Do you ever look back at your life with second thoughts about it? Maybe you were better off taking that job offer years ago. What if you had married your college boyfriend instead of the man you’re with now? Perhaps someone close to you could have lived if you did something differently. If you could send a message to your past self in an attempt to rectify it, would you do it? This is the dilemma sixteen-year-old Naho Takamiya faces. Out of the blue, Naho receives a letter from her twenty-six year old self, presenting bizarrely accurate predictions of the next few months. Included are bulletin notes with suggestions on what she can do to help new student Kakeru Naruse before his untimely death months from now.
Orange is an unfailingly gut-wrenching anime, delicately balancing its tone on a hanging scale. On one side is a quaint slice-of-life drama that embody the kind of friendship you only see on TV: teenagers who laugh and tease each other, but drop everything to be there when one of them is in trouble. It’s punctuated with feelgood moments because the main characters are kind, altrustic people and the six friends that make up Naho’s circle – comprised of Naho, athletic Suwa, energetic Azusa, down-to-earth Takako, geeky Saku, and newcomer Kakeru – joke, socialize, and argue with each other in ways that afford them genuine chemistry and prevent the anime from dipping into pure schmaltz. The moments where Naho and her friends debate over which bread they want or what manga is the funnest to read can be oddly soothing to you after several hard-hitting moments.
The other scale centers on Kakeru and his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. He serves as the series’ central motivational piece, constantly battling his guilt over his mother’s death that will eventually lead to his own. The show is delicate with its approach, always treating Kakeru’s mental illness with sensible, sympathetic hands, but never shying away from the negative implication and harm that it causes to his friends. An extremely potent demonstration of Orange’s sensitivity is its treatment of masculinity and emotional display. Boys are often conditioned to hide their vulnerabilities and toughen up, but a scene involves Kakeru trying to confess to his old (male) friends about his problems, only to be brushed off as a joke. After all, real men don’t cry. Orange is deadset on proving this mindset wrong. When Kakeru’s feelings are dismissed, he is devastatingly affected by it. The rest of the male protagonists are just as prone to honest tears and not once does the anime emasculate them for doing so.
Orange’s progressive messages extend to the show’s love triangle subplot. Naho has a not-so-subtle crush on Kakeru, which the latter slowly realizes and reciprocates. Meanwhile Suwa has been in love with Naho for years, but he defies the expectation that a man should be entitled to his love interest. Suwa is supportive of their relationship, expresses jealously without undermining either Kakeru and Naho, remains friends with both because he enjoys their company, and most importantly treats Naho like an actual human being capable of making her own decisions. The romantic plot is so impressive that it beguiles me when it briefly introduces the Haughty Popular Girl, Ueda. A wedge in the Naho-Kakeru relationship, she is never given an ounce of sympathy and treated as a devious obstacle for Naho to navigate through in yet another negative portrayal of Women-Hating-Other-Women-Because-of-a-Boy.
Orange has a two reoccurring themes that are in opposition to one another, but nevertheless even themselves out. It tells us that when given a chance, we should uproot the status quo and change events for the better. But just as poignantly, it tells us that if we fail, that’s alright, too. There are many ways to cope and grow for the better, demonstrated the best with the future timeline. There, twenty-six year old Naho and her friends send letters to their past selves to advise them, but accept the possibility that nothing might happen. In the latter’s case, they decide to carry on Kakeru’s spirit and live their lives. The multiple time-travel explanation can be a bit cheap – an assurance that their ideal future will conveniently exist even if their past self triggers the Butterfly Effect – but it fits perfectly with Orange’s themes.
Orange is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. A limited edition houses both Blu-ray and DVD, a booklet with minor details on the central protagonists, and in keeping with the premise of the show, letters the dubbed voice actors and writers wrote to their younger selves. Enclosed – appropriately enough – in an envelope are six art cards of the main characters. Blu-ray extras include promo videos, textless openers and closers, and trailers for various other anime under the FUNimation label.
Like its namesake, the anime peels off the layers to reveal the ugliness of depression and neglectful consequences, but just as willingly pampers you with a soft blanket and hot cocoa. Orange grasps these themes with grace and eases us into a journey that is at once pure and uplifting, yet heartbreaking and bittersweet.