The Great Passage is, I would have to say, one of the biggest dark horses of the Winter 2017 anime season. Simulcast through Amazon’s new anime streaming service, Anime Strike, it definitely didn’t get the attention it deserved. I also think this is one of the few anime to be adapted from a full novel, not light novel or manga. Originally written by Shion Miura, it has gone through one live action drama adaption before being picked up by Studio Zexcs for the animation, and boy does the medium lend well to the overall story. The skill shown in the visual storytelling of this anime is breathtaking at times, really showcasing how an adaptation to a new medium can breath new life into a story.
The story of The Great Passage follows the life of a man named Majime who is currently working in sales at a major publisher in Japan. The only problem is that he has trouble finding the right words to use when communicating with people, especially clients. When the dictionary department needs a new editor to complete their most ambitious work yet, Majime somehow gets recruited into their ranks. But this proves to be the perfect fit for him as he is fascinated by the multiple connotations behind words, always searching for the best way to communicate and connect with people. The department’s dictionary steadily becomes his ship across a sea of words.
The use of animation and visual storytelling in general can help create interest in a story that may be seen as conventionally boring. We’ve definitely had anime about publishing before, but those have almost always been about a relatable subject (ie. manga) or were overshadowed by the romance within it (Sekai Ichi no Hatsukoi). With The Great Passage we have an unrelatable subject — dictionaries — with romance that doesn’t necessarily take center stage. So how does Zexcs and the director interject interest into something that may seem boring to a lot of audiences? Well, I’ve actually been writing an article about just this issue (I’ll post a link here and on my Facebook page once it’s published), but one of the main ways is through the use of the visual medium.
Take the moment when the Editor in Chief meets Majime for the first time. He walks into the room and kanji start floating off the books and white boards as his attention focuses on the things around him. He then spots Majime who is shelving reports. As he puts one on the shelf and pushes it in, the floating name on the spine pushes in as well, cementing back to the book. This small moment is all we need to know about Majime’s aptitude for the dictionary department. His ability to interact with the floating words tells us that he pays just as much attention to them as the Editor in Chief does. This small moment then becomes one of the most important moment for the series in terms of visual storytelling. There are a lot more of these moments where visuals or visual storytelling is used to create interest, though a lot of them can be hampered by too much exposition. Majime’s dream sequences are some great examples, especially towards the end of the series. One of which shows a giant tornado of words being sucked through a hole in his subconscious, showing how anxious he is about making sure he’s found all the mistakes in the dictionary.
However, the visuals aren’t the only reason I love this series. The overall story is deep and meaningful, focusing on not only the day-to-day of editing and publishing a dictionary, but also Majime’s growth as he learns how to communicate better with the people around him. In some ways we can construe his story as someone struggling with an Autism spectrum disorder like Asperger’s. We not only see him have extreme difficulty communicating his feelings, but he also has difficulty empathizing. We see this the first time we meet him as he’s talking with a bookstore clerk, holding a bag from another store. It has to be explained to him how the bag could be seen as rude by the store clerk, but Majime simply had it because he liked the design. This inability to communicate forms into an obsession with words that eventually brings him to the dictionary editorial department. The Great Passage dictionary becomes like an instruction manual on how to connect with people through an avenue that he lacks skill in. And, in pushing for its creation, we see his wish that more people like him have something they can rely on as well.
Like many series about publishing, there is a romance element. However, this series moves away from the typical office romance and ties it into Majime’s overall growth with his interpersonal skills. His first meeting with Kaguya is filled to the brim with melodrama, but not to the point that it becomes corny. I think it’s because we know just how disconnected he is from other people that his reactions make sense in context. His first meeting with Kaguya is fraught with overreactions as they meet on the balcony of his boarding house under the light of the full moon. The scene changing to one of a still ocean, vastly different from his dreams of turbulent waters, leads us to believe that she is supposed to become another “ship across a sea of words” for him. Her hand reaching out to help pull him up just seems to solidify this view. When it skips ahead 13 or so years in the second half, we see Majime’s wedding ring become front and center in many shots featuring him, showing just how integral his relationship to Kaguya has become to him as a character.
Also in this second half we see the introduction of a new character to the editorial team. Midori has been transferred over from a fashion department, and is thus not used to the “strangeness” that is Majime. It takes her talking with the different editorial staff and finding Majime’s old love letter to finally understand how his own brand — or lack thereof — of communication works. It is through these interactions and others that we see that Majime is never ostracized for his inability to communicate, more so, it is deemed almost necessary as the team learns to find their own strengths and talents.
There’s a lot to talk about with this series, but I have so many others from the Winter season to get through, so I’ll have to stop here. I hope you really consider watching this series. If you already have, feel free to leave your opinions in the comments below! Also make sure you follow me on Facebook to catch any updates about articles I may be writing or when reviews post.