First Look: The Great Passage

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Alternative title(s): Fune wo Amu
Novel Adaptation by Zexcs
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video (UK Only)

Premise

The creation of a new dictionary titled The Great Passage is floundering since Kouhei Araki, the veteran editor in charge of the project, is about to retire. Unhopeful of finding anyone suited to taking over the task, he stumbles across Mitsuya Majime, an employee of the same publishing company whose devotion to words make him a poor salesman but an ideal successor.

Artemis’ verdict: Still Waters Run Deep

I have a feeling that this will bore the hell out of anyone accustomed to more overt drama, but that’s certainly not to say The Great Passage is lacking in feeling. Rather, I get the distinct impression that there’s a lot being suppressed here – deliberately hidden under the surface, as it were, of a very self-contained production.

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If you can appreciate a lot of character-driven drama though, then you should jump right in. This isn’t necessarily toted as this season’s ‘adult’ show because it’s about adults (though that definitely helps); it’s an adult show because it’s a lot more interested in paying attention to the little details than it is in being in any way loud or flashy, as most dramas tend to be. There’s a ton of focus on body language, for example, and on characterization through cinematography rather than dialogue. Majime is painfully earnest, overly serious, and fascinated with words to the point of obsession – all things that his conversations confirm but which were already obvious thanks to the nonverbal cues and meticulous camerawork. His social awkwardness might be a little uncomfortable to watch, but as Araki has already guessed, the traits that make Majime a terrible salesman are exactly the same ones that Araki is looking for in a dictionary editor. I’m guessing the impact this new job will have on Majime – a man who literally finds himself drowning in a sea of words at night – will be one of the main themes of the series.

I did have a couple of minor issues with this episode and some worries about what’s to come. The mid-episode break featuring a bunch of kawaii dictionaries was undoubtedly cute, but informative or not the scene felt jarringly out of the place with the tone of the rest of the show. However, there does need to be something in the way of humour, or at least light-heartedness, introduced to the story in order to offset the heavy atmosphere. As it is, The Great Passage is not only slow but also somber, almost gloomy, and too much of that could make for a tiring watch. There’s little doubt in my mind that it’ll be a good anime, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to enjoyable. That said, there’s a lot here to like, and while the idea of an anime about making a dictionary might be way too dry for some viewers, I’m more than happy to give it time to soak in.

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Jel’s verdict: Hard to Define

If you’re making an anime about making a dictionary, you’ve got a pretty steep hill to climb as far as keeping your show interesting and engaging. This first episode fights admirably, but I just don’t know if you can make this story much more interesting playing it as plain and straightforward as they do. Sure there’s a few visual effects like floating words and temporary switches to some kind of watercolor filter, but for the most part this seems to be one of those animes that I feel like could have been a live action drama and not much would be lost.

That makes the show sound kind of boring but I actually don’t think that’s the problem. The characters are actually pretty likable and I was rooting for them to team up on the project. The issue I have is their passion for words and language are what drives the show and I don’t feel like they were doing much to make the audience feel the same way. I also think a lot of the nuance is lost in translation. From what little I understand of Japanese, words having multiple meanings and interpretations is much more common than it is in English. So maybe it’s a more interesting topic if you speak Japanese? Whatever the case, I want to like this show but it’s just not working for me. Even so, I think it’s worth watching and seeing for yourself.

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