by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Community score: 3.9
This week's episode of Orange at long last engaged with some of my own lingering misgivings about Naho and her friends' quest. As the gang gathered for the new year, thoughts of saving Kakeru devolved into arguments about what saving Kakeru really meant and what might have to be sacrificed to retain him. As rehearsed confrontations played out in new ways, Orange flipped gracefully between the inevitability of some things and the mutability of others.
Suwa has spent basically this whole series sacrificing for the sake of others. Knowing all along that the original timeline promised a happy future for himself and Naho, he has consistently sacrificed chances to be with her in order to ensure Kakeru's happiness instead. He has pushed both of them together in a variety of ways, acting as matchmaker between the girl he's loved forever and the boy he's only known for a few months. He has cast himself as the selfless hero, and it's really only through his proactive behavior that Naho and Kakeru have gotten close at all.
For the first time, this episode directly engaged with the scale and consequences of Suwa's actions. Suwa has clearly gone beyond the call of duty in his choices - though it's certainly noble of him to try and save a friend, sacrificing his own future happiness to do so is neither an obligation nor the right thing to do. Early in this episode, Suwa's friends begin to tire of his constant self-sacrificing - though they're also invested in saving Kakeru, both Suwa and Naho's feelings are important to them too. By the end of the episode, Azusa spells out something that's added a strong ambiguity to Naho's quest: Azusa feels happy supporting Suwa because she knows Suwa would be good for Naho.
Though the team has consistently framed “saving Kakeru” as an objective good, doing that by essentially giving him Naho as a prize has gone unquestioned for too long. Kakeru is obviously not in a stable place right now - he's depressed and prone to mood shifts and full of self-loathing, unable to do much of anything for anyone besides himself. That certainly makes him sympathetic, but it doesn't mean Naho is obligated to date him - in fact, the problems that make Kakeru's position so unsteady also mean he's not in a place to contribute to a healthy relationship. By contrast, Suwa has always been there for Naho, and the letters indicate he likely always will be - he's a sensitive and stable friend who is so dedicated to Naho's happiness that he's willing to give up on his own to guarantee it. If not for their knowledge of Kakeru's fate, it would be obvious that Suwa should not give up his feelings for Naho.
Though Suwa's friends don't go so far as to analyze Kakeru's instability, their concern for Suwa's own feelings is clear in the way they urge him to confess to Naho. Time travel is a messy affair at the best of times, and it's already unclear how much their meddling has changed their world in either a positive or negative sense. The only thing they know for sure is that in the previous timeline, Naho and Suwa ended up happy together. Whether pushing Naho and Kakeru together will result in a better future for anyone is entirely uncertain.
Of course, Kakeru's position is also compelling in its own way. Though Naho and her friends are trying to help, in some ways their knowledge actually presents more of a barrier to connecting with him. Naho can't tell Kakeru his grandmother is fine because she'll still be alive in ten years - all she can say is “I'm sure she's fine,” which naturally parses as flippant and insensitive to Kakeru. Naho lacks the cleverness or emotional intelligence to translate her inside information into useful advice, so her efforts to help Kakeru only push him further away.
All of this drama played out against one of the most visually compelling episodes this show has seen in a long time, as the characters all wandered around the snowy evening shrine. There were still plenty of off-model faces here and there, but there were also some beautiful backgrounds and shots that nicely emphasized the isolation of the characters through their position in the frame. For once, Orange's execution failed to diminish its dramatic aspirations.
Overall, this episode of Orange did a lot to alleviate my growing concerns about the show's direction. Framing “saving Kakeru” as a clear and objective good is questionable on both ends - on the one hand, it dismisses the meaningful feelings of characters other than Kakeru, and on the other, it often leads to sequences where Kakeru is treated more as a helpless object than a character with his own agency. Both Suwa's friends and Kakeru himself turned out to be uncomfortable with this arrangement, so the dramatic twists of this episode felt satisfying and earned. Hopefully the show can ride the dramatic dominoes of this episode's conflicts to the end.
Orange is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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