by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 8 of
You'd be forgiven for expecting things to actually change in Naho and Kakeru's relationship, given the events of last week. After being pushed into confessions by Suwa, it'd be natural to assume they'd now be in something resembling a relationship - but unfortunately, this is Orange we're talking about. Instead, Kakeru decides he'd rather stay friends with Naho, to avoid potentially hurting her in the future. It's a disappointing display of caution, but it's pretty much in line with what Orange has been doing all along.
Outside of that frustrating commitment to relational stasis, the main thing that struck me about this episode was how the show's production woes continue to harm its overall storytelling. Orange has never been the most beautiful show, but its earlier episodes often featured some interesting stylistic digressions, like the wandering montages defining the group's social outings or the funny frog character that emphasized Naho spinning in circles. Orange wasn't fluidly animated or beautifully designed, but it still had a visual/directorial personality all of its own.
As the season has continued, these digressions have dried up, and now the show's animation is hitting new lows as well. There's almost no animation in Orange to speak of anymore - it's largely just a series of still images, with conversations panning over group shots instead of jumping between focus characters, and reactions constraining themselves to single, immobile expressions. This dearth of animation doesn't just make Orange less pleasing to look at it; it actively harms the show's dramatic potential. There were several points in this episode where I simply couldn't parse what a reaction shot was supposed to convey, because the lack of animation meant all the characters involved were limited to single flat expressions. When you're creating an anime about subtle emotional shifts and unspoken relationships, you desperately need animation and visual design strong enough to convey those feelings.
That's not to say this episode was all bad. I enjoyed seeing Naho and Suwa realize the limitations of their letters, as the advice they received consistently failed to line up with the reality they were experiencing. The letter has certainly been a necessary guide for Naho, but its perspective is limited, and it seems that even future Naho is more concerned with simply erasing Kakeru's bad memories than constructing a more stable future for him. I also appreciated that Naho's decision to stop relying on the letter wasn't framed as an immediate success. Naho certainly does need to learn how to make her own decisions, but simply deciding you're no longer going to let yourself be guided isn't the same thing as gaining the confidence and perspective to choose your own path. Naho falls back on old habits when she makes her own way. And when she stumbles, she needs the assurance of her friends.
I also liked the unspoken ways this episode revealed the specific fault lines within Naho's friendship group. Naho is the kind of person who would never reveal something as strange and improbable as the letter, so it makes sense that Suwa would be the one to approach her - they share a long-term bond and seem a bit closer than the rest of the group. But Naho and Suwa's relationship isn't the only sub-bond in their circle - Hagita's closeness to Azusa means he eventually asks her about the letter, and it seems likely that Azusa and Takako told each other about their letters long before anyone else. The offhand reveal of these existing bonds was a nice bit of incidental characterization, illustrating that people outside of Naho's immediate thoughts have their own best friends and dramatic agency.
But overall, this was a fairly slow episode that didn't really accomplish much dramatically. On top of that, Orange's general visual failings are only becoming more pronounced as the season continues, to the point where they're actively limiting the show's ability to capture its characters' feelings. Orange is still a fine show, but this episode's mixture of individual weaknesses marks it as one of the series' worst.
Orange is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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