It’s a well known fact that shoujo anime have never been the most original pieces of work. They follow a very basic and straightforward structure, and more often than not end up feeling way too dramatized and overly-melodramatic for no apparent reason. Once you've seen one you've seen them all, right? Some people would beg to differ, and as to disprove my claim the adaptation of Orange reared its ugly head out of the deepest depths of shoujo hell itself to quickly rise to the top of this season's charts, smirking all the while it does it. Watch as the magnificent story of Orange unfolds, giving us deep insight into taboo topics like depression and suicide, viewed in distasteful shoujo fashion.
The story of Orange revolves around Naho, a carefree girl in her second year of highschool. One day, she stumbles upon a magical letter that is able to foresee her near future. The letter was sent from Naho to Naho 10 years in the past in hopes of her younger self being able to correct the mistakes she once made in highschool. How did the letter get there? Err.. A black hole in the Pacific ocean.. n' stuff.. I couldn't make this shit up even if I tried, could I? Anyhow, it's up to Naho to correct her past mistakes by saving the new transfer student, Kakeru Naruse, from taking his own life. As convoluted as the plot may seem, it's not bad straight off the bat for lacking a sense of realism. Instead, Orange's problem is that even that which is supposed to be grounded in reality feels like it isn't. What I'm referring to is the lousy presentation the series decided to resort to when tackling both the internal and external conflicts of the characters, like Kakeru being depressed for the sake of it and Naho being the weakest and most helpless creature on planet earth, thus making it unbearable to watch her interactions with Kakeru as she hopelessly tries to undo the regrets that the letter spoke of.
Adding on to that, to say that Naho is not a very outgoing girl would be an understatement. At certain times she appears to be completely and utterly socially inept, despite seemingly being a part of and having a decently-sized group of friends. Such a protagonist works great for Orange though, as having anyone other be the lead instead of such an indecisive girl would bring about a rather quick and uneventful resolution to things as no mind-mindbogglingly unnecessary conflict would ever arise. The fact that Naho prioritizes the most trivial of things over changing the future is also a huge problem. She finds out that there’s a way to undo one of her regrets simply by writing “No” on a piece of paper. And what does she do? She messes it up by postponing it to go and clean the classroom. And even when she isn’t caught up in anything and has a clear resolution of what she’s supposed to do, she doesn’t do it simply due to reluctance. I understand that she’s a refined girl and all but that doesn’t mean that she should constantly refrain from going out of her comfort zone every once in a while due to her shy demeanor when her actions will literally dictate whether a person lives or dies.
Following the cursed traditions of the shoujo genre, it is a given that emotion beats out logic in 99% of cases. And as such, logic and rationality completely cease to exist within the relationships between the main cast. Fuck magical letters that bend the space time continuum, Suwa's attitude towards Naho and Kakeru's relationship is where the real supernatural stuff kicks in. I don't care if he's the nicest guy on the face of the planet, no person has the ability to undermine their own feelings like that solely for someone else's sake, especially seeing as he knows Kakeru for like, what, a month? I'd have a difficult time believing it even if the two knew each other since birth, but at the start of the series they're not even buddy-buddy entry level yet. The relationship between Naho and Kakeru itself often tends to fall into unbelievable territory as well. How unrealistically oblivious these characters are to each other's feelings for a handful of episodes is what makes the series feel so stretched out at times since instead of going from A to B, their relationship has a bad habit of going on detours and wandering off to C,D and F. The "Oblivious teenagers" trope in romance anime has been oversatured beyond repair and it doesn't help when the anime at hand has a set premise that it can't seem to get to the point of because it's too busy playing a game of ring around the rosy with its' romance. Nevermind that they saw the fireworks together or held hands, that's just what friends of the opposite sex enjoy doing. No implications what so ever.
Most of the characters in Orange aren’t good or bad, but rather painfully average as they tend to play into various cookie cutter tropes due to the genre at hand. Starting from the bottom in a literal sense, we’ve got Naho. She’s weak, inattentive to an unhealthy degree, lacks the confidence to say a single sentence without stuttering, crying or running away and has no defying personality what so ever. All of these things when combined essentially just make her an all-around terrible character, with her only redeeming quality being the fact that she's relatively cute. You remember that one time you were at the shopping mall and walked by that small child that was very clearly lost? That's Naho in a nutshell. She's got absolutely no clue how to act or even think on her own and while her constant blunders keep the story moving forward, her lack of resolve ultimately makes her an extremely unlikable character.
I know it may seem like I'm nagging on her simply because she is a flawed human being, something that's supposed to make her more realistic and/or relatable. Brief rundown: A character is (not) complex when he or she is not a perfect human being or close relative of Jesus-kun. Whether a character is complex or not is simply the aftermath of good writing, something that Orange lacks entirely. Comparing her to Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion would be good practice of that. Shinji, at the end of the day, is a well-written, multilayered and sympathetic character. Granted, he is not a likable character, but his personality is entirely justified during the course of the series and the anime makes the viewer very well aware of that. Naho, on the other hand is also unlikable, but her personality is not justified in the slightest, nor is she the least bit sympathetic. She is presented as a mentally-handicapped schoolgirl that can't be bothered stepping out of her comfort zone when her actions literally dictate whether the person she loves lives or dies, and that just makes her a cunt.
Angsty Teenager-kun (Angst-kun for short) first enrolls into the story appearing as a mystery figure, as for a good duration of the story we don’t know much of anything about him. This is totally acceptable though, because by the time the nature of his character comes to light, you'll be wishing he had just remained angsty for no apparent reason. After many not-so-subtle hints throughout the anime, it is then revealed that Angst-kun suffers from clinical depression. I liked you Kakeru, I really did. Due to Naho's over-incompetence in every situation, I had come to view you as the hero who takes the initiative, thus making this story move if but a single inch further. Unfortunately, Orange seems to have a very falsified perception of depression and suicide and for that, Angst-kun had to be the scapegoat and embodiment of the writer's complete and utter lack of knowledge on this subject. There's also no real way to feel sympathy for him either, seeing as his other attributes consist of being heavily controlling and having severe anger-management issues. I can see why him and Naho get along so well. Here's how Kakeru's cycle of depression tends to play out:
Step 1: In case everything is going well, make sure to bring up your dead mother for no apparent reason other than to kill the mood
Step 2: Get pissed off about friends trying to cheer you up and unnecessarily lash out at them (preferably Naho)
Step 3: Quick, make a run for it!
Step 4: Regret doing so & turn suicidal :'(
Step 5: Rinse and repeat
If that wasn't enough, they top it all off by demonizing the relationship between his mother in order to victimize him further, until pulling a Shigatsu where it actually turns out his mother was a living saint the whole time! You know, they were just taking her bad deeds out of context, when in actuality she really cared about him.. Fuck off. Moving on, Suwa is easily the most likeable and respectable character in the entire story. However, while you can tell that unlike Kakeru, he genuinely cares about his friends' wellbeing, his stance on Naho and Kakeru's relationship is far too idealistic to be real. While his goody-two-shoes persona does make him prevail over the likes of Kakeru, it also makes his character all too stale and predictable. His best moments are easily the ones in which he feels conflicted whether or not to act upon his intuition and snatch Naho for himself instead of undermining his feelings. Unfortunately, they are very few and far in between, as for the overwhelming majority of the show he simply acts as Kakeru's wingman without bothering to intervene. No one else in their group stands out.
Art & Animation
Setting aside their heavy resemblance to puddle-toads, the character designs are somewhat visually-pleasing and even help the aesthetic in a sense. The animation doesn’t really have any opportunities to shine as the most intense it ever gets is just the characters running away from each other (I just made myself giggle).The opening looks decent for what it is and the ending is mostly just a slideshow of still images, but the directing is really where the technical department of Orange shines. I was skeptical to see the poor guy behind Steins;Gate and Texhnolyze be reduced to directing Orange, but alas, he once again successfully utilizes many different editing tricks in order to enhance the atmosphere and the various emotions displayed throughout, shrugging aside any previous doubts of mine. If anything, it just proves his talent is being entirely wasted on a project like this, as a few directing tricks ain't nearly enough to pull it back on its' feet.
Yuck. The happy-go-lucky J-pop feel of the opening and ending made me nauseous. OST and voice acting aren't anything too impressive but get the job done. KanaHana going "Eh?" 20 times per episode made me want to nom on a handgun.
It's been made very evident to me that I'm not the target demographic for this show. Orange is like my antithesis in every sense of the word, from the obnoxious cast and generic plot, to the subpar theme exploration and lacklustre pacing. Trying to complete this series was excruciating in every sense of the word. There was no light at the end of this dark, desolate tunnel. After finishing it, my psyche feels like it's been violently flushed down the toilet, head-first and everything. What was it all for? For the credibility of this review? Definitely not worth it. Apart from the directing choice, there was not a single enjoyable element in Orange to be found. Even the driving force of the show - The drama which all fans of the show (fujoshi, mainly just fujoshi) gush over felt surreal and managed to miss its mark entirely. Muh depression :<
At its core Orange is an extremely character-driven show and as such, a weak cast is the biggest detriment it can possibly have. Poor characterization accompanied by constant, God-awful melodrama and a false perception on serious subjects like depression and suicide drag the series through the dirt, when it could have been much, much more. While the themes themselves are fairly intriguing as they are rarely ever brought up within the medium, the lack of proper execution doesn't give them much of anything to stand on, and as such, they tend to violently tumble over and fall into the realm of boring impracticality, where they'll soon after be forgotten. It prioritizes constant melodrama over everything else, and suffers heavily because of it. Every weaker aspect is subsequently amplified as the show progresses, and the only way it can be fully appreciated is if the doctor's prescription of sleeping pills is currently at a standstill.