sending him back out to fight the good fight.

Kaguya understands pride in one’s work; she’s an accomplished restaurateur. She knows it’s pride that drives her husband to ensure without a shadow of a doubt that the ship he’s building is as perfect as he can make it.

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Marking time throughout the episode (in addition to the changes in people as they tire) is a huge table where each section completed is marked in red. For much of the episode less than half of it is marked, but it eventually becomes fully red.

In the surprisingly thrilling final minutes, Kishibe, Araki, and lastly Majime officially finish the checking, immediately after which the legion of temps, all of them having just shared a life-changing experience they won’t soon forget, either cheer in exultation or breathe deep sighs of relief it’s finally over.

Only it isn’t. The book still must be printed, bound, put on sale, marketed, and most importantly, it must sell, or everyone involved will likely have to fall on their swords, Majime most of all.

As for Matsumoto, he’s seemed ill since the time-shift (which the show somewhat cheekily nearly admits was pretty abrupt, as hardly anyone’s appearance has changed), and the episode’s final shot in his empty house seems to suggest he may not live to see The Great Passage leave port.

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Fune wo Amu – 09

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Kishibe is a lover of words – but also, apparently, of alcohol, and is a bit of a lightweight. Still, she powers through hangovers to work hard under Majime, and The Great Passage starts its final phases of construction. It’s about this time Kishibe tries, through Nishioka, to understand her chief a little better.

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Nishioka sets her on a little mini treasure hunt that leads her to Majime’s love letter to Kaguya, which Nishioka (somewhat creepily) photocopied and hid in a book in the stacks. Still, it gets the job done: Kishibe sees how carefully (if variably successfully) Majime chooses words from the many many words he knows, and is amused, heartened, and inspired by his efforts to woo his future wife.

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The overwhelmed feeling Kishibe had is replaced by stalwart optimism, which she successfully transfers to the paper guy, Miyamoto, even as Majime rejects paper after paper. But since the editors like Kishibe are working so hard, Miaymoto keeps at it, until he finally gets the right balance of strength and stickiness.

Unfortunately, with The Great Passage set to be launched (i.e. published), Kishibe spots a leak, and all of a sudden Majime wonders in horror what other words may be missing. Will the great ship sink on its maiden voyage, or is this just a problem all of those who dared to make great dictionaries were faced with in the final stages?

This was another *okay* episode, but ever since Majime finally made his feelings known to Kaguya, the show has frankly felt a bit sedate (well, more sedate than usual). The time jump of many years still seems like an awkward move, as the characters look pretty much the same.

As for characters continuing to wax philosophical about the power of dictionaries and words, well…everything’s pretty much been said already, so it’s getting rather repetitive.

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Fune wo Amu – 08

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When newbie Kishibe arrives at the dictionary editorial department, she’s surprised to learn the only other full-time employee there is Majime. She comes from a fashion magazine, and like Nishioka, didn’t have much choice in transferring. This episode centers on her, and as a result, I felt a little bit of, as she herself puts it, “out of placeness” coming off of it.

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When Majime’s paper guy shows up with samples that have the right thickness and opacity but aren’t sticky enough for TGP, it’s clear said TGP is coming along, if slowly. We later learn thirteen years have passed since TGP was started. That’s a huge time leap, and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. It’s shocking how much time has been skipped over, just to end up in another relatively sleepy workaday episode.

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Other changes include an ailing Matsumoto, a part-time Araki, a slightly older-looking Kaguya who is now both a restaurant owner and Majime’s supportive wife. There’s no shrine to her mother, but we don’t see her, so she may have passed in the interim. At her welcoming party, Kishibe has a little too much to drink and freaks out about not being able to cut it as a dictionary editor.

When Majime’s words of encouragement don’t work, Nishioka tracks her down and shows her how being good with words, as she is, is a very good thing. Her confidence thus buoyed, she asks Majime, and he agrees, to let her edit his own fashion definitions, which she finds “lacking.” Turns out her experience in another field will help enrich TGP.

I just wish so much damn time hadn’t passed so quickly. It’s disorienting! Ah well.

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Fune wo Amu – 07

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After another scene illustrating how hemmed-in Nishioka feels, having to force his girlfriend to walk far ahead of him on the way to work, and decline the squid ink paella place lest they be seen there together, we get into the nitty-gritty of manuscript editing.

Matumoto proudly listens as Nishioka and Majime work like a two-part well-oiled machine as they sift through Professor Oda’s extraneous verbiage and cut to the core of what a certain Great Passage word definition should consist of and why.

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It’s just a shame they only have one more month together. This is a show that seems to shift between Majime and Nishioka; the former too often a prisoner within himself, the latter too often a prisoner to outside forces, like the ones that enabled the Passage to survive.

But while Majime is sad to see Nishioka go, as Nishioka seems sad to be leaving something he felt at the time was very important, they’re still pulling for each other in the future, even if that immediate future doesn’t involve working together.

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We simply don’t see any of the aftermath of Majime and Kaguya connecting; only the indication that things are moving along fine, with Majime going to Apricot to sample the first dinner she has full control over; essentially to support her on her next step on the long road to realizing her goals.

Nishioka has a nice girlfriend in Remi, but definitely seems to dislike how careful they have to be in public (not sure why this is, so I’m assuming it’s company policy). It’s nice to see their domestic scenes together as a contrast to the distance they must flub when out in the world, but it can’t go on this way if Nishioka is to be truly happy.

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When Professor Oda calls Nishioka in to bitch at him about the extreme editing to his manuscript Majime has done, as well as to complain about the lateness of his transfer announcement, Nishioka turns up the charm, flattering Oda by saying most other writers need far more editing than he.

It’s when Oda tries to get Nishioka to kneel down in apology to him that Nishioka finally demurs. He feels such grovelling beneath the noble builders of The Great Passage, and instead essentially blackmails Oda with his knowledge of his young student mistress.

With Oda back under control, Nishioka goes a little further, rebelling against the same structures that give weight to his threats against Oda by texting Remi to meet him for dinner at the squid ink paella place. Appearances be damned: he’s going to live and enjoy himself.

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Fune wo Amu – 06

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Majime barely seems to sleep through a night when he’s waiting for Kaguya to reply to his letter, but early in the morning when they finally meet in the hall, he runs away, scared of rejection. If she has bad news for him, he doesn’t want to hear it.

For Nishioka, the time to announce his impending departure from the department comes at an awkward time, but his hand is forced when the elders take stock of the group’s difficulties but looks to the first modern Japanese dictionary, the Genkai, for inspiration, knowing the five of them can do it. Nishioka makes sure they understand it’s four, not five now.

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When Majime hears of this, and of all the extra work not suited for him he may have to take on in Nishioka’s absence, he has a little bit of a freakout, as the pleasant dusk turns dark and foreboding, waves lap at his feet, then solidify into a thick mud into which he slowly descends. All of a sudden he’s become overwhelmed with doubt in both love and life.

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That night, at the boarding house, he goes into the library, a lovely cozy space positively packed with books, to both calm and steel himself. He finds the house copy of the Genkai, and finds an archaic word for chef (translated as “kitchener”).

He realizes a dictionary’s value, like the words within it, change with time. The Genkai is now a repository of Japanese linguistic history. He re-asserts his determination to complete The Great Passage, come hell or high mud.

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He also gains the confidence to ask Kaguya, who has just come home, for an answer to his love letter. Kaguya is caught off guard by his use of that term, and runs up to her room.

Majime is almost certain this means rejection, but it’s the opposite: she merely wanted to read it again, certain that it was a love letter (she wasn’t sure before). In truth, she has feelings for him too.

I loved the subtlety of her motions and the quietness and warmth of this scene. We’ll see how the happy couple proceeds from here.

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Fune wo Amu – 05

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Majime decides to take the next step with Kaguya the best way he knows how: with words. Lots of them. He asks Nishioka to look the thick missive over, and Nishioka is initially weary of the stiffness of its contents. Of course, Nishioka is also waiting for the other shoe to drop on the mischief he’s perpetrated on behalf of the Dictionary Editorial department and The Great Passage.

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His punishment turns out to be a transfer to the PR department (where he originally wanted to go when he started out) and the adding of a starter dictionary revision to the department’s already formidable workload. He lets the others know about the latter price, but holds off on telling them he’ll be leaving them in the Spring. Better to let them work, and get excited about their sample pages.

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After a long day of reassuring professors (and possibly some drinking as well), Nishioka returns home to his girlfriend Miyoshi, who works in the PR department he’s transferring to, and who made a rare phone call to him in the middle of the day to check up on him, reinforcing her role as Nishioka’s rock. No matter what becomes of him at the company, it feels like he’ll be okay as long as he has her. And she seems heartened by his determination to do everything he can for his colleagues before he has to go.

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As for Majime’s love letter, Nishioka actually seems to get pretty absorbed in it—that is, the parts that he can understand; there’s some Chinese poetry in there. He gives it the okay, so Majime waits by the boarding house’s genkan for Kaguya to come home from work, then delivers the document containing all his feelings to her personally. We’ll see where this goes.

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Fune wo Amu – 04

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Nishioka not only has the unhappy task of relaying the rumor their department’s ship may be scrapped before it gets out of drydock, but also comes up with a solution that might prevent the scrapping from taking place.

That solution requires him to use the skills that make him invaluable to the department outside its dusty walls: the ability to pound the pavement; schmooze and flatter; wheel and deal.

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The idea is, the more rumors spread about The Great Passage, the harder it will be for the publisher to cancel it without causing harm to their reputation. It also sound like a fine way to get on said publisher’s bad side.

The montage of everyone doing their part while Nishioka does his is…a bit sedate, but that’s the point. Like everything in this department, getting favorable result requires intense preparation, attention to detail, and patience. Those results don’t come fast…if they come at all.

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While on a well-earned day off, Nishioka opens up to his girlfriend about the “predicament” he’s in: a normal guy in a weird, “masochistic” job that will keep him busy until he’s bald, sharing an office with a weird guy who seems almost too perfect for the job of writing dictionaries.

I like how his girlfriend is mostly like “Uh-huh, that sounds rough bae, BRB need another beer!” but it’s an interesting and very different peek into Nishioka’s personal life that contrasts sharply with Majime’s in almost every way.

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I say almost because right not Majime also has not one but two women in his life: an old landlady trying to get him to court her granddaughter. Kaguya is pretty and seems nice enough, but she has yet to engender in me the same awe she does in Majime.

And sure, they share a desire to keep fighting for something even though it’s not quick or easy, and do make the episode’s titular “steady progress” by actually having a conversation, but it’s still a bit too steady (and early) for me to buy their romance.

Then again, love has many forms and colors, and theirs just may not be the flying-sparks variety, but something quieter, subtler, more outwardly mundane but inwardly profound.

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Fune wo Amu – 03

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Though it felt very dreamlike, Majime’s encounter with a beautiful raven-haired woman under the full moon wasn’t a dream; the woman is his landlady’s granddaughter, Kaguya (who happened to be born under a full moon), who is living at the boarding house for the time being as she trains to be a Japanese chef at Apricot, a nearby restaurant.

Majime’s interaction with her is…minimal so far, to say the least. He isn’t able to get a word out when they meet in the doorway, and he’s very troubled by this. Their initial encounter on the balcony was also portrayed as dramatically and profoundly as it must’ve felt to Majime, who is, after all, still a virgin and a total novice when it comes to women.

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By all indications, Nishioka isn’t exactly a casanova himself, but he’s Hugh freaking Hefner compared to Majime, and vows to take Majime under his wing in this endeavor. While he can claim more experience talking to, courting, and yes, sleeping with women, it’s Majime who’s far more at home and leading the way in the office, and Nishioka can’t help but be swept up in his search for word definitions.

When Matsumoto brings up the necessity of the editors of The Great Passage to check their biases and think about the experiences of those not like them when working on the dictionary, Nishioka can’t resist bringing up Majime’s virginity, and how that could adversely effect his performance on subjects pertaining to romance.

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This leads to the other editors asking about Kaguya, and when Nishioka learns she works at Apricot, the whole gang goes out to eat there, giving Majime a solid in. Kaguya is surprised he picked up on her hint to drop by so soon, but then again, she can clearly see he has friends in his co-workers willing to nudge him along.

Only baby steps are taken here, but Kaguya seems like the patient type. Like the builders of The Great Passage, she is undertaking something that will take years to master, but there’s no other way to feed her passion, so she’s going to do it. Majime can relate: he wants to accomplish something too, no matter how long it takes.

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Unfortunately, if that’s completing the Passage, a wrench is thrown into his goal late in the episode, but very early in the show: while in the bathroom in the new main building, Nishioka overhears that the Passage may be scrapped.

Looks like in addition to building the ship, the Dictionary Department will have to defend her value to the bureaucracy, lest The Great Passage never feel the lapping of the waves against her bow.

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Fune wo Amu – 02

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When I was in Tokyo, I availed myself of the impeccable (compared to my city) mass transit, not just to get from Point A to Point B, but because I have an affinity for trains, and subways in particular. It was like I had died and gone to heaven: the unique aesthetics of the individual stations, the elaborate yet useful signage, the machines that sold everything from drinks to books.

Oh, and the people. Never did a single person block the opening doors of a train. People got in tidy lines, often using the lines on the platform, and ingress and egress were smooth and efficient, and ultimately quicker than if it was every person for themselves. Especially in the early mornings, it was a rush and a crush, but it all worked, and it was all polite and precise.

When Majime speaks almost wistfully about the way people on the subway got into neat lines (as if controlled by some unseen power…called courtesy!) and rode the escalators up and down, I could relate. I was on vacation after all; I had no particular place to be, nor any particular time to be there. Majime also takes his time, and Araki and Matsumoto are impressed by how he’s able to express how he enjoys his “hobby” of escalator-watching.

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The point is, everything is “fun” for someone, even if it’s boring for others, or even most people. Majime finds observing humans on the go fun. Matsumoto and Araki find dictionary-making fun—why else be in the business so long? And Majime’s new job, for which he seems preternaturally well-suited, also looks like a lot of fun.

His new office is an old, dim, dusty building (once the main building for the company), and there are stacked books with colored tags and shelves full of tiny cards, containing hundreds of thousands of words and their definitions. It is, to use the symbolism of the show, a shipyard—the place where the ship The Great Passage will be built, patiently, steadily, over a period of ten years.

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Majime seems pleased with his new position, and eager to contribute…but it’s working together with other people (rather than simply observing them) that troubles him. He’s unsure he’ll fit in, and even more worried he’ll let the others down.

His landlady Take asserts that he really shouldn’t be sweating such things at his age. Socializing with people is give-and-take, plain and simple. Take the two of them: she essentially exchanges hot, tasty meals for company, but through multiple encounters over however many months or years he’s lived in the boarding house, and it’s as if a different symbolic ship has been constructed—a friendship, to quote Mr. Burns—and Take’s able to say with confidence dictionary editor is the perfect job for young Majime.

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This episode is called “Encounter”, and it’s not just his new job, his new colleagues, and the great new undertaking he encounters. It’s a beautiful young woman, posed perfectly in front of a huge yellow moon, whom he encounters by chance while looking for his big fat orange cat Tiger.

Majime is literally taken aback by the sight of this striking person, and likely even more intrigued that she’d playfully take the words meant for Tiger (“There you are…I’ve come to get you”) as words he meant for her. No doubt she’ll play a big role in Majime’s growth in the coming episodes.

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Fune wo Amu – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: The beginnings of a story about building a great ship called The Great Passage to navigate the “sea of words”—in other words, a dictionary. Retiring editor-in-chief Araki Kouhei of Genbu Publishing’s Dictionary Department is looking for a successor. His subbordinate Nishioka Masashi inadvertently discovers one in Majime Mitsuya, an socially awkward salesman with a knack for defining words.

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Why You Should Watch: First of all, this is a grown-up show, and by that I don’t mean it’s full of boobs and curse words. It’s got adult characters with subtle adult problems. The stakes are low, unless you care about one of the many dictionaries on the market one day fizzling out due to a lack of strong leadership or inspiration.

It’s also a show that revels in its ordinariness, making cuts to the proverbial “sea of words” or scenes of words jumping off the page all the more striking. Majime isn’t in the middle of some kind of life crisis, wondering where he went wrong: he’s merely in the wrong job at first. Araki sees him for the talented student of words that he is and puts him in the right one.

By presenting relatively ordinary people with only slightly offbeat jobs (editing dictionaries is specialized work, but not overly strange—someone’s gotta put them together) in an ordinary Tokyo, the world of Fune wo Amu is very easy to settle into and its people easy to empathize with.

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Why You Shouldn’t Watch: If you’re looking for over-the-top drama or comedy, you’re in the wrong place. This is pretty straightforward, almost overly earnest grown-up storytelling. As I said, the only thing at stake is the continued success of a publication.

Parts of the city are nicely rendered but the animation of characters is nothing fancy. And while this episode brough Majime and Araki together pretty quickly, it did it at its own leaisurely pace, giving moments time to breathe.

The Verdict: In order to consider one more Fall show to add to my list this late in the game, Fune wo Amu had to demonstrate it was not only something worth watching, but something perhaps worth knocking another show off to watch.

It didn’t knock my socks off, but I’d say both it, Gi(a)rlish Number, and WWW.Working!! had equally enjoyable starts, but it had the most creative premise, so I’ll keep all three workplace shows for now.

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