Reviewby Gabriella Ekens,
The Great Passage
Episodes 1-11 Streaming
Mitsuya Majime hasn't quite found his place in life. He's had no romantic experience well into adulthood, and his awkward, introverted demeanor has held him back at his job. He may be the biggest bibliophile at Genbu Publishing, but his kind soul and love of language don't compensate for a total inability to read the atmosphere. Things start to change, however, when a position opens up in the dictionary department. It may be a small, unglamorous branch, but Majime's talents are uniquely suited for it, so he's enthusiastically scouted.
Upon transferring, Majime finds himself welcomed into a tight-knit family of coworkers as they embark on a major endeavor: the publication of a new flagship dictionary, The Great Passage. Meant to serve as a means of navigating “the vast ocean of words” that constitutes modern relationships, the project soon becomes a life raft for this one particular man, who feels cast adrift in the world. As Majime begins his journey – which will take more than a decade – he finds himself awakening to new aspects of life, such as companionship, dedication, and even love. What joys will this project bring, and what complications will Majime face to make this dictionary a reality?
Before it fell victim to the Amazon anime hostage crisis of Fall 2016, The Great Passage was one of my most anticipated shows of that season. Based on an acclaimed novel, airing in the celebrated Noitamina programming block, and featuring character designs by Haruko Kumota (of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu fame), it looked like the season's choice for classy adult-audience entertainment. I was assigned to cover it on daily streaming reviews, but of course, it was never simulcast, so that didn't happen. Now that Amazon has finally made the show available, the question becomes – what did we miss out on? Is the show still worth checking out? And do those dictionarians on the poster kiss, perhaps?
The answer is no, those dictionarians on the poster do not kiss. This show strictly concerns itself with heterosexual romance, between dictionarians and non-dictionarians. Jokes aside, a lot of the early excitement for The Great Passage came from the suspicion that it would be BL – an impression fostered by the promotional art (which emphasized Majime interacting with his coworker Nishioka) and the Haruko Kumota connection. That turned out to be false, but the show certainly isn't any worse for wear. The Great Passage is very enjoyable, and I can see why it was marketed toward a josei audience, which tends to get most of these low-key, naturalistic dramas.
Majime comes out of his shell through two primary relationships, one with his coworker/friend Nishioka and another with his love interest Kaguya. As a suave social butterfly, Nishioka is initially disdainful of Majime, but he comes to admire his intellect and passion for words. In turn, Majime is initially intimidated by the extroverted Nishioka, but he comes to view him as a model for testing his limits. Their relationship is the best developed in the show, as a story about two very different people bridging the gap in their personalities to understand and support one another. Kaguya, meanwhile, is a fellow tenant at the boardhouse where Majime lives. She's a calm and determined woman in training to become a chef, and Majime often struggles to convey his feelings to her with his unique approach to communication.
While there is a literal romance at stake, The Great Passage is more of a romance between Majime and his job than anything. This show leans hard on the details of the dictionary business, which could have been really boring. Fortunately, they frame all this exposition about the publishing biz by telling us why the people involved love it so much. This is a smart move, achieved more through subtleties in character animation and voice acting than through the scripted dialogue. Ultimately, the central emotions revolve around what it's like to discover something that you'd be happy to spend your entire life doing, as well as how it feels to search for something like this before you find it. In this regard, The Great Passage is most similar to shows like Shirobako and Hataraki Man.
On an aesthetic level, this show exceeds all expectations. This is not the type of story that usually gets an animation-heavy adaptation, but it somehow received one of the most lush productions that I've seen in a while. It reminds me a lot of Flowers of Evil, mostly in that the tiniest character movements are detailed to the point where I'd believe that they were rotoscoped. Of course, it's not going for the same level of unsettling realism. The character designs, while closer to actual human proportions than most anime, are warm and inviting. The result is a Flowers of Evil canniness for body language and realistic facial expressions applied to a style that isn't deliberately repellent. To make a long story short, it looks great. Following some cursory research, it makes sense that the two shows look alike. They not only came out of the same studio, ZEXCS, but they even share staff – most prominently Noriko Shimazawa, who served as an animation director on Flowers of Evil. Otherwise, the direction is solid, and the story is further livened up by some nice music. I'm particularly a fan of the opening, which stands out as stylish and poppy.
In the end, The Great Passage is a simple, pleasant story about an awkward man finding his place, falling in love with a nice lady, and working hard to achieve his goals. While it's not saying or doing anything too complicated on a narrative level, it's bursting with love for its niche subject matter and the people who live in that world. I can see why this story has resonated enough to see multiple adaptations. It strikes a strong balance between heartfelt escapism and realistically depicting the tribulations of the workforce. While it may have taken a while to get here, The Great Passage stands out as one of the best shows of the fall 2016 season, well worth revisiting even after this gap of time.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A+
Art : A
Music : A
+ Pleasant, reassuring workplace drama about falling in love and finding your place in life; excellent animation and lush production values unusual for the genre; informative about the dictionary business
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