by Carlo Santos,

Kimagure Orange Road: The Movie

I want to Return to That Day

Kimagure Orange Road: The Movie DVD
Kasuga Kyosuke has spent most of his high school career bouncing back and forth between two girls -- the intense, moody Ayukawa Madoka and bubbly, innocent Hiyama Hikaru. Although the instantly likeable Hikaru is head over heels for Kyosuke, he can't help but be drawn to the gorgeous yet fickle Madoka. To complicate matters further, Madoka and Hikaru have been best friends since childhood, so no matter what Kyosuke does with one girl, the other is going to find out. This classic love triangle story reaches critical mass as Kyosuke, in the midst of studying for college entrance exams, has to decide once and for all who he truly loves. The trouble with making such a decision is that, no matter who Kyosuke chooses, someone is going to get hurt.
How indecisive can you get? It's taken Kyosuke 48 TV episodes and 8 OAV volumes -- all of which span three high school years -- to figure out that he really, REALLY is in love with Madoka. The payoff finally comes in this 70-minute "movie" (which is really a cross between a 30-minute episode and a full-length motion picture), where the stakes are raised, emotions are heightened and every frame of animation means something.

Anyone who's sat through the Orange Road TV series knows that the show wavers anywhere between strong drama, gut-busting comedy, and meandering filler. Luckily for us, the KOR Movie focuses on the drama, making it the crown jewel of the franchise and an artistic achievement in its own right. The opening of the movie should clue you in: it starts off in black and white, showing several city shots before we see Kyosuke and Madoka heading to the university to check their entrance exam results. An off-handed comment is overheard, which leads Kyosuke to ponder the events of last summer -- and the animation jumps into vibrant color. How's that for an artistic touch?

Kimagure Orange Road is built upon a classic love triangle premise, so don't expect any mind-blowing plot twists here. The KOR Movie focuses on the characters and their relationships, rather than a complex storyline. Well, there IS a story, but it's more of a recapitulation and coda to the entire series. It's summer, Kyosuke is studying for his college entrance exams, and during a "study break" there's a fateful kiss that sets the whole emotional rollercoaster going. Has Hikaru finally won Kyosuke over? Is he just stringing her along because he doesn't want to hurt her? And does Madoka really like Kyosuke as much as he likes her? This all unfolds at a relaxed pace, with plenty of time for characters to stand around looking thoughtful. It fits the mood of the story perfectly, though, and despite many silent moments, it never feels like a minute is wasted.

Yes, it all drips with high school drama, but these are characters that you can really get into. We've all known someone like Hikaru, who has such a positive outlook on life that when you hurt her, it hurts you too. On the flip side is Madoka, who hides her insecurities behind an aloof, moody exterior. Surprisingly, Kyosuke is the deepest character of all, and when it all breaks down, you can read the pain on his face and hear the regret in his voice. This is where so many modern romantic anime titles fail -- they forget that you have to start with engaging characters if you want to build an engaging love story. Kimagure Orange Road develops its three main characters to such a high level that their feelings become the viewer's feelings too.

The animation and artwork in the KOR Movie are top-notch for 1988. In fact, if it weren't for the dated character designs, you'd think this was a mid-90's title. Yes, everyone in the series suffers from 80's fashion, but think of it as a cultural touchstone -- a slice of life from 80's Japan. Character designs aside, the technical aspects such as color and crispness of line are as good as it gets for hand-drawn animation. Motions are smooth, backgrounds are rendered with richness and depth, and even cheap animation tricks like slow pans and still frames are a pleasure to watch. The real genius, though, is in the camera angles from scene to scene. It would be so easy to just show two people having a conversation over and over again, but the animators take that extra step and pick dramatic angles that enhance the intensity of each scene. With the romance genre, there aren't many opportunities for battle-action eye candy, so using external visual techniques to convey something as internal as human emotion is a very tricky thing to master.

The background music is sparse, which is probably for the best, since there isn't much more than the synthesized soft-pop tracks from the original series and a couple of syrupy love songs. This is the part where the production staff put in the least effort, but you have to give them credit for squeezing in that one heart-rending love song for the big depressing breakup scene.

Overall, the Kimagure Orange Road Movie is a beautifully executed love story. Don't pass on it just because it's "old" and not the Next Big Thing in anime. If you've been jaded by too many wacky romantic comedies or cheese-laden angstfests, and want to see characters behaving and falling in love like real human beings, then this is what you need.
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : C-

+ engaging characters; excellent animation quality for its time
mediocre music; slow pace won't appeal to those looking for action

Director: Tomomi Mochizuki
Screenplay: Kenji Terada
Storyboard: Tomomichi Mochizuki
Music: Shiro Sagisu
Original Manga: Izumi Matsumoto
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Art Director: Satoshi Miura
Animation Director: Masako Gotō
Sound Director: Noriyoshi Matsuura
Director of Photography: Jin Kaneko
Reiko Fukakusa
Hideo Kawano

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Kimagure Orange Road: The Movie (movie)

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Kimagure Orange Road: The Movie (DVD)

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