Reviewby Theron Martin,
Limited Edition Blu-Ray/DVD
On a fateful April morning, 16-year-old Naho Takamiya finds a letter claiming to be written by her 26-year-old future self. Though incredulous at first, the identical handwriting and its uncanny predictive accuracy quickly convince her that the letter may be real. It instructs her to correct some of her future self's long-standing regrets, mostly concerning a new transfer student named Kakeru. That's much easier said than done for the timid Naho, however, and she misses the first and most critical opportunity to change things. Over the next few months, she must struggle both to move events away from the path established by that first mistake, which will lead to Kakeru's death a year later.
How do you save a person who's wallowing in depression but won't let anyone know about it, especially without making it obvious that you're trying to do so? That question lies at the heart of this adaptation of Ichigo Takano's manga, a teen drama with a sci fi twist. The answer to that question – or at least the way Naho and her friends try to tackle the matter – is just as compelling as the “sending a letter back in time” gimmick that kicks off the plot.
The how and why behind that gimmick is left vague through the end of the series, but it doesn't actually matter at all. Far more important are the motivations of the 26-year-old versions of the core cast and what they do to try and change things. To that end, the story predominantly focuses on their teenage years, but it occasionally bounces forward a decade to show the group gathering in remembrance of Kakeru. These flash-forwards are used carefully in their progressive portrayal of a single reunion day to avoid spilling any more details about the course of events than what the letter describes. It's an effective use of the premise, in no small part because it also shows how the actions necessary to save Kakeru could have negative consequences for at least one of them in the long run. It also allows for some neat transpositions of the adult and teenage versions of the characters near the series' end.
Most of the story's attention is on the characters 16-year-old actions, though. At first the focus is on integrating newcomer Kakeru into an already-established group of friends and Naho's fumbling efforts both to express her attraction to Kakeru and follow the letter's instructions. As the school year progresses and signs that Kakeru is suffering from depression become more evident, it becomes much more about forming a support network for him and trying to guide him down a less fatalistic path. Naho's ability to know the future applies an ample amount of tension to the scenario, leaving viewers wondering if every little decision will contribute to saving Kakeru or potentially cause unforeseen complications. The sense of having to tiptoe around while still trying to act natural also comes through clearly.
Thankfully, the climax of the story communicates that no single action makes the difference; it's the net effect of everything that Naho and her friends do to support Kakeru that matters, which is much more honest about the real-life effects of depression on individuals and their relationships. It's also clarified that Kakeru's depression does not just spring from a single event; it was a collection of factors in his life that made his depression more difficult to handle. The series also reinforces that someone talking about killing themselves should never be taken as a joke.
Because of its sensitive subject matter, Orange can be a fairly emotional experience. Although it has few laugh-out-loud moments, the joking interplay between the group of friends is pleasantly warm and amusing. The writing can capably induce tears often; given that the live-action version was also effective at this, credit probably goes most heavily to the original creator for that. The series also does a good job of realistically portraying its cast's emotional states and how they change over time, providing an excellent and complementary mix of personalities. Naho's intense cautiosness can be annoying at times, but it's also understandable given her circumstances. Besides, it's hardly any worse than the myriad other fumbling teen anime romances out there.
Technical merits for the series are unfortunately erratic. At its best, the character designs are attractive, distinctive, and appealing, with none of the core sextet falling into standard visual archetypes despite their pseudo-realistic hair and wardrobe; even the most simple-looking character, Kakeru, has something about the way he smiles that makes him stand out. The future versions of the characters could have done with a bit more updating in their appearances (one character grows her hair longer, another goes shorter) but they otherwise look good too. The series also does a fantastic job of using backgrounds to reflect the mood at given times, with warmer moments typically having spring or autumn themes and more troubled moments commonly happening at night, in colder settings, or just out of the sunlight. The animation supports the body language of various characters well, but problems crop up consistently in motion. Too many shots – especially long ones – are unable to stay on-model.
Music director Hiroaki Tsutsumi has typically done more raucous fare like Monster Musume, Kuromukuro, and Seven Mortal Sins, but here he proves quite capable of handling a lighter touch. He arranges, composes, and performs both melancholy insert songs and provides a musical score based around piano numbers with a delicate touch, which promotes the tone of the series well. Closer “Mirai” fully captures the wistful feel of the future segments, while opener “Hikari no Hahen” more embodies the energy of the teenage segments.
Funimation is releasing the title as part of their Crunchyroll partnership in a standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack and also provided the English Dub. The core sextet in particular is well-cast and pleasingly performed; Micah Solusod, who has shown strong emotional range in other works, makes a great Kakeru and Sarah Wiedenheft performs her laughter-heavily role well as the louder Azusa, but there isn't a mediocre performance in the bunch. Some use of slang was Americanized in the script, but it still feels appropriate. On-disc extras include promo videos and clean versions of theme songs. The case comes in an artbox that includes a set of art cards featuring each of the main sextet and a 36-page booklet, which includes character profiles, feature artwork, brief episode summaries, and a “letters to the past” exercise by the main vocal cast and script writer Jamie Marchi, which makes up for the lack of audio commentary.
This is the only case where I've actually seen a live-action movie version of the franchise before I've seen the anime, and of the two versions, this one is better. They have about equal emotional impact, but the anime version features better acting and the additional runtime allows the story to develop the sequence of events better. So if you want a more compact version of this story, the live-action version works well, but otherwise try the anime or manga versions.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Effectively emotional, distinct and appealing character designs, satisfying plot
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