ANIME REVIEW: “Orange: The Complete Series” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Orange: The Complete Series”

Based on the shojo (girl’s) manga by Ichigo Takano, the broadcast series Orange (2016) mixes questions about the possibility of time travel changing the past with high school heartache and angst.

Naho Takamiya (Jill Harris) is a somewhat timid but otherwise normal 16-year-old student at Azalea Hill Public High School in the mountainous region of Nagano. Her social life revolves around a small but devoted group of friends: tall, athletic Hiroto Suwa (Jason Liebrecht), intellectual Saku Hagita (Dave Trosko), no-nonsense Takako Chino (Jeannie Tirado) and ebullient Azusa Murasaka (Sarah Wiedenheft).

Two linked occurrences roil Naho’s usually peaceful life. Handsome transfer student Kakeru Naruse (Micah Solusod) joins their class, and Naho receives a detailed letter from her 26-old-self. The letter instructs her to take very specific actions to avoid future regrets. She must treat Kakeru a certain way or say certain things to him at certain times to prevent a dark future in which he will no longer be with them.

Initially, the letter’s advice focuses on seemingly trivial daily activities. Should Naho and her friends ask Kakeru to walk home with them on his first day, stopping for snacks at Azu’s father’s bakery? Should Suwa invite Kakeru to join the soccer club? Although the letter says “no,” Kakeru seems to be an excellent player who’d make an ideal teammate for Suwa.

But as the school years progress, complications arise and the problems become more serious. Kakeru blames himself for his mother’s suicide, and feels guilty that his new friends can make him laugh after her death. Although everyone realizes he and Naho are smitten with each other, neither can admit it. Kakeru briefly dates a snotty girl from an upper class; Naho says she doesn’t mind but she clearly does. As the school year continues, the friends confess they’ve all received letters from their future selves. Unless they correct some of the growing problems, Kakeru will also commit suicide.

Saving Kakeru becomes the focus of the group’s activities, and their efforts seem to be paying off. Events take place that don’t match the descriptions in the letters. Kakeru doesn’t fall in the athletics day relay race and feeling guilty for letting his friends down; he leads them to victory. Naho and Kakeru share an umbrella and walk home together in an unexpected rainstorm, instead of separately, as the letter describes.

The messages in the letters must seem even more urgent to viewers in Japan, which has a much higher suicide rate among teen-agers. The filmmakers succeed in building tension by juxtaposing the threats to Kakeru’s fragile psyche with the ordinary activities of small-town high school life. Still, the pace sometimes drags, and it’s easy to get impatient with Naho and Kakeru, who just can’t bring themselves to say what they obviously feel.

The most interesting and compelling character in the series is Suwa. Although he seems like big, genial jock, he nurtures a deep, long-standing crush on Naho. But he believes that Kakeru can make her happier, so he hides his feelings and works the hardest to bring the diffident pair together.

In scenes set 10 years in the future, the old friends reunite to bid an additional farewell to Kakeru. Suwa and Naho are married with a son; the others have gone their separate ways. Reflecting on the loss of their friend, they decide to try to prevent Kakeru’s suicide by sending the letters to their past selves. Hagita argues that the past cannot be altered and, if it could, changing things would produce an alternate future in which the versions of themselves who write the letters would not exist. The debate over the mutability of the past recalls the sci-fi series Steins;Gate, but not even Hagita can match the brilliance of those off-beat characters and their sophisticated physics discussions.

Although the ending feels a bit pat, the emotional punch and believable characters make Orange a very interesting series. The story was retold in a live action film, and the animated feature Orange: Mirai is an alternate retelling from Suwa’s point of view.

Orange: The Complete Series
Funimation/Crunchyroll: $48.74; 4 discs, Blu-ray and DVD
Limited edition: $63.74; include a packet of art cards and booklet.

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen,The Making of Peanuts Animation, and Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Disney Beauty and the Beast .
Charles Solomon
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