Great Pretender – 11 – Mr. Nice Guy

After the high-rolling glitz and glamour of LaLaLand and Singapore, Great Pretender’s newest destination of Nice feels downright quaint … and that’s not a bad thing! Makoto may have followed Laurent and Cynthia to France, but he’s determined to walk away from con artistry and make an honest living at one of Nice’s not-so-famed sushi restaurants.

Unfortunately both his philosophy towards sushi and the language barrier prove to be dual challenges. On the bright side, his boarding house is cheap, has great food, and the owner’s daughter is quite lovely. But when a hoity-toity Englishman samples Makoto’s boss’ sushi and absolutely eviscerates him with withering criticism, the boss is ready to throw in the towel and return to China.

Another blow comes when Makoto gradually learns that his lovely hosts will soon sell their boarding house due to debts owed by the owner’s wife. Soon to be out of a job and a home, what’s Makoto to do? Run a con, obviously! Specifically, he intends to sell an intriguing little painting hanging on the wall for a sum sufficient to help the father-daughter duo pay off the debt and keep the house.

While it’s technically a con, Makoto’s justifications for re-re-breaking bad are twofold: one, it’s to help people out—he’s a Nice guy in Nice, after all—and two, the target is the hoity-toity Englishman who insulted his sushi boss. So he calls in Cynthia, Abby, and Sudou—though pointedly keeps Laurent out of it. Maybe my favorite part of the episode is his quiet, understated reunion and quasi-date with Abby. The two have clearly become closer since their little skydive!

Since this is Makoto’s show, Cynthia lets him run it, but the moment she sees the Englishman she calls for everyone to pull out. After all, the guy is none other than Coleman … James Coleman, Art Appraiser par excellence. Trying to fool him is a fool’s errand. Makoto doesn’t abort, however, and to Abby’s surprise Coleman is happy to buy the seemingly worthless painting for twenty-five thousand Euros.

Turns out the joke was on Makoto: the painting was a genuing Montoya, and a rare lost one at that which Coleman had apparently been looking for for years. He bought it for 25 thousand, but it’s really worth over 20 million—something Makoto’s landlord and daughter learn on the news.

But while they still got twenty thousand (Makoto didn’t keep any for himself, the other five split between Abby and Sudou), it still doesn’t sit right with Makoto that they were the ones taken for a ride. Despite not taking any of the cut, Cynthia is also outraged, and when she gets drunk enough, she decides that their next move is to get the painting back!

Magia Record – 07 – If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em

Felicia is escorted by Black Feathers to a pair of higher-ranked White Feathers of the Wings of the Magius, Amane Tsukuyo and her twin sister Tsukasa. True believers in their organization, they are committed to the “salvation” of magical girls, though let’s be honest, that could mean anything!

Nevertheless, their goal of destroying all witches is very much enticing to the vengeful Felicia, as is the prospect of free room and board for an essentially homeless orphan. Kyouko also likes how all of the things she’d rather not worry about are taken care of, freeing her to do what she loves: defeat witches and collect grief seeds.

However, the longer they stay in the company of the Wings of the Magius, the worse and worse the deal looks. Yachiyo has a GPS fix on Felicia, so she, Iroha, and Tsuruno follow after her, prepared for anything. They are blocked by the Amane twins, who are polite and inviting, but also very clear that Felicia and Kyouko are now new members, while the other three are intruders.

With Kyouko already questioning why she’d have “no need” for Grief Seeds (I guess as long as she drinks the Owl Water her luck will keep her Gem clear?), Felicia suddenly feels betrayed when the Amane twins unleash a huge group of captive witches on Iroha, Yachiyo and Tsuruno. She doesn’t care if the Wings “control” them with magic or not; she hates witches!

When the witches are mostly defeated, the Amane sisters’ gems become very murky, but they were apparently hoping for that, and undergo a transformation similar to what happened to Iroha, when a witch-like version of herself emerged from her gem and went berserk. This happens to the Amanes, and then it happens to Iroha, who manages to defeat the Uwasa’s core all by herself.

Turns out she’s not so weak after all…but controlling her “witchy side” won’t be easy. As for the Amanes, thy seem worried about how their boss will react to their failure, and that boss turns out to be Mifuyu, the real version, not the Seance Shrine echo. She claims to have been “left behind”, insinuating Yachiyo and the others had something to do with it, but Yachiyo has no intention of joining the Wings, so they part ways with the rift intact.

With the consequences for running out of luck now gone, Iroha offers Felicia a place to stay, even though she’s about to move herself. Yachiyo offers a room at her empty boarding house, and Iroha cooks everyone a nice meal; Felicia’s first. Then the last lucky happenstance occurs: the boarding house Iroha’s parents assigned to her is…Mikazuki Villa, Yachiyo’s house.

This episode ends with the magical girls learning a bit more about their Wings of Magius rivals and in a comfy, amicable new living situation that’s conducive to further cooperation and bonding. It’s a shame Mifuyu may be lost to the cult of Magius, but at least Felicia seems to be on firmer ground, now that she’s starting to understand that she is her own most important client for her “mercenary” work.

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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