"Sometimes it's better to learn from the past than to try and go back changing it all... But if given the chance, what would we really do?"
Have you ever regretted something so much you'd do anything possible to change the outcome? Maybe it was something as trivial as not asking that one person out, forever leaving the question out there of "what if?" Or perhaps you even knew of someone hurting internally from depression, and didn't give your best effort to help them cope, with the worst possible outcome reaching fruition. At times, this can make us feel helpless, responsible or even apathetic. Hindsight is 20/20, but what if that retrospective approach could be realized? What if you could alter your previous regrets and change the outcome of the future? Would you finally get a chance to forgive yourself? Would this corrective measure spawn even worse implications? In the end, are things are better left as they are, or fixed to fit our own perception of "correct"?
The truth is, there may not be a single correct answer.
OBLIGATORY SPOILERS WARNING :D
Orange is a series that had me intrigued since I first heard about it. Personally, the premise was irrelevant based on director Hiroshi Hamasaki's previous works as the lead on Steins;Gate and Texhnolyze. The Slice of Life genre can be so hit and miss with me, so I had no idea what to expect coming into it. Orange focuses less on the day to day lulls of everyday life and more on love, loss and the importance of relationships. Mix in the ever ambiguous element of time travel for good measure and you've got a series destined for some great table talk, if nothing else. It's not the most "exciting" show around, and will stumble along the way, but in the end will give viewers a new outlook on the Slice of Life genre entirely.
Naturally, the first anime I could compare Orange to is that of Anohana- The Flower We Saw That Day due to the subject matter of premature loss. Granted the death in that anime was purely accidental, the retrospective grief exhibited by the main characters here is reminiscent of the series. Another difference between the two are the plot devices. For some reason, everyone seems to have their own take on how time travel works. Although it's never actually been completed on record, some have formulated rather complex technicalities regarding the theory. Of course, Orange exposed its own narrative to these figurative pencil-pushers when it introduced the element into its story, and even I'll admit it is done rather half-assed. Did you know that throwing letters into a black hole somewhere near the Bermuda Triangle could, betwixt space and time, send them 10 years into the past? No? Me either.
In order to actually enjoy Orange, this is the time I ask you to put your critical thinking caps back on the shelf, and focus on its important aspects. It's easy to become distracted by such melancholy narratives and skim over glaring plot holes, but this is best in Orange's case... or you might miss a rather enjoyable anime. Forget about how much you think you know about time travel and experience the series for what it truly is, a drama slice of life.
There are a multitude of "little things" Orange nails with its direction. The way Naho and Kakeru act toward each other is a perfect snapshot of teenage romance. Everything is awkward, there's lots of dead air in conversation and enough blushing to make any weeaboo giddy with excitement. This relationship is a seed, gently nurtured a little each episode, inelegant in all facets but eventually blossoms into a unique thing of beauty. This is pretty spot on for what real love looks like. The writers also do a fine job showcasing the sour side of love when Naho gets pushed to the side or showing Suwa contemplate his own feelings in secret regarding her. This is a very important part of the show, and I must say Suwa has quite the iron will for everything he let pass him by along the way. This genre of anime can often be melodramatic or exaggerated immensely, so it's refreshing to see an anime like Orange create a high school atmosphere we can all identify with instead of one with unrealistic, heavily endowed 16 year olds and scrappy Tsunderes flying around.
Another well written aspect of the series is the pacing. There are many instances in SoLs where "things are happening, things are happening.... BAM! Insert major timeline jump or plot twist with no foreshadowing". The series slowly builds up over time, with the eventual conclusion offered as a reward for patience as a viewer and honestly it felt rather satisfying. Rewatching the first few episodes of Orange kind of made me smirk due to the many intricate foreshadowing elements sprinkled around each episode. It's certainly something I didn't expect from this genre of anime.
I can imagine how difficult it would be to tackle heavy-hearted subjects in anime such as suicide or mourning. Most anime often treat death as something that happened in the past and default to flashbacks and scenes with the shrine of the deceased loved one. Orange places you in the moment, and truly builds up your own relationship with Kakeru, making the realization of his fate that much more impactful. It isn't delicate with its approach, and shows both sides of the coin with its description. I can say it left an impression on me and changed my outlook on suicide in general.
The ending of Orange, or rather the final 3 episodes caught me off guard. I was initially assuming the viewers wouldn't get a take of Kakeru's side of the story. On the surface, it was hard to fathom why anyone would actually kill themselves the way he did, with the reasons he did. It's obvious as a viewer that his mother's death wasn't his fault, yet he bares the entire load himself. The anime from his side of the story is eye opening, and builds into a fine ending with appropriate closure (something we don't see often enough in anime). I personally appreciated it's honesty, and it wasn't necessarily a "rose colored" ending we were probably all hoping for but it was real. Well, except for all that time travel jargon.
I've already professed the relatability the characters in Orange exude. They act like high schoolers without an over-dramatized personality, they interrupt each other's sentences and there are few to no tropes present overall (something I was excited about). Naho is a very "real" main protagonist. As much as I wanted to shake her through my tv screen at times, it reminded me of how stupid I must have seemed at similar points during my own high school life. It does seem odd that this group of friends rarely argue or have moments of strife within their click, but I guess that's not necessarily a bad thing. The final episodes tied up the loose ends I had with Kakeru as a character and it couldn't have been presented any better. Those of you shelving this series before the last 3 episodes... I urge you to pick it back up and try again.
Unfortunately, Orange is produced by Telecom Animation Film, a relatively unsuccessful studio. This leads to rather inconsistent or sloppy animation at times, but not quite enough to affect the show's overall atmosphere. The directing was a gleaming fault I can bring up as well. Aside from the positives I mentioned, it's rather lackluster. I understand this is one of the first popular manga adaptations for this studio, but even so, there are some portions of scenes that felt rather dull or ill-envisioned. The best part of the directing? It doesn't really ruin it for me. In Re Zero, the plot was weak but good directing made it rather enjoyable while with Orange the good plot isn't ruined by bad directing. It was a crucial lifesaver for this anime.
I hated the OP the first couple of weeks with its odd animation and music, but it actually grew on me by the final episode. The ED is also fitting for the series, atmosphere wise. The soundtrack was average, but I often didn't notice background tracks. This can be a double edged sword from an enjoyment perspective but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt here. Voice acting is very good with Kana Hanazawa (Black Rock Shooter, Onodera from Nisekoi) nailing another solid performance as Naho.
Should you watch Orange? Well, if you can live with my added disclaimer regarding the time travel concept, the series has quite a bit more to offer. Sure it stumbles along and deals with very touchy subject matter, but it is something I truly believe anyone could enjoy. Realistic characters with great pacing and a beautifully crafted ending works to overshadow the time travel eyesore and subpar directing and Ill say it does so quite well. I am impressed with how much I ended up liking it in the end and would recommend it to any anime fan. As always, thanks for reading and be sure to check out the rest of my Summer '16 anime reviews!