[Synopsis]: Takamiya Naho (Hanazawa Kana), a second-year high school student, one day mysteriously receives a letter written from herself ten years in the future. Able to predict the events of each day before they happen, the letter details Naho’s future regrets – most important of which is her inability to prevent the suicide of her friend and classmate Narusue Kakeru (Yamashita Seiichirou). Resolved to fix her mistakes, Naho and her group of friends rally around Kakeru and attempt to save him from the fate Naho’s future self foretells.
In-line with the premise of the story, Orange almost exclusively centers around Naho’s group of friends as they go about their daily lives and interact with one another. While all of them are present at each stage of the story, there is an additional focus placed on Naho as well as Kakeru and Suwa while Hagita, Azusa, and Takako serve more as window-dressing to those centermost characters. Despite exhibiting decent chemistry between one another, Naho’s friends are pretty one-note as far as their personalities are concerned. Suwa is outgoing and friendly, Azusa is cheerful and energetic, Hagita is just kind of an oddball, and Takako is stern and mature. Orange plays off of these key traits to develop their interactions but doesn’t present anything beyond these surface-level characteristics. Kakeru presents some dramatic elements to his characterization but his personality isn’t all that different from those of his friends. Perhaps the best thing the group brings to the table is in how they seem to talk over one another all the time. It gives the conversations a genuine feel to them whether the dialogue is compelling or not.
The most important character to talk about is Naho, not simply because she is the protagonist of the story but because of how directly her characterization affects the narrative. As far as her most straightforward attributes go, she is kind and often puts others before herself. She doesn’t have a lot else going for her however you get a sense of what kind of person she is pretty immediately. The problem that arises is that her behavior, which doesn’t fall in line with her characterization as the show illustrates her, continuously hampers her own progress and damages the progress of the show significantly. It makes her look exceedingly short-sighted, dimwitted, and downright dense.
This is probably the biggest problem in the entire show – that Naho’s inconsistency and ineptitude decide the pacing and outcome of each scene on far too many occasions. In all of her interactions, she seems to possess little to no self-awareness and her inability to pick up on what Kakeru desires of her or what he wants, which are made painfully clear to the viewer, will have you grinding your teeth in no time. Her relationship with the letter is baffling as well in that she refuses to read its full contents despite the fact that it could save somebody’s life. Naho, shallowly characterized though she is, is an earnest and heartfelt person and would clearly do whatever she could to help somebody in trouble. So when she fails to read the letter, or follow its directions, or do hardly anything beneficial to further her cause of saving Kakeru, it both comes off as infuriating and doesn’t make any sense for her character.
Naho’s actions are so discordant with what the viewer expects of her and knows she is supposed to do that she, and ultimately her relationship with Kakeru, becomes increasingly unpleasant to watch. It’s all played off as some sort of hyper-exaggerated social anxiety but at the end of the day, Naho causes numerous setbacks and issues where there never needed to be any. The plot moves slowly and the group fails in certain circumstances to help Kakeru not because of outside factors but strictly because of Naho’s inability to follow directions and behave in-character. Naho’s actions are contrivances to direct the flow of the plot, not things she would normally do. Everything she does feels inorganic and leaves the viewer asking ‘why?’ instead of engaging them in the story.
For the most part, Orange‘s visuals do what they need to and tell the story without much flare within the presentation. There are a handful of visual metaphors and symbolic gestures within its artwork but they are disappointingly straightforward in their execution. While the show looks pretty enough early on, the midsection of the show drops considerably in quality for a short time before returning to form afterwards. Orange tries to marry its lighthearted tone to the story’s beautiful school setting and it does so successfully though not to the point where I would cite the show’s visuals as one of its strengths or appealing facets.
While somewhat simple and generic, the first episode works as a decent intro into the show. It doesn’t hook the viewer in but it introduces the characters, what kind of relationship they share, and the presence of the letter from the future. While we don’t learn anything in-depth about the characters, we see them joke around and smile and we gain a sense of Orange’s tone quite immediately. The story that follows mostly revolves around Naho who loosely follows the directions of the letter and her friends that help her as she tries to improve Kakeru’s life and give him meaningful relationships in order to save him both literally and emotionally. Despite some horrible character writing, the show is not without a few instances of narrative tact and artistry. There are a few narrative parallels that the show draws between its beginning and ending as well as a small handful of themes such as how it’s easy to look back and say you would have done something differently, but another thing entirely to act upon those regrets.
Given the genre of the show, what I might praise it most on is its ability to avoid outright melodrama, but this comes at a cost. As far as I remember, not once in Orange is there an illegitimate, emotional reaction exhibited by the characters. Each exchange feels deserved and justified, even if that justification is often because of the protagonist’s own stupidity. The downside to this is that Orange doesn’t seem to realize when it should go ‘BIG’. Emotionally, the show is very muted. Despite dealing with depression and suicide, the volatile emotions birthed by such subject matter never explode or come to the forefront of the show. It’s not very dramatic despite the dramatic ramifications of what the characters are going through. In the same way that Orange avoids feeling overly sappy or sensitive, it avoids utilizing its story to become more impressive, memorable, or evocative. It quietly pines away in a melancholic attitude befitting the show’s relaxed atmosphere but failing to capture the supposed passion of its characters or narrative.
The soundtrack fits the show well and captures both the fun atmosphere of the group setting as well as the more somber elements of the story. Similar to how Orange conducts itself dramatically, its soundtrack errs on the side of the lighthearted and gentle though there were a few dramatic tracks that arrived in time to lightly emphasize moments of importance. To briefly speak to another small detail, the background noise and dialogue of the school really made the setting come alive. Passing conversations constantly intrude into the foreground and the students look fairly distinct as they set about their business. This makes for one of the more believable and genuine school atmospheres that I’ve seen in a while and worked well alongside the social dynamic of Naho and her friends.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
While Orange had kind of a promising premise in that it dealt with a letter from the future and the pretty serious subject of suicide, its characters and presentation weren’t able to follow up and turn the story into something memorable or compelling. On the contrary, the way in which the show openly uses Naho to dramatically steer the plot through the contrivances created by her actions felt incredibly inorganic, forced, and unnecessarily muddied what could have been a good story. The show has a lot to nitpick about it and its logistical inconsistencies and how they affected the plot was incredibly irritating.
I gave Orange a 3 because the manner in which its story developed felt awkward and forced due to Naho’s out-of-character behavior and the other various narrative inconsistencies in the show. The cast was fairly archetypal and never really moved beyond their surface-level depiction and the visual quality issues near the middle of the show didn’t help any. The characters felt like they acted the way they did, not because it was in-line with their personality or rational thinking, but because the story dictated that they should.
If you’re looking for something that has a touch of gravity and a serious tone to it that still upholds a lighthearted, pleasant atmosphere – then Orange is one of the few shows I can name that fits this description. It’s an adequate romance story though those looking for drama will either be pleased with the measured approach the show takes or disappointed with the show’s modesty.