What would you do if you receive letters from your future-self saying that you can change your future? That’s exactly what Naho experienced as she obtains ones from herself 10 years later that urge her to look after her new friend and prevent him from committing suicide. The premise, I agree, is hardly anything groundbreaking, but it functions well as a romantic drama anime. And orange is exactly that: a romantic drama anime. We have tons of romance developing between the leads Naho and Kakeru, and even more time focusing on the depression of Kakeru and the group’s attempt to save him.
The very central theme of orange is the sense of regret. Kakeru always feels regrets over his mother suicides, blaming himself for what happened and the thought of continue to live on proved to be too much for him. Moreover, it’s the adult counterpart that hold that same sense of regrets and griefs towards what they could do in the past for Kakeru. If they were more attentive, they could’ve realized his inner struggles. If they helped him out when he needed the most, chances were, he could’ve survived. Should’ve known better. It’s that regret sense that carry the weight in Naho’s, and eventually Suwa’s and the rest of the group’s actions and make their efforts feel grounded and genuine.
But that’s not to say that their efforts were executed flawlessly. The show’s at its best when the group confronts Kakeru to say out loud his issues, to really share his troubles to his dear friends. Kakeru always puts up a mask in order to cover his troubles, mostly because he believes he could drag the group down, and partly because he fears that he’d be rejected. By making him to be honest to himself, he knows that he can rely on his friends and that’s what save him in this new timeline. But orange feels forced whenever the group tries to recreate a perfect happy time for Kakeru; be it their fireworks night, his birthday, their relay match. Although those moments come from good intention, I can’t help but feel uneasy the way the group manipulates the outcomes so that little Kakeru always feel happy. Is it fair for the guy to receive too much without give anything away? Is that selfless love that you protect your loved ones from being hurt really the best possible outcomes? Hell, NO.
Although Kakeru and Naho share some good romantic moments together, it is Suwa who become the show’s best character. He’s in a complex situation since he decides to support the leads all the way, despite his own feeling for Naho. Sound cliché I know, but what make his character works is that Suwa is an observant, sensitive and highly emotional intelligent than the rest of the group. On the other end of the spectrum, Ueda is really a bad-written character. Orange clearly doesn’t think too highly of her, so the show frames her in a biased and negative light, it’s sad because whenever she appears on screen, she becomes a sore thumb to an otherwise solid cast. The rest of the cast share a natural, lively and effortless chemistry, but they are not the deepest bunch of characters you will ever witness. In fact, in the second half, the amount of time spent on the group trying to help Kakeru overwhelms their own character’s development.
In terms of production values, orange remains a very strange shoujo adaptation. The show has an above-standard quality in terms of direction. The director Hiroshi Hamasaki (who most famous for his Steins;Gate) elevates the show by his sensitive directing, which many scenes convey smartly the emotions the show want to make. The show, on the other hand, was done on a shoestring budget, as a result in a middle part the production values took a huge downfall, the characters are often off-model and those insignificant parts are treated equally messy and off-putting to the point that it brings the whole production down. This is a shame because this is a kind of budget that orange doesn’t deserve to have.
Despite a huge leap in quality, orange at least ends in high note, as the conclusion successfully ties up loose end and gives up a satisfying emotional ride. With the main theme about trying your best in order to have none regrets, it’s more about the ride, how to get there rather than the results, yet I have a feeling that orange focuses too much on the outcomes. To say all that, the ending was executed fairly well that I’ll complain no more. Overall, despite the huge decline in terms of production values in the middle part, and some thematic issues, orange is what it is- a solid entry of shoujo romance drama anime. Anyone who expect more from it will end up being disappointed.