Fune wo Amu and the Words of Dialogue

by BanjoTheBear

Fune wo Amu / Episode 2 / The Daitokai dictionary in figurative form

What does dialogue do for a story?

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

That’s the start to one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies, and it’s arguably his most well-known line. It comes from Hamlet, a play about the titular prince as he attempts to uncover the unjust death against his father (the king) while he contemplates life and semi-devolves into madness.

It’s been on my mind because I recently finished 1948’s Hamlet [1], starring Sir Laurence Olivier as the prince himself. (He also directed and produced the film; he could do it all.) The acting was great, and the specter was spooky, but it was really Shakespeare’s words that drove the entire story. Puns, memorable quotes. More specifically, the dialogues — be that with a group, one other person, or with themselves — created the drama and breathed life into the characters.

Shortly after completing Hamlet, I also finished an anime that went somewhat undetected during the Fall 2016 season: Fune wo Amu. This anime likewise places heavy emphasis on words but to a more thematic level. So, it got me thinking. How does Fune wo Amu use its own words to craft dialogue?

The following essay will investigate dialogue. What it is, what it can do, and ultimately what it creates. Hopefully, by the end of this piece, you will not only have a better appreciation of Fune wo Amu but also a greater understanding of dialogue as a whole.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Dialogue: A Discussion

In film and literature, the words that characters say are most often part of a dialogue. A dialogue (as the word itself details) is a conversation between two individuals. They may be talking about themselves, their situation, or anything in-between. No the matter case, dialogue represents a vital aspect to almost any tale imaginable.

Unfortunately, it’s an element that’s sometimes taken for granted. Talking is a fundamental part of life, so the audience practically expects dialogue to appear within a story. Indeed, the vast majority of films and novels and shows would be unwatchable if they were stripped of the dialogue they contain.

Fune wo Amu / Episode 7 / Nishioka and Majime have an earnest conversation

Crafting these words, though, is a tough business. How friends and family talk in the real world is surprisingly very different from how characters in a fictional story hold a dialogue. Interruptions, mundane topics, extra verbiage.

Dialogues can certainly have these elements, but, for the most part, the words shared need to be the “correct” ones for a given moment. They cannot be bland. They cannot sound unnatural. They cannot lack purpose.

Thus, dialogue serves two critical roles in a story: to further the plot and to reveal character. [2]

To be frank, Fune wo Amu does not have the greatest banter, the wittiest lines, or even the strongest dialogue. But that doesn’t stop it from demonstrating how to use dialogue effectively.

Dialogue Furthers the Plot

Dialogue of the plot variety can sometimes take the form of what’s called exposition. Exposition occurs when a character begins to explain specific details, usually to setup the background of a character, the rules in place, or the events at large.

Many critics and those in the audience tend to dislike expository writing. It doesn’t always have the same nuance as normal, everyday conversations, and it can forego intrigue with its direct, boring delivery. However, exposition isn’t automatically bad. [3] It simply requires a bit more finesse.

Technically the second scene of the series, Fune wo Amu starts its tale with exposition. Araki and Matsumoto-sensei, the middle-aged editor and the elder supervisor respectively, sit down at a restaurant and talk with each other. While rather on the nose, it gets the job done. From their dialogue, the audience knows the overall problem (creating a dictionary) and what the immediate goal is (finding a successor). In these couple of minutes, the anime creates the foundation for its plot, giving it a clear heading from the get-go.

Fune wo Amu / Episode 1 / Araki and Matsumoto-sensei engaging in dialogue

When dialogue focuses on the plot but not exposition, it’s working to push events forward. Another way to phrase it? “Dialogue is a catalyst; it should cause something to happen.” [4] This “something” isn’t always the same, though. Maybe it forces a character to take action. Maybe it unveils a twist or other important detail. Maybe it creates conflict that wasn’t around before.

Fune wo Amu chooses the latter option in episode nine. Midori, the new hire, stumbles upon a small mistake in their almost-ready-to-be-released dictionary: a missing word. She rushes to tell Majime, and, when he realizes the grave error, it kicks off the final conflict of the season.

Without her small bit of dialogue, she wouldn’t have said anything, Majime wouldn’t have known, and no conflict would have occurred. (Not to mention that their dictionary would be incomplete.) That is to say, her dialogue caused something to happen.

Dialogue Reveals Character

Arguably much more interesting and involved, dialogue that aims to reveal details about the characters provides the nuance, the complexity, and the flair that the audience craves.

Dialogue shows “mood and emotion, tone and accent” [5] through cadence and acting. Most importantly, however, it allows characters to express themselves. Pinpointing parts of their personality. Highlighting specific characteristics. Adding weight to their actions.

For example, in episode two of Fune wo Amu, most of the main cast hold a welcoming party for Majime. As they dine and talk, Nishioka’s different dialogues reveal a lot more about him. He tries to give cheers first before introductions, indicating his energetic attitude. His supportive nature shines through as he tells Majime to stop being so nervous and proposes a group date for the without-a-girlfriend escalator watcher. He reacts to teasing and comments and questions with a silliness that captures his strong social skills.

Episode four also holds a nice scene of dialogue. Kaguya talks honestly with Majime. She says, “Ferris wheels are similar to cooking. No matter how delicious the meal you make is, it’s not the end, but actually the beginning.” With these words, Kaguya expresses her determination, inspiring Majime to do the same. And, when he says that this amusement park ride is his favorite, and she agrees, the anime foreshadows her feelings for Majime and their eventual romantic relationship.

Fune wo Amu / Episode 8 / Midori explaining the word

The best example, though, comes from episode eight. When Midori first arrives at the Dictionary Editorial Department, she feels as if she doesn’t belong. (“Away-kan” is the word she uses.) However, once she speaks privately with Nishioka, it’s clear that that’s not true.

He asks her to define the word “right.” While her first couple of attempts don’t match, her final solution (the direction East points) does match the one Majime gave in his dialogue with Araki back in the first episode. Midori’s dialogue not only makes for a neat callback but also proves her penchant for words, creating this wonderful little scene that bolsters her character.

To clarify, dialogue isn’t always needed. It’s welcome, no doubt, but anime and other visual mediums must keep in mind the sensitive show-and-tell balance.

Before Majime speaks with Kaguya on that Ferris wheel, *Fune wo Amu* initially builds his character upon his awkwardness. His inability to take part in dialogues with other people. In fact, his lack of words during his first opportunity to talk with Kaguya at the start of episode three says just as much, if not more, about him than if he had actually said anything at all.

Knowing when and where to use dialogue comes down to context, but suffice it to say that dialogue is important — even when it’s not around.

Final Thoughts

So, what have we learned?

First, dialogue furthers the plot. As exposition, it gives the audience necessary details to understand the base narrative. And, as a plot catalyst, it creates extra conflicts that lead to reactions and drama which add more layers to the story.

Fune wo Amu / Episode 3 / Majime officially

Second, dialogue reveals character. Through sharing words, characters of a story highlight their personalities, display their motivations, and follow their arcs. As such, these byproducts flesh out the rest of a story’s elements, thereby strengthening the project as a whole.

Dialogue is a vital aspect that can propel a project from passable to unforgettable. So, the next time you are watching an anime, make note of the words being said and praise their ability to expand the story. For you may just find that dialogue needs no questioning!

List of References:

[1] Hamlet (1948) Film Information

[2] “The Social Network: Designing Dialogue”

[3] “In Praise of Exposition”

[4] “Dialogue — The Speech of Fiction”

[5] “Revealing Characters Through Dialogue”