While normally I don’t try to make predictions about what will actually be good within a season of anime, I was feeling confident enough in Fune wo Amu based on premise alone that it would become the sleeper hit of the season. While most focused on shows such as Yuri!!! On Ice and Bungou Stray Dogs 2, I was busying myself with something of a more meandering nature. Indeed, I could only be referring to Fune wo Amu, the riveting adventure of a near-middle-age man with no confidence working with others to create dictionaries. Clearly, how could this series ever be anything but a hit?
Much to my dismay, the anime didn’t pan out the way I had hoped it would. Anticipating a slow, but mature process of character interaction and ordinary drama, it ended up doing exactly that, only in the most mundane way possible. Semblances of Flying Witch seep into the fabric of Fune wo Amu‘s structure like an oncoming storm of monotonous reality. Perhaps this could serve as an educational piece for how not to make a series with one of the most oddly ordinary premises in the medium even more tame than it already sounds. Though I don’t think it’ll ever get that second chance.
I’ve made recent comments about the importance of pacing in stories, and Fune wo Amu is another such example of why that is. The patience necessary to sit through every episode is a tough task, as very little happens outside of the first two episodes or so. Things develop at a certain pace, but the main character being indecisive makes things slower than they need to be. Things do happen, fortunately, however the quickness of these events make the build-up to the inevitable conclusion feel trivial at best. Taking the time for the main character to realize that he’s good enough to do what he loves to do allows him to… do what he wants to do with a better determination. It’s almost ironic to think how often this happens to most people, to worry so much about something so obviously unimportant that the realization only makes one roll their eyes and sigh. Intriguing meta for a realistic perspective—not so much for entertainment.
Focusing on a story is similar to that of doing so for Yuri!!! On Ice, as the characters and their goals and motivations basically fill the hole that the story leaves in its absence. Dictionary-making, as fascinating a story as that may be, is essentially the goal here, but that alone isn’t enough to fill in a whole one-cour series. Adding to this are sub-plots within the lives of the major characters, such as dealing with romance, unforeseen obstacles, and finding purpose in one’s life. Speaking of which, finding purpose in one’s life feels so much more satisfying when the focus is on adults and not teenagers, doesn’t it? The manner in which these events occur and the time it takes to resolve them is the ultimate doom that Fune wo Amu puts itself through, as the series feels a lot longer than it needs to be, along with becoming hazy within the minds of the viewer. There isn’t a lot of creative detail into making these things feel more interesting, either. Symbolic imagery and subtle facial/bodily gestures to some extent, but that’s about it.
All of that said, though, does this necessarily make the anime bad? This is the question that I find myself struggling with as I write this post. By series’ end, I find myself enveloped more in positive vibes than otherwise, only I don’t truly understand why. Fune wo Amu is slow, not very entertaining, and can’t make the main character interesting to save its life. Yet, I found myself emotionally invested in most characters’ lives and their banter with one another, especially later on in the series. While trying to avoid a majority of spoilers, I will admit to the series having a rather random time skip near the end of its run. This time skip isn’t just a month or a year, either, but rather a whopping fourteen years, passing by in an instant. Can I really pretend like that isn’t any worse than when Sword Art Online keeps skipping months of time within the first arc of its story? Well, to an extent, as Sword Art Online does it multiple times before it ever has time to develop most of the characters, but fourteen years? That’s a large pill to swallow. The pill becomes even harder to swallow when the content ends up becoming better than it was before the time skip! What the—?!
As if my brain and my heart were fighting with one another, Fune wo Amu is a series that defies the expectations of what I consider quality entertainment by being surprisingly heartfelt and endearing by its final two episodes. Said final two episodes completely blow the rest of the series’ quality out of the water, which is odd to me based on the shortcuts it had to take to get there. Or perhaps there weren’t any shortcuts and all that I found to be dull and uninteresting before were secretly building up the strength of the cast and breaking down the casings of my steel-plated empathy. New characters are introduced, a more tangible goal is presented, and life seems much more organized than what it once was. But to have all of that happen by skipping fourteen years of that progress feels so… deliciously wrong. This anime is breaking me down mentally.
Moving back to the basics, characters are obviously going to be a major component in the success of the show. There’s one character I feel deserves the honor of being the best, and that is Nishioka, Majime’s (the main character) co-worker and the one who introduces him to the craft of dictionary-building. His personality is fun, charming, and relatable to those who try to make the most out of life, despite the anxieties creeping up when the curtains have fallen. His development throughout the course of the series is one I feel is most worth watching Fune wo Amu for, as his relationship with both the outlook of his life and a female co-worker both feel too mature to even be in an anime. As prejudiced as that sounds, anime isn’t exactly the medium to go to for adult-oriented drama, so please bear with my cynicism. Seeing him after the time skip was one of the more satisfying transitions I’ve seen in quite a while, and is just one example of how to make time skips work.
Outside of Nishioka, the roster of Fune wo Amu varies from fine to meh, with “meh” relating more to the personalities of the show that hardly get any screentime, such as Araki or Sasaki. They’re normal people with normal temperaments, with their quirks being hidden within the apparel that they’re dressed in and the manner in which they speak. I suppose one could see them as “good background noise” as characters, who fulfill their roles and nothing more. Those with further development have some more life to them, such as Majime, the hesitant lead who causes most of the boring to appear within the anime. If not for the final two episodes, which beautifully highlight his evolution through the years, I’d mark him as the worst character. It’s so easy, so cliché to have the lead be a self-depreciative bookworm, but they needed a demographic somehow, I guess. Regardless, he also provides the most in terms of artistic expression, as his imagination is a nice transition from the realistic graveyard that Fune wo Amu embodies. The only issue may be, that with a large cast of characters, a few may become forgettable with time.
If an animation studio is going to animate slow, subtle, constant movement with people’s bodies, they better be working like retail workers during the holidays. The use of this here is varying, as the amount of detail with characters blinking, moving their hands, turning their heads, and otherwise is incredibly noticeable and appreciated in the debut episodes. However, sometimes the animation becomes choppy and disjointed, making characters look in need of some oiling. Still, to have that effort to make characters feel more realistic is enough to justify the occasional choppy motions. It’s not exactly stellar, as the characters are usually one-dimensional in their coloring, but it’s decent enough to not only give it some flair for minimalists, but to provide some nice backgrounds in beautiful conditions. It fits with the theme of realism.
I will probably re-watch this anime soon, as those last two episodes hit me harder than I could’ve imagined and now I feel I’ve missed something important. For the time being, Fune wo Amu is a very dull show with very few reasons to stick with it until the end. One may find themselves running straight into a wall when it reaches its final station, as the accumulation of everything that’s happened stares straight into the face of those who chose to partake in the journey. The important question then becomes: Did you care? It seems I did. I only wish I could properly articulate why.
The rating for these titles and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
Have a very merry Christmas!