The Fuji TV Noitamina block was created to expand the audience for anime by featuring shows designed to appeal to a wide variety of people, often with experimental animation techniques and complex narratives. Some of my favorite shows have aired on this block, like: Shiki, Ping Pong, and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso [Your Lie In April]. But the latest addition to this block is leaving me utterly baffled. Fune no Amu, a.k.a. The Great Passage, is an anime about a department at a book publisher that is striving to make a dictionary. And not just any dictionary, but a 10-year-plus project of a dictionary designed to bring people together through just the right choice of words. The Great Passage is what the staff members call it, and working on it becomes an obsession for the protagonist of the story – Mitsuya Majime – who feels caged within his feelings and unable to express himself the way he wants to, despite having a talent for language.
And that’s where they’ve lost me. I’m 4 episodes in and we’ve established that there is a group of people who are willing to spend 10 years of their adult life compiling by hand roughly 230,000 words (the majority of them pre-existing in other dictionaries) into a physical record.
There are at least 4.77 BILLION indexed webpages on the internet as of me writing this post. These pages are written in many, MANY different languages, with countless words and meanings for those words posted everywhere, every single day. We have prectically over-powered search engines like Google and knowledge compilation websites like Wayback Machine, Merriam-Webster, Thesaurus(.com), Urban Dictionary (don’t laugh, you know you’ve used it before), just to name a TINY few of those available. And the internet is changing and evolving every day, with innumerable authors doing everything from updating Wikipedia articles on theoretical astrophysics to tweeting about their shitty experience at the hotel breakfast bar this morning. Even if this show is set in the early to mid 2000’s as the flip phones seen it may suggest, the internet was quickly becoming the future of compiled information even then.
Why wound I need another 5 pound dictionary when I can pull out my 4G LTE smartphone and look up critical analysis of the greatest poems ever written in an instant? Why would I need to carry a paper book when I can find any word I want by typing a mishmash of descriptors into Google faster than I can turn to the page in that book that has the definition I’m looking for?
Episode 2 of Fune no Amu seems to be trying to refute me, as the characters Kouhei Araki and Tomosuke Matsumoto give impassioned miniature speeches on why this dictionary is such an important project.
“At a glance, dictionaries may seem like a cold list of letters, but actually, it took a lot of thought and care to make.” – Kouhei Araki [in episode 2]
The same could be said about internet archives. And the difference is that once a word is collected there it never needs to be collected in a separate dictionary again, because it will always be at our disposal through the power of modern technology, whereas my old dictionaries are in a basement gathering dust.
“Without words you cannot express your thoughts or be able to have any sort of deep understanding of others. people board the ships we call dictionaries and find the perfect words to gather the small lights floating to the top of the dark waters.” – Tomosuke Matsumoto [in episode 2]
Although I appreciate Tomosuke’s metaphor for how words spread understanding like a flame repels the dark, keeping us from drowning in ignorance and isolated despair, I can’t help but still think that the idea we still need physical dictionaries (at least in the first world country where I live) is antique at best. Even if the vast majority of humanity was annihilated in a nuclear holocaust tomorrow, internet databases would surely survive and hold the most up-to-date information on language. I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep a physical stock of information. I think it is important to have libraries that hold all of the collective wealth of knowledge of humanity in case something catastrophic happened and we were be reset to zero, I’m just saying that the digital age has come and dictionaries are akin to castles. Yes, some will stand forever, but we no longer need to restrict ourselves to them to get by, and there are many more opportunities outside we need to chase after. I think Kouhei Araki may have hit it a little too on the nose for his own good when he said, “I don’t believe that dictionaries are necessarily the be-all, end-all.”
Words are vital to our ability to be intelligent social animals, and I hope mine in this post have been helpful and/or interesting to you. Let me know in the comments below how you feel about Fune no Amu and the idea of the 10 year dictionary project. I also want to clarify one more thing – Fune no Amu is not solely about making a dictionary and I do think there are some intriguing character moments and other positives in the show thus far, I just can’t buy into the main thrust of the narrative. Thanks for reading!
Edit: I have watched through Episode 4, just FYI.