There’s a particular scene of Orange that will stay with me for years to come. In this moment, Naho, the protagonist of Orange, attempts to console Kakeru by providing him with emotional support only to realize there’s nothing she could do to ‘save’ him from his own emotions. It was absolutely devastating to watch. Everything in this moment executed Kakeru’s frailty with a crushing weight that persisted through the scene with increasing intensity. The sullen look on Kakeru’s face as he avoids Naho’s eyes and the hoarseness present in both the character’s voices as they spoke punched me repeatedly in the gut. It was heavy and uncomfortable. The ambience of the cicadas gradually overpowers the scene for a moment. As the cameras pan away, her attempts at consolation sit there in total silence. As that moment lingered, I felt my heart sink into the pit of my stomach. The scene continues with Naho’s moment of epiphany as the cicadas give way to a guitar somberly playing in the background. At that moment, she realizes how what she’s saying doesn’t make sense. “What’s okay about it?” she asks herself as she tells Kakeru everything will be alright. Then, Kakeru asks to be alone. Moments later, she follows that trail of thought with, “What does it mean to save someone?” Those words evoked a feeling of helplessness and anguish that felt far too palpable. It was at this moment that I realized this show was something special. I could not bear to see Naho choke on her own emotions as she fumbled over her words to find what to say. After all, what could she say? To me, this scene embodies everything Orange is about; learning to love. While the romantic love presented in Orange is an integral part to the plot, that’s not entirely what I’m getting at. What I mean is, learning to love at its most fundamental level; the type of love that you can only show others after you learn to love yourself. A cyclical type of love that truly allows you to forgive yourself so you can love and be loved.
Orange begins by following a high school girl by the name of Naho who’s late for school. While she gets ready to leave, she notices a letter addressed to her and tucks it away in her bag. When she arrives at school, she unpacks her bag and skims through the letter, noticing something rather peculiar. The note is addressed from the her of 10 years into the future, pleading for her to follow the steps in the letter she has laid out to her. In it, future Naho had accurately predicted that not only would she be late for school, but that they would be getting a transfer student by the name of Kakeru Naruse. The letter advises her to not commit the same mistakes she had in the past and that she must absolutely watch over Kakeru who is no longer with them in the future.
Orange delicately explores the emotional states of most of the characters in the show to an excruciating amount of detail to drive this subject of learning to love home. I say most because there are some weakly developed characters like Ueda-Senpai, however they play very minor roles in the overall narrative. Orange explores this thematically through the debilitating guilt that plagues the cast’s every decision. When we get glimpses into their future 26-year-old-selves, we see the guilt manifesting in their environment as a form of paralysis; every time they’re shown it’s always as if they’re stuck in a loop. They’re consistently looking off in the distance as they talk to each other, reminiscing of day the Kakeru had left them. This notion of looping is only enforced by their long and abrupt pauses in dialogue. In their past high school selves, it’s a sense of guilt that makes the characters hesitate and second-guess themselves, knowing that the weight of their every decision could have dire consequences. I really enjoyed that the series explores that maybe fixing the mistakes of their past selves isn’t as simple following instructions. Even after a life-time of making mistakes, they’re still learning how to be vulnerable. In order for them to help Kakeru, they have to first help themselves get through their own insecurities. Is it annoying and draining at times? Absolutely, but this is what forms the heart of the story. It’s what makes the characters feel much more grounded and humane. Saving Kakeru is not as simple as following the template the letter has given them. It’s about forgiving themselves so they can help Kakeru forgive himself.
Oranges greatest strength is also one of its many weaknesses. Out of all its convenient plot devices, the only part of orange I had qualms with accepting was in the convenient usage of the letter (not that it was always bad). When it’s used right, it gives insight into a character’s inner dialogue and shows their conflicting opinions. It paints their fears and insecurities in a way that was relatable to me, allowing me to urge them on even after they make stupid mistakes. In fact, I love that they make mistakes not because I love to see characters suffer, but rather because it filled me with joy to see their strength of spirit. However, sometimes when they second guess themselves, they fall into the trap of adhering to instructions of the letter too tightly, making them feel like puppets on a string acting out a script that is preordained. It cheapens the drama by adding an element of predictability, but honestly, this is me just being nit-picky. It did make some parts feel exhausting to get through. It’s just something I wish they would’ve handled a little more carefully to give this show that push it needed to be a true gem.
But don’t let that deter you from exploring Orange. I could not recommend Orange enough for its ability to capture overcoming grief in such a moving and captivating way. I’ll warn you though. I was a complete mess after finishing this series, so if you do decide to watch it, you better be ready for an emotional roller coaster. I probably haven’t felt like this much of a wreck after finishing a series since Your Lie in April.
— Palpable T_T