Orange was a show that many people went into with high expectations. Based on a popular manga, it had already gotten a live-action movie and was one of the most anticipated anime of the season. The end result didn’t quite live up to expectations, but still managed to be one of the better shows of the season.
Naho Takamiya is an ordinary high school student who receives a letter claiming to be from her future self detailing how to avoid all her regrets. She initially discounts it, but starts to take it more seriously when its predictions about the new transfer student, Kakeru Naruse, begin to come true. It quickly becomes clear that the point of the letter is to tell her what to do to save Kakeru, who’s dead in the future the letter comes from.
The premise draws some pretty obvious comparisons to Steins;Gate with a message from the future and a goal of fixing past mistakes, but the two are actually really different. Steins;Gate was a time travel thriller, while Orange is more of a drama that happens to have time travel elements. Time travel is a clear plot point, but isn’t the main focus. The way Naho’s letter was sent back isn’t even explained until near the end, and even that isn’t entirely necessary. The show would have been just as good (if not better) if the specifics of it were left out. Instead of time travel, Orange’s focus is primarily on its characters, especially Naho and Kakeru.
The characters in Orange are simultaneously the best and most frustrating part of it. Naho and her group of friends have a very natural way of interacting, like they’ve been friends for a long time and have real history. Instead of just saying “we’ve been friends for x years” Orange has them just hang out like friends do and chat. These little conversations do more to show their friendship than any amount of exposition would and make it easy to relate to them. Kakeru is clearly an outsider, but they welcome him into their group anyway and he starts to seem like one of them as the show goes on. By the end, even the secondary characters feel relatable and developed enough to carry a show on their own. The downside is how frustrating the leads can be.
Naho herself is always timid, even with her friends, and never wants to take the initiative in anything; she just doesn’t want to rock the boat. When she does, she always looks like she’s about to explode from nervousness.This sometimes gets in the way of her doing what the letter says or actually opening up to Kakeru, which is understandable but still frustrating. It’s not easy to do something that feels wrong to you, and Naho perfectly demonstrates this. Even when she knows what to do, she sometimes just can’t bring herself to do it. The problem is, this happens a lot and it’s frustrating to watch her keep shooting herself in the foot when you want to just yell at her to go do it. Kakeru can be just as frustrating since he doesn’t feel like he deserves such good friends and always holds himself back from getting closer to Naho, even though they have feelings for each other. This kind of thing is understandable and well done, but still frustrating.
Out of the secondary cast, the best is easily Suwa since he’s basically the ultimate nice guy. He likes Naho, which everyone except her knows, but doesn’t act on it since he can tell that she and Kakeru like each other. Instead, he actively tries to help them get together and supports them both when they need someone to lean on, which is basically sabotaging his chances with Naho. All of Naho’s friends are supportive, but Suwa goes even further than the others.
Based on the premise, it seems like Orange would be about Naho just following the letter to get the best outcome, but that isn’t the case at all. Her letter is sometimes right, but not always. Future Naho has a longer perspective, but still isn’t omniscient and doesn’t always know the best way to help Kakeru. The answer isn’t always to make some big change and all she needs to do sometimes is be there for him.
The plot is very gradually paced; Orange isn’t a thriller as much as a character drama. Naho isn’t trying to make some big change, just help a friend. Accordingly, the show just follows her life in high school as she tries to follow the letter each day. It gets bogged down in smaller events near the middle, but picks up again shortly after. The entire show a somewhat nostalgic feel: it doesn’t show what happens every day and just highlights the things that were important to Naho. It feels almost like someone reminiscing about high school, which is reinforced by the occasional flash-forwards to Naho in the future.
The animation for Orange was done by TMS entertainment and is limited at best. The early episodes look decent and the last few are fine, but the middle episodes have very little animation and a lot of hilariously off-model faces in almost every non-close-up. TMS Entertainment was working on two other anime that season (D. Grey Man Hallow and Sweetness and Lightning) and it really shows. The writing is strong enough to carry it through this, but it would have been nice if it didn’t have to. The character designs are a bit better and do a good job of balancing the traditional shojo aesthetic with a bit more realism. The music is primarily softer tracks that support the drama well without ever standing out much. The opening is similarly good without being amazing.
Orange doesn’t quite match the hype it had going in, but still manages to be a well written character drama. The characters can be frustrating, but are also relatable and feel realistic. The main problem is the animation, which is never able to support the writing the way it should. Still, the story and characters are more than enough to make up for that.
Orange is available for streaming on Crunchyroll, but hasn’t been licensed for a physical release yet.
Final Score: 9/10