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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