Review/discussion about: Fune wo Amu
I believe I have written this anecdote before, but it’s entirely too relevant to not bring up again.
In the fourth grade, I “read” the entire dictionary. “Read” is in quotes there because, while I technically read through it, I didn’t read all the definitions. I simply read each word. In order. From A to Z.
In my mind, doing so would make me “smarter.” I have always been prideful of my intelligence, of wanting to prove my brains to the world. Doubly so when I was a young kid who had everyone telling him I was overly smart for my age.
I don’t remember too much of my little adventure, for I was “reading” it so fast. I hadn’t realized there were so manywords, but, once I started, I knew I couldn’t stop.
At the minimum, when I finished the dictionary, I had a greater appreciation for words. Not just the amount but the variety, weirdness, and importance of them.
Fune wo Amu isn’t something one reads through quickly. Rather, it’s something that rewards patience with a wholly satisfying experience.
Fune wo Amu begins with Mitsuya Majime, a salesperson who seems a bit out of his element. That is until Araki, Nishioka, Matsumoto-sensei, and Sasaki enlist him to help in the creation of their massive dictionary named Daitokai. Once aboard, Majime starts to feel right at home among the symbols, pages, and words that surround him.
Fune wo Amu is best described as an extremely solid show. It doesn’t do anything fancy or unique or special. But it what sets out to do, it does well, giving the audience a complete, well-rounded story.
One of its earliest goals is to showcase how exactly a dictionary is made and what a dictionary means. The show talks about gathering words, performing mundane triple-checks, sacrificing heaps of time, the various notations involved, and even the type of paper required. While expected, learning more about this very niche profession gives the audience a reference point for just how arduous this task can be.
The anime also includes these cute little interludes between the A and B Parts of each episode. Personifications of the different high-profile dictionaries from Japan discuss their differences, their focuses, and their changes. It heavily contrasts the down-to-earth story being told, but these fun asides further help the audience to understand dictionaries at a more fundamental level (in their own silly way).
That down-to-earth feeling is arguably Fune wo Amu’s biggest strength. When one steps back and looks at the whole season laid out, nothing extravagant really happens. They work, they make their dictionary, they have dinners, they have relationships, and they simply live their lives. Besides perhaps the final conflict of the season, where a missing word forces a complete recheck of the entire dictionary (bringing in interns and extras to help), the anime does not elevate its drama beyond that of everyday life.
After all, the story’s premise focuses on something arguably very mundane: the creation of a dictionary. How fitting it is then that, through this big book of definitions, the anime explores a relatable theme that any audience member can appreciate: the importance of words.
Words give people the power to express themselves. For someone like Majime, he uses words to write a love letter that oozes feelings. For someone like Nishioka, he can use words to both exude personality and support his good friend. For someone like Matsumoto-sensei, he can share his life’s wisdom with all the words he has gathered over his whole life.
It’s not just the words themselves that matter, though. Their use, place, and context do, too. And Fune wo Amu has many strong scenes where its word usage reinforces this idea. For example, in episode three, Majime stammers in shock as Kaguya speaks with him for the first official time, leading to a comedic situation as well as one that perfectly captures his thoughts. Even better, in episode eight, the new hire Kishibe describes the word “right” in the exact same way that Majime did all the way back in episode one, proving that “away-kan” doesn’t fit her current role in the company.
Simultaneously, Fune wo Amu focuses on another idea: the pursuit of perfection. With Ferris wheel symbolism in tow, the anime, through Kaguya’s conversation with Majime, argues that nothing is perfect in life. From her dishes to his dictionary, people constantly struggle to follow their higher calling. And, even when they have accomplished their goals, there’s still more to be done.
It’s a realization. How the end isn’t the end but rather the beginning of something new. A motivation that pushes people to grander heights. Like life itself, it goes on and on. A never-ending cycle that’s not daunting but rather fulfilling beyond what even words can describe.
This theme is not explored as much as the show’s theme on words. However, it does sit subconsciously in the audience’s mind, acting as a nice buffer for the anime as it focuses on relationships, work, and time itself.
Speaking of time, Fune wo Amu follows an interesting narrative path: a thirteen-year time skip in episode eight. It doesn’t come as a surprise to the audience because the characters constantly implied that creating their dictionary would take quite a while. Plus, the company’s underhanded tactics of pushing extraneous work onto them to hamper their progress slows down their work even further.
This plot element ends up as a catch-22. The anime must advance the plot to deliver its conclusion; it wouldn’t make too much sense to not showcase the completion of Daitokai. In doing so, however, the story must skip over a lot of content. Majime and Kaguya’s romance. A massive amount of work involved in creating their dictionary. Nishioka’s time away from the Dictionary Editorial Department.
Arguably, this skipped content is not necessarily important. Indeed, the in-between of the beginning of their journey and the end of their journey would be a bunch of busy work that doesn’t exactly work on a narrative level.
Yet it’s also somewhat tough to justify. When the anime places so much emphasis on words and their ability to connect people together, it seems almost unfair for the story to gloss over a huge part of the lives of these characters. Granted, the audience got to see the starting of these relationships, but the intricacies, changes, and milestones are lost to time.
Fune wo Amu makes another interesting narrative choice near its finale. A choice that’s a bit more on the negative side: Matsumoto-sensei’s death. Matsumoto-sensei’s declining health is alluded to frequently after the time skip, and, sadly, he passes away. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that the anime has him pass away before he gets to see the official completion of Daitokai.
The anime does its best to make it a dramatic plot point. Majime feels absolutely heartbroken that he couldn’t finish their dictionary in time, and Matsumoto-sensei leaves behind a parting letter that describes his contendedness.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well.
His death is shoved into the final episode, leaving little time for the audience to dwell on these events. It also gets in the way of the aftermath of the dictionary. After all the buildup and time spent on it, the payoff isn’t exactly rewarding on an emotional or narrative level because now the audience must juggle both of these pivotal plot points.. And it simply feels unnecessary. Fune wo Amu builds his character on the fact that he’s the most passionate about dictionaries and that this endeavor is perhaps his last. So, for the narrative to deny him his important resolution injects drama where none is needed (let alone wanted).
Despite this odd plot point right at the finish line, the anime ends on an optimistic note. Hearkening back to its theme on life’s cycle, the anime’s last line reads, “And we will build another ship once again,” implying that Majime’s journey and those of everyone else has only just begun.
And with that, Fune wo Amu concludes. It doesn’t overstay its welcome by bogging down the audience with extra ideas or forgotten plotlines. Rather, it reaches a satisfying completion that, while not itself everlasting, leaves its viewers ready to pursue their own perfection, too.
Fune wo Amu starts off rather strong on an animation front. When Araki puts on his suit coat or Nishioka motions his hand at Majime during Majime’s welcoming party, the anime gives these non-extravagant actions extra fluidity that’s evident while watching. Given the mundane day-to-day depictions, these extra frames add a spark to the feeling of the show itself.
Artistically, the backgrounds do not vary too much. The Dictionary Editorial Department and Majime’s residence make up most of the setting. These places, while fitting in their numerous binders and wooden walls, don’t have that same spark the animation brings.
To rectify this lack of spark, Fune wo Amu incorporates on occasion imaginative scenes that derive mostly from Majime’s mind. A flurry of words echoes him awake as he dreams of Kaguya. He and Nishioka stand opposite one another on a thin layer of water filled with words, the green-sky backdrop punctuating their drive. A hole explodes in the fabric of space that spews forth a raging tornado which sucks in the words that he desperately wants to save.
Keeping with realism instead, the character designs strike simply yet superbly. Majime’s frazzled hair, lanky body, oval glasses, and slightly hunched back capture his awkwardness with ease. Kaguya radiates beauty with her long, dark hair, fair face, and mature demeanor. Matsumoto-sensei exudes a gentleness thanks to the ornate leather necklace around his neck, the uncommon colors of his suits, and the wrinkled smile on his face.
Unfortunately, come episode four, the anime encounters a dip in quality. Animation loses its spark, leaving behind its subtle actions and sticking mostly with stagnate movement during conversations. Similarly, a few sloppy depictions of the characters make their way into some of the final cuts, hurting the artistic integrity of the anime itself.
After episode four, Fune wo Amu never gets low artistically again. However, it likewise doesn’t reach the highs of the first three episodes. Indeed, it coasts somewhere in the middle, giving the audience a standard visual experience for the rest of its run.
Yet the anime does create one last spark. It often showed the changing seasons to indicate the progression of time. After that thirteen-year time skip, though, it does an even greater job of visually showcasing this progression. Rather than constantly mentioning the jump in time, the anime highlights smaller details like Majime’s wedding ring, Nishioka’s new smartphone, and the funeral shrine of Take.
Once again, though, it’s the character designs that stand out the most. People often look different thirteen years later, and the same is true for the cast. Majime and Kaguya have bags under their eyes, Araki’s hair turned grayer, and Nishioka grew his out. These details are small, almost insignificant. But they immediately demonstrate the time skip without fanfare.
Like the story itself, Majime’s journey in Fune wo Amu doesn’t scream lavishness or remarkability. But, once again, it’s so solid in its construction that it also doesn’t need to stomp its foot down with force.
In the beginning, Majime is a very socially awkward person. He’s a salesman, but he cannot interact with others without carrying the wrong bag or spilling some beer. Indeed, his favorite hobby – watching people queue for escalators – paints him in a strange light. Even when he is enlisted to help with the creation of Daitokai, he still feels inadequate. He understands his nature, and he doesn’t want to let anybody down.
This new opportunity in his life marks a turning point for him. As the anime depicts, he’s very good with words and working hard at what he does. More importantly, the people around him give him the courage and the support he needs to grow as a person.
Araki is a mentor for Majime, inviting him onto the team, showing him the process, and providing him the chance to fight for something he never knew he wanted.
Take is a mother of sorts. She cooks him food and listens to him over dinner, giving him advice that keeps him hopeful. She’s also a cool wing-girl, setting him up with her granddaughter whenever she can (and with a few winks as well).
Matsumoto-sensei is his role model. Majime and the others not only want to finish Daitokai for themselves and for the people but also for Matsumoto-sensei. His evident passion for dictionaries and his outlook on the words that connect everyone inspires Majime. Matsumoto-sensei sadly does not make it to the end, but, as he similarly puts it, his gratitude towards him cannot be understated.
Kishibe is the new, hopeful junior. Just as Majime learned the ropes and became accustomed to this new venture, Kishibe likewise starts to flourish. She doesn’t realize it immediately, but, with her on the team, Majime gains happiness and drive for the final leg.
Kaguya is his beloved. She loves him not with fervent adoration but with wholesome respect. More so than anyone else, she understands him, the two of them pursuing perfection in their respective fields. She’s quiet like him. She’s mature like him. She’s simple like him. And that makes her the one.
All these people around Majime support him in their own way. His mentor, “mother,” role model, junior, and lover help Majime to grow out of his awkward shell and into the confident man he always wanted to be.
There’s one other character who supported Majime the whole time. Arguably, he did so the most: Nishioka.
Nishioka sees Majime’s awkwardness firsthand, so he doesn’t initially take to the odd word guru. However, as he listens to Majime speak and sees him work with due diligence, he slowly starts to appreciate him for who he is.
All the while, Nishioka looks out for Majime. He eases Majime’s transition into the team at his welcoming party. He gives him a playful kick on the back out of friendship. He reads the love letter for Kaguya, giving no addendums since he feels it encapsulates Majime already.
To Majime, Nishioka is the person he wants to be. Outgoing, comfortable in social situations, and confident. In return, Majime is the person Nishioka wants to be. Passionate, determined, and willing. As Matsumoto-sensei says of the two good friends, they “…respect each other’s strengths and complement each other.” That they share a “wonderful trust.”
The more Nishioka learns of Majime, the more he gets inspired by him. He does everything in his power to make the creation of Daitokai a success – to the point that he gets transferred to a different department. But that doesn’t stop him from enlisting more help, pushing forward, and doing more to follow the path he has found himself on.
Before his transfer, Nishioka has arguably his best moment in the season. In episode seven (where the quote above also comes from), he refuses to grovel at the feet of their manuscript writer. The pride they have in their project, the heart and soul with which he and Majime and everyone else has put into it, means more to them than what some mistress-having jerk may think.
Even after he is transferred, he supports Majime and the others from the sidelines. He works overtime outside of the office. He guides Kishibe. He helms the marketing for the dictionary (going so far as to create the cute blue mascot for the dictionary seen in each episode’s interlude). He unfortunately does not have as much of a presence in the last four episodes, but the effects of his support, both for the people close to him and for the project at large, are no doubt felt throughout.
Thus, Nishioka, like the rest of the cast, supports Majime. Their feelings, their thoughts, and thus their words affect him for the better. Majime doesn’t turn into the life of the party like Nishioka (nobody can), but he now leads the department, he can enter meetings, and he can express himself more clearly.
Yes, Majime doesn’t transform into somebody new, but these many relationships were their own great passage all along.
Perhaps surprisingly, the music of Fune wo Amu has a lot more finesse than may be at first believed.
The opening track, titled “Shiokaze,” uses a simple beat with dancing sound-effects to achieve a catchy tune. Once the sound of wood hitting wood rings out, the second half begins, and a rolling set of lyrics up the energy of the song as well as the catchiness.
However, it’s the words of those lyrics themselves that pack the most punch. “The vivid clatter of the night.” “Flexible conception.” “Swept and sunk in the waves with sparse opposites and similarities.” The OP’s ability to weave these complex words into not only a cohesive piece but also a story about how words bring people together, which matches a major theme of the anime itself, makes it much more than just a fun tune to hear.
In contrast, the ending track slows everything down with calmness and sensuality. Titled “I & I,” the ED is a love song, and a romantic one at that. Piano and acoustic guitar, like two lovers, support one another, forming a peaceful base that gives the female vocalist the room to express lyrics saturated with sincere feelings and a life-partner’s touch. While less about the words and more about Majime and Kaguya’s relationship, the song makes for a strong contender in how to best represent love in musical form.
Alongside the OP and the ED, the original soundtrack also strikes a nice chord. A triumphant, soldier tune that leads the charge forward. A sometimes sweeping, sometimes cascading melody that harbors high emotion. A pair of delicate acoustic guitars. A brooding, menacing track that threatens all. Many use the same base motif – the titular track “Fune wo Amu” is arguably the best among them – in the same vein as words do, threading together as set of simple yet powerful tracks.
The best track in the whole show, though? The dictionary rap “We are Jisho-tans~.” Their cute song came as a welcome surprise in episode four.
The only real letdown are the voice-acting performances. They are definitely fitting, and none of the actors or actresses were subpar. They simply had no standout roles either.
I love almost any kind of anime. (Controversial, I know.)
Yes, I have my preferences in genres and details, but I watch everything and anything that I can. I consider myself lucky that I have a wide taste when it comes to stories. So far, I’ve completed over 300 different shows – yet it’s still interesting to me how rare it is for an anime to focus on a story about adults for adults. Most people know already, but so many anime (understandably) focus on high schools, cute girls, and high-octane action.
Which is why this anime enters that niche group of shows that appeals to the regular adult male who’s writing these sentences out right now.
This show never tries to wow me. Rather, it simply wants to tell this tale without much fuss. It didn’t win any awards, and it probably won’t be the most recommended anime out there in the future. But, in my mind, that makes me like it more. For it knew what it was and what it needed to do, accomplishing all its goals. It showed up, played out its piece, and left on satisfying terms.
Of course, there are specific reasons for why I like this anime. Chief among them is Nishioka. He’s such an awesome dude. A passionate worker, a supportive junior, and a really, really good friend. Silly but thoughtful. Carefree yet driven. He always managed to say or do the right things at the right time, making him my favorite character in the anime. (And I was very happy to see him be a husband and father, too.)
The romance between Majime and Kaguya also makes me smile. My readers know that romance is my favorite genre, so, even though the anime doesn’t give a whole lot of lovey-dovey moments, their connection and the feelings they share with and for one another fill my heart with joy.
Even the small ending skits got me chuckling. They were arguably pointless, but their fun, aside nature, and the fact that the anime occasionally alluded to them once again in some form afterwards, made them little treats that I could never turn away.
Fune wo Amu may not do anything exceptional, but, during its quiet stay, it presents the audience with nothing short of a satisfying experience. Strong story beats. Supportive relationships. Some intriguing artistic choices. Emotional music. Filling a spot in that niche adult genre. From A to Z and back again, it defines itself about as well as it possibly could.
Story: Good, a mundane yet satisfying tale about words, life, and the pursuit of perfection
Animation: Fine, while a consistent quality of movement isn’t maintained, and the artistry can see some hiccups at times, the young and old character designs, alongside the imaginative scenes, provide enough visual sparks for the audience to like
Characters: Great, Majime’s many relationships are their own great passage for him, and Nishioka takes a similar trip right alongside his best friend
Sound: Good, good OP, good ED, good OST, cute dictionary rap, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Great, a no-fuss tale, plus Nishioka being one of the coolest dudes out there, multiplied by a dash of romance and silly asides equals a fun, mature experience
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3