Etymology: The Anime!

Nope, no magical powers. Not a historical anime, either.

It’s the story of a modern linguistics post-grad who gets hired onto the staff of a great Japanese multi-volume dictionary, similar to the Oxford English Dictionary. He finds true love and life while researching words.

It’s the new Noitamina anime for this season. Unfortunately nobody knows whether it will be licensed or not. But it starts October 13, 2016.

Fune wo Amu. The name means something like “The Great Ship,” because a dictionary is like a ship.

UPDATE:Actually, the name Fune wo Amu means “To Build a Ship” or “To Assemble a Ship.” Oh, the irony of getting this wrong about a dictionary story!

Where did the false info come from? I forgot that there is already a 2013 movie about this story. (I haven’t seen it, but it’s supposed to be very good. It doesn’t seem to be on any of the streaming services, though.) In its US release, this movie Fune wo Amu was called The Great Passage (because that’s the translation of the name of the fictional dictionary, the Daitokai).  Both the movie and the anime are based on a 2011 novel, Fune wo Amu, by Shion Miura.

Miura’s novel references a real Japanese dictionary of this sort called the Daigenkai, which literally means “The Great Ocean of Words.” It was edited by Otsuki Fumihiko, whose first and widely successful dictionary was called the Genkai, or “Sea of Words.” The big chunky Daigenkai came out in four volumes that appeared after the death of its editor in 1928.

(But he lived a long life; he was born in 1847 to a samurai scholar family** and had fought in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, on the losing side of the Tokugawa shogunate. So yet another real-life character who could easily have appeared in Rurouni Kenshin.)

So the idea is that the new (fictional) dictionary would be a ship (fune) that would take the reader on a journey (tokai) across the ocean of words (genkai). Not what I was thinking below in the comments, but pretty cool.

(Since Otsuki was a Western studies guy, his titles may also have been referencing Noah Webster. Japanese scholars love wordplay.)

The movie adaptation seems to have focused on the love story in the novel, but the series will give more time to the friendships between the main character and other members of the dictionary staff.

** Otsuki Fumihiko’s grandfather, Otsuki Gentaku, began the tradition in his family of being scholars of “Dutch studies” (Rangaku), by learning Western science, technology, and arts from Dutch books obtained in Nagasaki. Otsuki Gentaku was a physician and writer who wrote Steps toward Dutch Studies (Rangaku Kaitei), the first Dutch grammar book in Japanese. He also founded and ran Shirando, the first private school for Dutch studies, which was located in Edo (Tokyo), and promoted honoring Hippocrates as the father of Western medicine. (And when I say “honor,” I mean “like another Shinto god or hero,” in some cases.)

He is best known today for his sensible challenge to various Japanese misconceptions about African people. For whatever reason, the Japanese believed then that Africans acquired a black skin color through too much exposure to water, but that as a result Africans were abnormally good swimmers,  as intrinsically unintelligent as Japanese fisherfolk, and  just as intrinsically lowborn. Gentaku contended that Africans were just like every other human group, full of “the noble and the lowly… the wise and the foolish.” He also helped write a famous book, Kankai Ibun, which recounted the experiences of the survivors of a Japanese ship who ended up in Russia, the Straits of Magellan, and Hawaii. The book includes a woodcut illustration of the Japanese standing by the famous St. Petersburg statue of Tsar Peter the Great.

Otsuki’s great-grandfather was Otsuki Genryo, a Western-trained physician who was the official chief surgeon of the Sendai domain and chief physician to the Ichinoseki han.



Filed under Cartoons/Animation/Video

2 responses to “Etymology: The Anime!

  1. A dictionary is like “a great ship”.

    Somehow this feels very Tolkien… and it makes me want to do a story about it.

  2. I think it’s about the cargo, the word hoard….

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