To Drown or Not to Drown
It is often very understandable why people dismiss the idea of someone/something once they discover it to be rooted in banality. After all, we have been conditioned to accept the notion that anything banal must also necessarily be 'useless' - that it's existence serves no greater purpose than momentary pleasure and existence itself and must therefore have no meaning or significance in our lives.
Boy, does SoL anime wholeheartedly cock a snook at this notion. With the genre as a whole essentially exploring every trivial aspect about life itself, slice-of-life has thrown all assumptions of trite matters out of the window. Even greater is its ability to cause us viewers to appreciate the little things in life. In fact, I'm generally a sucker for anime that delves into more offbeat aspects of life because it invokes a lot of vicarious nostalgia.
It is therefore no surprise that The Great Passage caught my attention from the very beginning. Narrating the journey of Mitsuya Majime, a diffident salesman who has finally found his calling in the vast ocean of words (editing a dictionary), TGP has all the hallmarks of a literature SoL appealing to my tastes. A strong plot that is very knowledgeable about the topics that it is dealing with? Hell yes! Also very apparent was its very appropriate set of characters and a style of animation that I really dig.
"A josei anime? Pfft! Count me as an older woman then, because this is going to be one enjoyable show." I thought, more or less (expletives excluded).
Well, after a rewatch, I can safely say that I'm... whelmed by the experience.
For one, The Great Passage certainly delivered on all of the aspects asked of it. I certainly like the pacing - the eleven episode format made tonnes of sense, considering the brevity of the subject matter. The philosophies resonated with me - old man Matsumoto was very soothing and calmed my senses with his take on life. The simplicity of the character sketches worked in the show's favour - while they may have been one-dimensional, it also avoided needless complications. The Great Passage was here to narrate the story, the whole story and nothing but the story, and by golly, it would do that.
However, this show very regrettably will not be joining the shows that have amazed me this year, simply because everything about it is just that - good, not exceptional.
After the initial thrill of diving deep into such a well versed take on a novel story, nothing much about the plot excites you, really. It almost seems a little too predictable. Knowing that the completion of the dictionary will take a decade almost instinctively sets off an alarm bell in the viewer's head:
TIME SKIP INCOMING!!!!!!
And whaddya know, the fag end of the story promptly introduces said time-skip, with the progression in their lives being far too abrupt for my taste. Then again, exactly how would you fit the entirety of the saga into three and a half hours of runtime?
The character arcs (including after the time skip) was another bone of contention. I was more than okay with the characters having no backstory whatsoever, but not having shown enough of their thought processes affecting their relationships with each other? Jury's out on whether that was a good decision.
Of course, Majime himself and his dynamic with outgoing colleague Masashi Nishioka is an exception. Both Majime's growth as a more self confident man and Nishioka's acceptance of Majime as a good friend was well fleshed out. More of a disappointment, however, was senior editor Kohei Araki - his mentoring 'role' was more exposition than anything. Would have loved to see it come into fruition.
All in all, The Great Passage is a middle-to-good show that certainly is above the generic SoL or literature anime. Traversing the vast sea of words with Majime and the gang encapsulated a singular set of emotions that I've never felt anywhere else. What it lacks though are the exact same ingredients that would have transformed it into a great piece of media, and that is a bitter pill to swallow.
Strong Seven. This is one aspect of this anime that I feel very conflicted about. One the one hand, the plot is tied into a very neat package, and has a solid , no-fuss structure from start to finish. On the other hand, the content itself... it is hard to deny that even for a person tailor made for this anime, my attention flagged quite a bit on more than a few occasions.
(Japanese): Decent Seven. I don't really see much merit on awarding a lower score for a competently done job. I also do not know why it would deserve any better, considering it isn't much out of the ordinary. Except for capturing Majime's overawed diffidence - this is done fantastically although a little too OTT at some places.
Decent Eight. Much like Kids on the Slope from last month, TGP succeeds exceedingly at presenting their characters as someone who you'd most certainly bump into the street. Alongside that, you have very clear-cut backstories for the cast - working with a spartan set of characters definitely helped with this.
Seven. Tried and tested, decent to look at. Pretty...pretty generic.
(But it is pretty sometimes, yes.) Plus the scenery isn't too bad to look at.
Decent Eight. Again, it's an anime from the recent past and makes full utility of the technology at its disposal - very fluid motion. Also, none of the keyframes feel lazily done - there's almost something happening all the time, either in the fore or background. Evidence of some very hardworking animators. The visualization of Majime's dreams, however... ehh I'm on the fence for most of it.
Light Seven. When the OP itself seems to stand on shaky ground, you tend to get worried about the musical suites. Thankfully, they aren't horrendous by any means - mostly comfortable being mediocre to slightly above average.
Overall Weighted Score: 7.83
The Great Passage certainly isn't a disappointment: in fact, I have emerged from the viewing experience perhaps more impressed by this show than I thought I would be. As an earnest look into an aspect of literature seldom thought of, and in a highly digestible eleven episode format, The Great Passage definitely serves well as a carefree watch on a summer morn.
Binge-worthy? Oh, why not?