Editor’s Note: This review deals with some of the serious themes presented in Orange, including suicide. It’s difficult to discuss the show without it, but where applicable, care has been taken to handle the topic with the gravity and grace it deserves. This review is going to lack a lot of the AA wit to really focus on some powerful topics. If that’s not your thing, stick around for more tomfoolery next week.
On April 6th, Naho gets a letter from herself ten years in the future. The letter tells her that the next ten years are full of regrets, but she has the opportunity to change that. Naho spends the following months trying to change the heartbreaking events — trying to prevent the regret her and her four close friends carry for the rest of their lives and protecting their new friend from taking his own life.
Naho Takamiya lacks courage. She is always walking in the back of the group. She struggles to say how she feels. She never sticks up for herself. All of this leads to regret, and ten years of it. She does not take the foreboding letter seriously and this causes Kakeru, her new friend, to go missing from school for a while. While Naho has to live with the decisions she made in ignoring the letter on the first day, her journey is two-fold. On the surface, she is following a map so that she does not end up in a bad place in the future, but deeper down, it is about so much more. Her journey is about learning to live with her decisions, taking control of her life, coming out of her shell, and loving openly.
Kakeru Naruse does not want to live anymore. Kakeru is a brilliant soccer player and great to be around. He loves laughing with his friends but is deeply troubled by his past. At times, he feels emotionally unreachable and other times, it feels as if no one sees him when he extends his hand. In the balance between his social and private life, Kakeru is volatile and it feels like we are right next to our characters guiding him through life so that those moments of happiness stay around. His life feels fragile and while I think that can be a big weakness of characters Orange does it well. Anger will flare up in seemingly
Hiroto Suwa is the most selfless character in the show. Suwa is the outgoing, athletic leader of our group of friends. While he stands out for his height and orange hair, he is determined to relegate himself to a side character. We get the impression that Suwa knows more than he lets on when it comes to Naho’s mission to fix what went wrong. This is very key to his character and is better explored than read about. Suwa was my favorite character solely for the fact that I don’t know if I would have been able to make the sacrifices that he did in order to make life better for the people around him.
Saku Hagita is a really odd comic relief. For a show mostly about protecting Kakeru, having a guy come in with drawn-on abs or perched on a desk like a monkey feels off tone and inappropriate. Hagita is still a welcomed character, though. For a show that leans on the very serious side, denying his obvious love for Azusa makes Orange look like a romantic comedy if you squint really…really…hard.
On a different note, Hagita is a character that makes me want to interview the writer. I feel like Hagita absorbs from his surroundings. Hagita is a character that shows the impact of the other characters’ actions to provide them with depth, as well as himself. He comes across as someone who is a lot like Naho and gets second-hand character development by watching others develop. Specifically, his confidence seems to increase as we see Naho’s confidence increase — not nearly to the same degree, but an increase nonetheless. If you end up watching the show, I would be really curious what you think about this theory.
Azusa Murasaka and Takako Chino are an inseparable pair. While obvious side characters like Hagita, I didn’t see the development in them that I saw in others. Azusa is a bright, cheery girl who is always looking to help in not-so-subtle ways. Takako is basically the group bouncer. If anyone messes with them, Takako gives them a taste of very bitter medicine. While I don’t see the development in Azusa and Takako that I did in others, I think that they struggle with acting on what they see. Suwa really leads the charge here and allows them to do what they think is best to help Kakeru. In some ways, they feel like friends knocking on the door — they needed an invitation into the house before they interacted with anyone.
Personal story time. I am nineteen and in my first year at university. It has been a couple months since my ex-girlfriend moved back home to Germany and I am regretting agreeing to end the relationship. Classes are as uninteresting as the past four years of school, I am not making many friends, and my roommates and my neighbors like to do loads of things without inviting me. I don’t have many things I care about and I certainly don’t feel like many people care about me. I take my phone and shuffle the “Oh Wonder” discography. An hour passes of me standing on a bridge over a fifty foot ravine, trying to decide if I am going to end it right there. I didn’t want to live anymore. My heart hurt, I wasn’t making any progress, and the only end in sight was my life. I’d be lying if I said someone talked me down or I realized the value of life in that moment. “Landslide” finishes playing and I walk back to my dorm, too scared of there being nothing after life to find out.
I spent half of this anime crying at both sides of the show. I saw my mom and dad in the faces of the characters as they are emotionally hurt by someone they love hurting. I saw the friends that laughed off Kakeru’s feelings in some of the people I tried to talk to. But I also saw the people that cared put in more effort like Naho and Suwa did. I will never forget how my roommate’s friend Sophia sat in my room for hours talking to me the day after and how much that meant to me. The show does a phenomenal job at taking the simple pleasures and pains and sewing them into your heart. Each letter entry that Naho reads sets the stage for such a pleasing amount of anticipation up until the particular point of conflict. Everything feels like it sits on a knife’s edge and I held my breath as the balancing act unfolded beautifully.
Regret is the main theme of the show. Unbeknownst to our main group here, their lives will be full of small regrets that lead them down a wildly different path than they intended. The show subtly explores the “what-if’s” that people often quietly ask themselves. You know, it’s those 2 a.m. thoughts that invade your head and take you away from the life you live right now. While I personally think that you should always be looking ahead, I do not have the same kind of regrets that we see in Orange. There is real pain that people have in moments that they can never get back, and exploring a world where maybe just once that could change is really interesting. It begs the question of how sustainable that would be. Later in the show, that same question is asked, “Why do we get to have no regrets?” Each regret fixed for someone might be a regret put on another. Which regrets need to be fixed and which need to be lived with? The show explored this very subtly, so make sure to watch out for this.
The rest of the ideas start to creep into spoiler territory and I never want to go there. The show gives interesting examples of self sacrifice, exploration of time, and the bystander effect.Some of these ideas just need to be experienced firsthand, despite the spoilers. I was tempted to rate the ideas higher, but I think that they indecisively teeter the line of not exploring these ideas enough and exploring them in a subtle way. Either way, the ideas are bolstered by the emotion and I was favorable overall.
4 / 6
Orange lives on its ability to create anticipation. As we follow Naho, we have a clear roadmap laid out before us in her letter. I think that most people who have an ability to remember things better than the average goldfish (so basically anyone but me) can find this roadmap to be pretty clear. I found myself constantly forgetting which day was the day that Kakeru was supposed to end his life, and that inadvertently created more tension than I think was supposed to be there. Walking through each entry of the letter was a fantastic way to pace the viewer and tell an effective story. My largest criticism of the letter, however, is that I had no way to gauge the progress so far. I think that this could have been solved by something as simple as a subtitle telling us how many letter entries were left before the day. While this might seem small, there have to be devices for your viewers to generate anticipation as an impending date approaches.
As I sit here writing this review, I realize how much I dislike giving out low scores on animation. Up close, the characters were intriguing in a way difficult to convey. Their eyes and lips were different than what I had seen before and created a depth to the faces that I wasn’t used to, but really enjoyed. I had the urge to pause the show several times and just look at their faces. Maybe a little creepy, but I was just so captivated by their faces. This issue comes when the shots zoom out. I was consistently thrown out of my immersion by the poorly-proportioned characters in the wider shots. Background characters moved robotically or didn’t move at all. It came across as lazy and lacking the detail orientation that the rest of the show got, and was often enough to sour the show a bit when I saw those shortcomings.
About eight episodes in, I thought to myself, “Everyone acts like this group of friends are the only people who exist.” I thought about that statement and realized this was both obvious and not obvious at the same time. Of course the main characters are going to get opportunities over random classmates — they are the main character. But the world is also intentionally small and centered around our cast because they are the only ones who know about Kakeru. The world we see is the world that Kakeru knows. We don’t learn about certain characters in Kakeru’s life because they don’t truly see his world. The world is dull and muted because that is how Kakeru sees it, creating a truly intentional intimacy that reflects the characters who drive the show..
I listened to the opener and was not impressed. I listened to the music in the show and was not impressed. Then the show really kicked up the dial on the emotion. The characters had important moments in the show and all of the sudden the opener had new and hidden meanings. The sad music struck the chord that they were looking for and I started to hear these sounds in a new light. Tone is super important in a show, and in the beginning, I felt like the tone of the music did not match the tone of the show. But down the road, the show proved that it was able to grow into groundwork that it laid for itself.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||5||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||6||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||4||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||3||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||2||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||2||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||2||3|
For better or for worse, Orange will strike a familiar chord for some people. It guides us through regret via a quaint, connected cast and its intimate setting. Is it sad? Yeah, it is. But is it also a jarringly honest representation of the pain of feeling alone and living with regret? Absolutely.