When the summer anime season started back in July, there was a lot of excitement around different series. Many people were eager to watch a new Berserk adaptation and others were looking forward to finally seeing the story wrap up with the airing of Danganronpa 3. Orange, a romance show, flew under the radar and it piqued my interest after learning it combined both romance and time travel. With the series concluding, I can say that the entire experience was a very memorable one and it is one of the best romance shows to be released in quite some time.
Orange involves the main heroine, Naho Takamiya, receiving a letter from her future self. The letter details all of the regrets that her twenty-six year old self has. She urges her past self in this letter to fix all of the mistakes that she made in high school, specifically around a single person. The other person in question is a boy who transfers into Naho’s school by the name of Kakeru Naruse. Naho learns early on in the letter that she should not invite Kakeru to hang out with her and her friends after school. She ignores this warning, and she encourages him to come along regardless. Past Naho later learns that this action is the catalyst for the suicide of Kakeru’s mother which in turn leads to Kakeru’s death and eventual suicide. Orange is a show about dealing with guilt and blame and in the process learning how to deal with your emotions and how you can provide for the person you are in love with every single day.
Orange succeeds so well because it is one of those rare shows where every single member of the main cast is likeable. The main pairing in particular, Naho and Kakeru, are both very relatable characters that both have inner demons and things they each struggle with, including their own feelings for one another. However, the supporting cast is also depicted exceptionally well. Suwa Hiroto is the other important character in the circle of friends. In the alternate timeline from which the main cast received their letters, Suwa is in fact married to Naho. Suwa struggles with his feelings for Naho while simultaneously pushing the two of them together. He strongly believes in Kakeru’s happiness and as a result, he places his happiness above his own. Suwa is the type of person we wish we could be. I have an affinity towards selfless characters. He fits this character type. Furthermore, in many ways, he drives the plot forward. Naho likes to second guess herself when it comes to Kakeru. She is very unsure of herself in that she never wants to be an inconvenience to anyone. Suwa is very aware of this and is able to encourage and help her make the right decision when she is in doubt. Someone that can routinely look out for others and place a higher priority on their general welfare is someone that can win an audience’s heart.
The other three members of the supporting cast can be grouped together. The other two girls of the group, Azusa Murasaka and Takako Chino, are the moral support cheerleaders. Azusa is the bubbly girl, whose family owns a bakery. She wants the best for all of her friends and she has a teasing antagonistic relationship with the last member, Saku Hagita. It is heavily implied that these two characters have feelings for each other. Hagita fits the nerd archetype. He likes manga and he recognizes that he is not athletic. Chino has a cold demeanor and she seems bossy, but like Azusa, she deeply cares for her friends and wants to protect them. No single person acts greater than the sum of the parts of the group. It is also interesting because we get to see two different versions of these characters. We get to see their future twenty-six year old selves and their past selves. Their future selves are heavily affected by Kakeru’s death and you can see reflections of this in the past. These three characters try to learn more about Kakeru. They try to include him every step of the way. The same can be said for Naho and Suwa. We get to see them as good people in the past and in the future we get to see how much one single event can shape the lives of other people. It is refreshing not having undesirable traits in a member of the main cast and it made me want to watch the show all that much more.
The main attraction by far is the dynamic between Naho and Kakeru. Naho believes she is in love. She falls in love with Kakeru after he transfers to her school. Kakeru develops feelings for her as well. This is not a show where you may constantly question whether she likes him or vice versa. This is a show where you know a possible ending and it is an exercise to see if the characters can avoid a specific fate. The story focuses on Naho as she is the main character and it succeeds as a result. She is a very relatable character to the average anime viewer. She is incredibly shy. She questions every little interaction with Kakeru and is unable to recognize very obvious hints. At one point, she sits on a bench with Kakeru in a park and he tells her that he likes someone. When she asks who this person is, he tells her that it is a secret and she is still unable to decipher the meaning of these words. However as stated previously, it is established halfway through the season that a relationship is possible. Both characters admit to liking each other as more than friends, but a relationship is still unable to happen because of Kakeru’s internal struggle. You get the feeling that at any point Naho would happily enter into a romantic relationship with him, but he feels like he is broken goods. Kakeru feels 100% responsible for his mother’s suicide. Has he forfeited the right to live? Future Kakeru certainly thinks so. Together, Naho learns to come out of her shell and Kakeru learns how to live with guilt. They both have their own issues. Despite this, Kakeru has also fallen in love with Naho, but because he can’t let himself hurt her in any regard, he maintains his distance. As you watch the feelings develop, you want the relationship to succeed. You want them to move past their problems and you want Kakeru to be happy at long last. Orange tackles a lot of heavy subject material, but as a result the backdrop is all that more compelling. I have never watched a romance anime before where I sympathized with each of the main characters so much. They both feel like real people and being able to understand character motivations and mindsets is the mark of a great show
The art direction behind Orange is ingrained in the Shoujo direction. The character designs in particular are reminiscent of other Shoujo shows. The show overall uses vibrant colors in its art direction, which is a nice contrast against the heavy subject material. Orange is an obvious reference to Naho’s hair color and the students that attend Naho’s school are clearly marked by vibrant green jackets. Furthermore, the show primarily takes place during the day so the somber atmosphere that is generally set by night time is lacking for the most part. The show plays around this by setting some key moments that build tension during the night. In that way the show sets expectations for the audience and has consistency.
Orange is a fantastic romance that appeals to both men and women. The mind set of Naho and Kakeru is explored in great detail, even though the main plot is centered on the stability of Kakeru. Not many shows will center on suicide as a thematic issue that ties other themes and the characters together. Orange does this wonderfully so. While there is what seems like some filler with a Sports Day arc, the developing relationship between the two leads more than makes up for it. Orange is a rare show where the entire supporting cast is top notch as well. Each person contributes something and is interesting, in their own right. Orange was one of the best shows to come out of the summer 2016 season. It deserves your attention even if you are not into romance. The handling of suicide is handled so well that this thematic issue alone is enough to carry the show. Orange will wrench out your heart and play with your emotions, but you will be all the better for it.