by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Watching Orange can be a very painful experience. It's tough to watch Naho make mistake after mistake - her drama isn't based around dark secrets or wacky misunderstandings, it's simply the everyday insecurity that makes so many of us unable to act on our true feelings. “Call out after him!” I want to say, or “Stop being so scared! He feels the same way!” But as Naho herself bitterly reflects, “in the present, you're already doing everything you can.” Even knowing the potential consequences of her mistakes can't help Naho become a different person. Ultimately, her message from the future is much less helpful than the support of her friends in the here and now.
But it takes a long time for this episode to build up to that point, and the journey there is a frustrating, distracted, and sometimes almost incoherent one. That's intentional; Orange has always prioritized conveying not just the facts, but the experience of Naho's life. And so as the end of her first term transitions into summer break, we live through that time off in the same way Naho experiences it.
In this case, that means a return to two of Orange's staple devices: unfocused incidental dialogue and heavy montage. Like in many prior scenes, the dialogue of Naho and her friends as they dance through summer break has no immediate narrative purpose. They ramble about the hobbies of their parents and talk about eating pet fish, laughing uproariously at each other's barely-jokes. The purpose here isn't to convey plot beats, it's to create tone and texture. The actual takeaway of this sequence is “Naho's friends are celebrating their youth, but Naho is barely there.”
The use of montage is more specifically aimed at establishing the second half of that effect. Just like how the two weeks Kakeru was away passed in a temporal blur, so too does Naho's distracted and Kakeru-free summer vacation pass in a haze of indistinct moments. Her friends' talk of fish and frogs ends up being represented visually as a loosely scribbled frog, which is interspersed with Naho's specific memories both during summer vacation and her time spent avoiding Kakeru afterwards. The ultimate effect is a blurring of feelings and days, making the audience feel just as removed from these specific moments as Naho herself is. Her daydream of the frog echoes both her friends' words and an actual television program we glimpse her father watching, ultimately conveying how little she's paying attention to the world around her in a very visceral sense.
There are a variety of other interesting touches of execution here, though many of them have become standbys of Orange's storytelling vocabulary. Naho's scenes of hiding from Kakeru and chatting with her friends are interspersed with incidental moments of other students enjoying their days, creating a firmer sense of Naho's school as a real place. Those moments of practice and play also emphasize the fact that Naho's time here is precious and fleeting; while she passes her days in an insecure daydream, her potential high school life is passing her by. Orange is obviously a show about looking back on the regrets of the past, but many of its incidental storytelling choices help further emphasize the transient nature of high school life.
In the end, Naho breaks from her hiding and daydreams not by the words of her letter, but by the support of her friends. Suwa chastises her for avoiding Kakeru, the one who clearly has his own feelings for her (even if we didn't know about their future relationship, the framing of Suwa's reactions to Naho have always been clear). And thus, after a long and exhausting episode of watching Naho consistently fail to speak her mind, we're finally rewarded with a warm and honest conversation between Naho and Kakeru. Hearing him honestly admit that he doesn't have meaningful feelings for Ueda comes as a huge relief (smartly seeded by a variety of empty conversations between the two of them earlier on), and just seeing Naho not be stressed and unhappy for once earns a long, grateful sigh as well. For all of Orange's creative storytelling choices, watching Naho do this to herself for a full season might just kill me.
Orange is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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