Orange
Episodes 1-3

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Orange ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Orange ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Orange ?

On an ordinary day, friendly but soft-spoken high school student Naho receives an unusual letter - a letter that claims to be sent from her own future self. Outlining a long series of specific daily events and minor regrets, the letter is framed largely around Naho's relationship with new transfer student Kakeru, who Naho quickly develops feelings for. Naho is uncertain about trusting the letter, but she soon realizes its words contain at least an element of truth. That acceptance only makes things harder for her though, as it shortly becomes clear that this letter is intended not just to erase Naho's daily regrets, but to save Kakeru from an early death.

Orange doesn't really hide the true nature of the letter; in future-time segments scattered throughout these episodes, we see a young adult reunion of Naho and her friends, with Kakeru's conspicuous absence emphasized through their now uneasy relationships. The point of this story isn't figuring out what happened to Kakeru; the point isn't even Naho's attempts to save her crush. Orange's priorities are the space between these narratives, the truth of both past and future Naho's feelings and their inability to truly communicate.

High school Naho's everyday adventures with friends are brought to life through meditative vignettes and rambling daily conversations. Orange's original double omnibus length might seem a little spare for a full season adaptation, but the anime actually turns its sedate pacing into a strength. Many scenes proceed at the pace of Naho's feelings - when she's insecure about handing a homemade lunch to her crush, her morning classes slow to a crawl, while the two weeks Kakeru spends away from school fly by in a momentary montage. Orange's pacing reflects the way any single individual will experience or remember high school - not as a procession of evenly spaced days, but as a collection of beacon-bright moments scattered between forgotten weeks of mechanical daily activity.

Orange's excellent dialogue also informs the realism of its story's approach. Many of the lines exchanged by Naho and her friends feel more like warm space-fillers than critical plot details or discussions of meaningful feelings. The texture of their relationships is sculpted across many incidental conversations about buying drinks or playing soccer or enjoying summer break, where the priority is less articulating key plot information than establishing these kids as believable individuals, with the natural banter of idle teenagers. By de-emphasizing the individual importance of any one line, Orange works to make its characters real.

Director Hiroshi Hamasaki initially feels like an odd fit for material like this. Known for his works on shows like Steins;Gate and Texhnolyze, his stories consistently take place in alienating and oversaturated worlds, where oppressive lighting and impersonal framing emphasize the environment as an antagonistic character. That style is still on display here, but Orange also possesses a visual playfulness that adds some warmth to its atmosphere - sequences like the first episode's rambling after-school adventure or the regular high-speed montages do some work to keep things gentle and inviting. But overall, his general emphasis on isolating framing and light saturation add a sense of distance to the work that somewhat counterbalances the intimacy of Naho's interior voice. We are witnessing her feelings, but we are not there beside her; like her older self, we see Naho's mistakes play out like photos and diary entries, relatable failures we can reach for but never touch.

The impossibility of true communication across time lies at the heart of this show. Though she is blessed with a bulleted list of mistakes to avoid, high school Naho still runs into hangup after heartache after withering regret. It seems clear that Orange will eventually build toward an acknowledgment of the true nature of regrets - in spite of our adult selves wanting to believe that mere information could have allayed those setbacks, we have to make our own mistakes in order to learn from them. While our older selves may look back and see nothing but a long sequence of tiny mistakes, it is only because those mistakes are made that we can grow into the kind of person who recognizes them.

That is not to say that Naho's friend Kakeru must die for the sake of her own character development. I am interested in seeing how the story accommodates the growing disconnect between past and future Naho. Although they're still framed as one person who grows into another, future Naho's letter has already changed past Naho's life in a variety of ways, making it seem less likely Naho will grow up to be the exact same person. I have absolutely no interest in seeing this show prioritize the mechanics of its fantasy conceit, but it's still a piece of conceptual friction that will have to be resolved eventually. More compelling in an immediate sense are the ways Naho's new acts of connection and kindness change her world in totally unexpected ways; because Naho had the courage to give Kakeru his homemade lunch, he found the courage to join the soccer team.

So far, Orange is offering a rich bounty of endearing character moments while consistently hinting at poignant and universal themes about growing up and looking back on our past selves. The show's grounded dialogue gives its cast a level of realism you rarely see in anime, and though Hamasaki's direction is something of an uneasy fit for the material, it ultimately works in service of the show's slightly distanced and nostalgic perspective. The show has some stumbling quirks here and there on the production side (slightly stiff character designs, limited animation, occasional awkward transitions), but it is telling a story that is very worth your time.

Overall: A-

Orange is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.


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