‘Orange’ goes far beyond near all teen-based dramas, not only in the world of animation, but in all forms of entertainment
Attempting to place ‘Orange’ within a single genre of entertainment is as difficult as describing the colour itself, as this seemingly simplistic anime is in fact a complex tapestry of themes from time travel, romance, drama, comedy, and more. Just as the characters are given a chance to rewrite the past, so too are audiences led to consider their own regrets, and handling of the presented situation, and it is here that viewers may find fault within the series and the characters in general. However, the surrounding cast of characters and deeper issues they explore make ‘Orange’ stand far above its surrounding “teen drama” peers.
Based on the award-winning manga, ‘Orange’ is the gripping story of second-year student, Naho Takamiya, who receives a letter from her future self. The letter tells of Kakeru, a shy boy who transfers to her school the next day, and of the life between them that will unfold into tragedy. Can Naho and a close group of friends change the future or must they live with a regret that can never be erased?
The central theme of the series and one of its most intriguing facets is, unfortunately, also the source of its major downfall. The ability to travel through time to save the life of your greatest love is a concept wrought with intense intrigue and emotion that make ‘Orange’ instantly engaging. However, providing such a horrifying event as cost of your failure makes some aspects of the plot, and many of Naho’s actions, seem frustrating and near-bordering on selfish. The vagueness of the letters, for example, seem highly ignorant considering the severity of the outcome should they be ignored, and thus simply writing “This is the one day I don't want you to invite Kakeru. Seriously” seems a grave misjudgment. It feels a more appropriate phrase may be “Inviting him may lead to his death!” or one similar to highlight the importance of her action. Her failure to follow these instructions is given further weight as episode two reveals the dire ramifications of him joining them that day. In a similar vein, Naho’s reluctance to even speak to Kakeru, though clearly a well-honed character trait and one not un-common to teen romance, can become grating when you consider the greater picture, as you can’t help but feel such fear should be more easily overcome when presented with the risk of said person dying.
Many of these faults could, of course, be pre-determined aspects of the story that will make sense in future episodes, such as as limitations to the content of the letters, and thusit is encouraged to keep such ideas in mind as to make the premise more enjoyable. Even if they remain unresolved, this frustration may simply come from overthinking the plot line of an anime that is, in essence, based on fantasy and perhaps a greater degree of suspending reality is necessary to enjoy it.
It must also be said that Naho’s English dub voice artist, Jill Harris, does an exception job in making her appear as much more sympathetic and strong character than her Japanese counterpart, at least within the limitations of the character.It is clear that Naho is a deeply caring and conscientious character, but overall, she comes across as an emotionally and thematically weak personality, which is further frustrating given that she is female and thus falls into the all too common cliche of the female role.
Thankfully, Naho is surrounded by a stunning cast of characters that elevate the series and provide it deeper sense of both comedy and emotion. As the defining player in the series of events, Kakeru is a perfectly sculpted character - one who evokes instant empathy and an unavoidable sense of fear when his happiness, and life, is in question. Were he to be anything less and fail to form this bond with the audience, the series would fall apart, but in a testament to great character development, he is the ultimate anchor to whom you feel as much emotion as you would to a real-life mate. It is the quality of his character and slow unravelling of his back story that forms the focus of the series and will no doubt compel the viewer to return week after week.
Each member of the friendship group is equally as charming as Kakeru, while possessing a distinctive personality. Suwa’s generosity, Takako’s confidence and strength, Saku’s sarcasm, and Azusa’s outgoing, hilarious antics create a well balanced and compelling cast of characters that often outshine Naho’s more timid nature. The flash-forward to their future selves at the end of episode 2 show some changes in relationships that create an even greater sense of empathy for one character in particular, while conversely raising questions for another. It will thus be quite interesting to see how past events play out in order to lead to this conclusion.
While on the surface this may seem a series that is largely based in romance and teenage drama, its venture into the more darker themes of mental illness is one of the most admirable qualities of the show. Though only briefly touched on in the first two episodes, it is clear that Kakeru is struggling with much anguish despite his greatest efforts to appear otherwise. It is a pain that near all audience members can relate to and not only furthers the empathy you feel towards his character, but speaks of issues that are in dire need of greater recognition. Mental illness, and the tragedies that may come when you fail to address it, are all too often seen as taboo subjects and thus ‘Orange’ deserves great praise for presenting these issues as a common trait that warrants not a single trace of shame. This is even more powerful as it is shown to affect both genders, particularly males who are less likely to discuss such issues, and yet no character is shown as “insane”, “crazy”, or one to be avoided, but someone who is as normal as the next and who speaks to our most compassionate traits. It if for this reason that ‘Orange’ goes far beyond near all teen-based dramas, not only in the world of animation, but in all forms of entertainment.
In first two episodes alone, ‘Orange’ has provided some of the most impactful and original approaches to concepts of time travel, drama, and relationships that will no doubt hook the viewer. While Naho’s character is often weak and agitating, it is far outweighed by the strength of her surrounding cast and the deeper themes explored throughout the series. Whether these facets grow, diminish, or alter over time remains to be seen, but it is a future worth tuning in to see as to ensure you do not create your own series of regrets.