In celebration of the new movie coming out in Japan today, let’s finally review this love-or-hate Summer 2016 show.
You know, I thought I was immune to being disappointed by anime at this point of my life, but apparently the medium still hasn’t lost it when it comes to getting my hopes up, only to crash them back down with more impact than Icarus hitting the ocean after he flew too close to the sun. I mean obviously I’m not a fan of the manga having never read it, but Orange really looked promising based on the limited research I did. A shoujo romance that was only five volumes long and critical acclaims across the board with a premise that goes beyond the usual shoujo tropes found in…well…pick any shoujo anime or live-action drama that got made in the last few years? Sounds like my cup of tea, especially since it deals with suicide: an issue that is still very prevalent in Japan as well as the basis for several very good fictional works from the country.
The start was pretty good as well. Nothing amazing, but at least you understand where it’s going by the time the premiere ends. Orange is a show about a young girl named Naho, who starts receiving mysterious letters from her future self regarding a new kid named Kakeru – and because there’d be no plot otherwise, said letters don’t specify that if she and her friends invite him for a night out on the town, they’ll inadvertently cause his mother to commit suicide. So his mom dies and the letters start to warn Naho that she’ll fall in love with the dude whilst warning that he ends up committing suicide in the future, meaning that it’s up to her and the Scooby-Doo gang that always seem to be in shoujo romances to save him. Throughout this journey, we occasionally cut to the future timeline where Naho and her friends reminisce about the dude and the regrets they had in regards to saving him, leading up to the moment when they discover the ability to send letters to the past. So here we’ve got a typical shoujo romance flavored by themes of regret, second-chances, and highschool problems that are more grounded in reality than most anime showcase, in addition to all the suicide stuff. And at the very start of the series too. Sounds great, right?
Well it’s not like Orange didn’t have problems at the very start either. It is still a shoujo romance anime, so of course that means an insecure female lead and lot of annoying will they or won’t they situations, not exactly helped by the fact that we see in the future that Naho married the other male friend, Suwa. And shortly through the show, you’d definitely be supporting that side, because like most male protagonists in this genre, Kakeru is more of a cipher than an actual character. Most of his story is told through the other characters’ observations of him without any real input on his end, and while none of the characters really transcend their stereotypes either, we at least are able to understand where most of them come from and why they act the way they do. Which is kind of impressive in of itself given how the other half of the main six are completely unimportant to the plot to the point, even by the usual standards of ensemble romances. The only thing they ever do is encourage the main trio or prevent contrived problems from occurring when they decide they want to have a go at making things more lively, and even when a later plot twist gets them more involved, they still come off as supplementary as those three non-plot important girls in a visual novel adaptation.
The show mostly gets through the cockblock padding by having a bit of self-awareness regarding how stupid it is whilst also highlighting some legitimate teenage issues in the process. Okay, it’s no John Hughes film, but at least it raises some interesting points regarding how there’s a difference between knowing what’s going to happen and actually doing something about it, along with guilt when you discover that you’re an accessory to someone else’s problems. I was always a bit iffy on the whole love triangle thing that happened when Kakeru ended up dating a female senpai who is – and let’s be reasonable about this – a massive cunt, though. Yeah, I don’t like using that c-word, but there’s really no better way to encompass how completely unlikable she is. While the idea that Kakeru just dated her for her looks was kinda cool, she never gives up on him even after they break up, always showing up out of nowhere to give Naho a hard time whilst having no personality traits or story importance beyond her cunty nature. I don’t even think she’s very pretty. If I was given the same hypnotism Jack Black got in Shallow Hal, I’m pretty sure I’d see her as a gray-haired hunchback with broken teeth and a trick foot.
But of course, nothing is perfect, and I can get past some bullying if the overall story is good, even if it’s a cliche I’m never going to accept in fiction. Unfortunately, as seems to be the running theme for 2016 anime in general, you should never believe a good anime will stay good until the very end. And dear god, did Orange stop being good really fast around the halfway point. TMS Entertainment had put out four shows that very season, so of course I knew that they were spreading themselves a little thin, but that did not initially come through with this show at the very start, because it had some pretty kickass visual direction to the point that you wondered how they were going to keep it up for an entire season. The short answer is they don’t, and they seemed to have dragged down the storytelling quality along with it. There’s a school festival arc in the second half of the show that only exists as buildup for the sake of buildup, making the characters have fun with each other so that the “save Kakeru” flag will get triggered. It’s like how the first movie of that new Harry Potter spinoff series consisted of nothing but introducing the characters and the rules of the world whilst saving all the meaty stuff that’s not guaranteed to deliver for the sequel.
Someone please explain to me the appeal of watching setup to a major plot direction when you don’t have anything to support it but curiosity regarding the future and likable characters, because I don’t see it. It’s completely boring, and even if the curiosity is enough to carry you the first time, it’s not going to be around on rewatch, leaving you with absolutely nothing. No amount of likability is going to help a character if they’re not given anything interesting to do. Most people with a soul love the cast in animated Disney movies, but most people with a brain wouldn’t call those direct-to-DVD sequels good. And the less said about Kingdom Hearts until I inevitably review one of the upcoming games, the better.
What’s really funny is that despite the artificial lengthening and worsening production values later on, the final episode ended up going double-length, which makes me wonder what the point of it all was. You could have easily cut out twenty two minutes of fluff, split the finale into two weekly chunks, and just run with that. I don’t keep up with anime news so I couldn’t say for sure, but it feels like there were some creative differences halfway through production and the anime we ended up getting was the result of a bunch of bitter compromises. You know, kind of like what Kare Kano went through when Anno was booted off the set, only not nearly as unique and definitely not something that would fly by today’s standards. Oh, and you want to know how the show actually ends? Well I hate to spoil things, but I can’t sum up my full opinion on the show without talking about it, so skip the next paragraph if you haven’t finished the show yet.
Kakeru ends up realizing that his friends are too important to him to go through with killing himself, he and Naho are still in their “will they or won’t they” phase, the future characters smile at the thought of a changed past that they’ll never feel the results of, and all I could think was “wow that was lame”. Why is friendship and love always the goddamn solution to these sorts of serious issues in anime-land? Yes it’s important for depressed people to be surrounded by folks who care about them, but there’s more to suicide prevention than that. When you have it on its own rather than just as a tool, it’s basically nothing more than a psychology student who failed to get his degree trying to make it into the storytelling business. Most medical professionals would be clueless regarding how to deal with Kakeru, and Orange handles his situation with such a simplistically optimistic tone that not only is the solution bullshit, but we don’t really get much of an insight into Kakeru’s psychology either. All the shoujo cliches kept getting in the way, trying so hard to lighten up the substance that it ended up forgetting the substance even existed in the process. And everything the characters say or do is too obvious, so that when the substance is empty, their actions are even emptier. No, this show isn’t exactly Welcome to the NHK or Aku no Hana, is it?
Orange never really got to the point where I’d consider it an amazing show, but it still saddened me to finish it because of how close it came to transcending its genre at times, only to gets its kneecaps shot off at a moment when it really couldn’t afford to be put on life support. The animation went to shit, ruining key emotional moments to the point that the characters might as well have been wearing clown masks the entire time. The suicide themes devolved into generic go-nowhere shoujo cliches and fucking retarded “as long as you have friends, you shouldn’t throw away your life” PSA bullshit. And the time travel stuff ended up being another pointless gimmick that exists for the plot to function a certain way without getting any real acknowledgement until the very end, and of course it’s done in a saccharine way that I don’t even want to elaborate on. Just trust me when I say that ERASED’s usage of it wasn’t as conveniently contrived and let’s call it a day, shall we?
- I dunno what high school life the author of this story led, but damn I wish I had been a part of it.
- Still debating whether I should review Fantastic Beasts or not.