Save Your Friend’s Life for the Cost of Postage – An Orange (Anime) Review

We’ve all wanted to correct a mistake from our pasts, but how many of us are so keenly aware of the exact moment we could have saved someone’s life? The best I can do is wish I had picked up a copy of FMA: Brotherhood before the license ran out!


Title: Orange
Original airing: July 4th, 2016 to September 26th, 2016
Studio: Telecom Animation Film
Episodes: 13
Duration: 24 mins per episode
Genres: Drama, Slice of Life, Romance, School
Source: Orange manga by Ichigo Takano

Where I watched: Crunchyroll (subbed)

Watch the trailer here

Brief Synopsis and First Impressions

One day, Naho Takamiya receives a letter written to herself from ten years in the future. As Naho reads on, the letter recites the exact events of the day, including the transfer of a new student into her class named Kakeru Naruse.

The Naho from ten years later repeatedly states that she has many regrets, and she wants to fix these by making sure the Naho from the past can make the right decisions—especially regarding Kakeru. What’s more shocking is that she discovers that ten years later, Kakeru will no longer be with them. Future Naho asks her to watch over him closely.

source: myanimelist.net

If you have been reading my blog since the beginning, you might remember that it was only this year that I began watching a lot more anime than usual (and thus designed my challenge around it). Part of the reason for that is because before this summer I wasn’t really using Crunchyroll. I did the free streaming for a while, but getting a subscription allowed was access to the simulcasts, allowing me to watch episodes shortly after they air in Japan. For the first time I would be able to join the rest of the anime fandom as they too experienced a brand new show.

Still, my viewing time was primarily budgeted towards my challenge, so I didn’t know if I would be able to squeeze in a weekly title on top of my busy schedule. Something about Orange called to me though. It might have been my fondness for titles like Your lie in April and Anohana that led me to look for a similar series, but before I knew it I was regularly watching Orange and had finished it 13 weeks later. Since I had set out to review every series I watched this year, this anime gained an impromptu spot on my challenge. Still, I did take a step back from my week-to-week knee jerk reactions to craft a proper Weekend Otaku review for all of you.


Story

Image of Naho holding a letter

Orange begins like so many other anime set in high school, centered around a group of close friends. At the center of this circle is timid, bright Naho Takamiya. Her life seems to be quite ordinary until she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. Thinking of it as a joke at first, she is startled when the first letter accurately predict parts of her morning. Perhaps the most surprising revelation is the prediction that a new student, Kakeru Naruse, would transfer to their school that day. Realizing this is something more than an elaborate hoax, the letters take on a more serious tone.

The letter discloses that she (future Naho) has many regrets from her high school days, especially when it comes to Kakeru.  According to the letter, Kakeru passes away before high school is finished, brought to an untimely death through a series of events that she unwittingly allowed to take place. Future Naho thus urges her high school self to change the moments she comes to regret in hopes of saving Kakeru’s life. While saving her friend is critical, grown Naho also wishes to save herself the gnawing pain and remorse she’s held onto for ten years. Told primarily from Naho’s point of view, Orange reflects the shy girl’s feelings through letters and inner monologue, and show how the lessons that time taught her older self can be vitally important.

Image of Naho crying as she reads a letter
Naho finding out her favorite anime doesn’t get a second season

With the concept of time travel being a popular theme in anime lately (eg: Re:Zero, Erased, Steins;Gate), seeing Orange incorporate this element into their series didn’t come as a novel prospect. The way time travel is achieved in this series, though, isn’t as elaborate as what you might find in other popular media. In this story, people are not traveling back in time, just letters they have written (not unlike the D-mails in Steins;Gate). It’s a more subtle way of influencing the past that focuses more on what the characters receiving the news do rather than actively altering time by itself.

Time travel as a theme can achieve many purposes, but a common one is to prevent some tragic disaster. In Orange, it’s clear that the language of Naho’s letters points increasingly toward this goal. But while the time travel concept certainly makes the plot more interesting (and a bit unpredictable), it isn’t the main focus of the story. Orange is about preventing tragedy, living with depression, confronting death, and learning to heal in the process. In the midst of this swirls the natural drama (love, friendship, heartache, etc…) that accompanies adolescence. Needless to say, the result is an experience full of poignant moments designed to make viewers sympathize with the characters’ plight.

image of Suwa's hands holding Kakeru's
Like Suwa asking Kakeru to join their boy band

Time traveling letters aside, Orange is a realistically portrayed slice of life story.  The series focuses on the bond between the existing group and the one that Kakeru forms with them. Kakeru’s issues with starting at a new school extend far beyond the awkwardness that comes from adjusting to a new place and making new friends, as his own deep regrets constantly clash with the newfound happiness he finds with the group. The group themselves truly reflect the benefits of a strong support structure, and go out of their way to act when one of them is in need. Naho’s struggle to reconcile her own changing feelings while knowing full well that she should follow the letters’ instructions is a painful yet understandable experience. No matter what the situation, the struggles, breakdowns, and triumphs of the characters will resonate with viewers.


Characters

Image of all the characters

Orange is a character driven narrative that focuses on interpersonal connections, conflicts, emotions, and reflection. The individual personalities of the main characters become well fleshed out as the series progresses, especially regarding Naho Takamiya. Narrated from her perspective, Naho’s internal dialogue gives viewers access to her innermost struggles and how she wrestles with decisions. Coupled with her neutral reactions, her personality comes across as genuine and realistic.  For example, Naho goes back and forth constantly throughout the series on whether to heed her future self’s advice or react to a situation based on how she is feeling in the moment.  It is much easier to think “ask Kakeru (her crush) to walk you home,” then actually follow through with it.

Even though Naho is a compelling character, her painfully meek behavior can be a bit grating at times. Given her unique circumstances, it can be conceded that most of her reactions, or over-reactions, are spot on (since my future self is clearly too busy to write me, I am basing this purely on speculation). With that said, Naho tends to become unnecessarily shy over mundane things like choosing what to drink. Her meek responses in these situations are so unwarranted that they become exhausting. I realize the writer is emphasizing this trait to convey how Naho battles with, and overcomes, her timorous feelings, but viewers don’t need to be constantly reminded of this.

Image of Kakeru and Naho drinking orange juice
Wait… her drink! Is that the story behind this anime’s name?

Unwarranted responses aside, the way characters deal with complex issues is well executed. Orange delves into the darkness that swallows those who experience personal grief. As Naho’s love interest and harrowingly tragic lead, Kakeru Naruse is a complex individual. Kakeru’s symptoms for dealing with grief is manifested through episodes of denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, and depression. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, bargaining is an attempt to assign reasoning to tragedy (ie: “if only I had texted mom back…”). Kakeru’s behavior is indicative of how individuals react to sudden loss. He continues to present an outwardly calm, content demeanor to the world, while silently suffering.

Although Orange writers likely didn’t intend for Suwa Hiroto to become an enigmatic diversion in their narrative, I was consumed with attempting to dissect his rationale. Viewers learn early on that Suwa not only has feelings for Naho, but glimpses into Naho’s future show that the two eventually fall in love and start a family together some years after Kakeru’s death. Suwa seeks to bring happiness to Naho and Kakeru’s lives regardless of how he feels, but his actions are a conundrum. Even if he is seemingly unaware of the future they share together, seeing his uncanny ability to fulfill Naho’s wishes even when she doesn’t speak them makes one wonder how much he really does know. This then begs the question of how much he is willing to lose, and why. Either way, Suwa genuinely values Kakeru and is willing to do what it takes to prevent his death.

Image of Suwa making a peace sign
Suwa’s favorite anime was also cancelled, but Kakeru didn’t like the series anyway, so it’s fine.

With the plot centering mainly around Naho, Kakeru, and Suwa, the supporting cast (Chino, Hagita, and Azusa) unfortunately receive considerably less in the way of character development. The trio do, however, manage to have distinct personalities that add to the realism Orange strives for. I was especially fond of Hagita, whose offhanded remarks invoke a bit of light humor amid serious issues. Far more useful in adding a little flavor into the group dynamics, the series doesn’t offer much in the way of explaining their own feelings, aside from a generic desire to help Kakeru as well. These characters are given a little more attention in the latter half of the story, hinting at the transformations we see in their future selves, but are never truly fleshed out.


Animation

Image of Naho and Kakeru eating buns

I’ve been reading quite a few mixed reviews about the animation style used in this series. Some argue the characters are not drawn in a ‘life-like’ way. Others contend that the color palette is dull; with the characters wearing green and tan uniforms against neutral backdrops. Additionally, several reviewers have pointed out some severe production issues that have resulted in off-model designs and jerky cuts. These observations make Orange sound like a terrible viewing experience, but I’m going to have to mostly disagree.

Telecom Animation, handled the adaptation of the Orange manga to animated series. Character emotions are an important part of a slice of life series, and this was one area where the relatively little known studio (compared to the long running success of their parent company TMS Entertainment) really shined. Even with simplistic facial features, the animators portray mood shifts and unspoken feelings through the subtle body language, the characters faces themselves play a large part in telling the story. In addition, the background designs were realistic and visually pleasing. Adding more vibrant colors, as other reviewers have suggested, would likely have taken focus off the characters and at times clashed with the tone of the series.

Image of Naho and Kakeru walking in a park
Color choices might be drab, but scenes are rendered beautifully

These successes aside, there is a continual lack of consistency when it comes to one off scenes and off-model designs. This isn’t an uncommon tactic for scenes that don’t require a lot of focus, considering how expensive animation can be (The average episode costs upwards of $123,000 to produce – ref). To save on costs, studios often opt to limit movement, reuse backgrounds, and include only the bare minimum for each frame. This isn’t a crime against animation; it’s a cost effective tactic. But Orange has scenes like the one below that, even when seen for a brief moment, are incredibly distracting.

Image of lady with cartoonish face
Azusa’s mom has seen some terrible things…

When sloppy mistakes like this occur, loyal fans can only hope that some of the more glaring issues will be corrected for the DVD release. With that said, Orange deserves praise for the lovely animated backgrounds and use of lighting during pivotal moments to set the mood. More dramatic scenes were emphasized by using shadows and strategically placed dark colors, while lighter moments were highlighted with brighter hues. While any inconsistencies may annoy more keen eyed viewers, the overall animation quality was decent enough to do the job and even looked beautiful at times.


Sound

Image of Naho and Kakeru listening to a song on headphones

Op: Hikari no Hahen by Yu Takahashi

Ed: Mirai by Kobukuro

Hiroaki Tsutsumi directed the music for Orange after having lent his talent to other well known anime including: Blue Spring Ride and Meganebu! The soundtrack is a mix between soft, yet powerful, piano and acoustic guitar scores with a pop type vibe. The ending theme, Mirai by Kobukuro, is a peaceful way to wrap up each episode. The song is about the unwavering strength of love and is truly fitting for this series. According to artist, Yu Takahashi, the opening theme, Hikari no Hahen, was written as a way to express the feelings of youth passing by. Takahashi compared these human experiences to kaleidoscopes, stating “there might be some things about us that are not visible when observed alone, but become visible when connected with other people” (ref).  While the upbeat tempo doesn’t necessarily reflect the deep emotions presented in the series, the English translation of the lyrics speak volumes:

“we connect these uneven pieces. The sorrow of times past and the memories of tears you cried,   will each be a light to color your smile.” 

Orange didn’t disappoint on vocal talent either.  Naho was voiced by seasoned seiyuu Kana Hanazawa. Her work has included such varied roles as Tenshi in Angel Beats!, Shiro in Deadman Wonderland, and Anri in Durarara!! Hanazawa expertly captures Naho’s timid, emotional exchanges with Kakeru, making them appear all the more realistic. Speaking of Kakeru, he is voiced by the equally impressive Seiichiro Yamashita. Though he has relatively few voice credits under his belt, Yamashita has played a number of supporting roles in some highly popular anime series including: Abel in Food Wars: Second Plate and Nakagawa in Golden Time. Though the English dub of Orange is currently being aired, as I write this, I’ve not had a chance to review it. It appears that several well known English voice actors have been chosen for the main cast, so I can’t imagine the dubbed version will suffer from a lack of quality (especially as a FUNimation work).


Overall Appeal

Image of Kakeru making a peace sign

Given that there is an element of time travel, I have seen Orange classified as a sci-fi series. Viewers will be sorely disappointed though if they approach this series expecting something along the lines of Steins;GateIf anything, Orange is a slice of life drama that uses time travel as a narrative trick rather than a sci-fi element. The purpose of using time travel in a series is to explore patterns of cause and effect, which Orange relies heavily on to make its story more engaging and entertaining (and it does!). After each episode, I found myself pondering how the character’s present actions were altering their future reality. Would Kakeru’s life be saved in the end? How would Naho and the other’s lives change as a result? Why isn’t the movie Butterfly Effect more popular?

Because the series wasn’t designed to center around time travel, however, the writers make a poor attempt at explaining the theory of how (through letters no less) it would be possible. Adding to this disappointment is the introduction of parallel worlds which worked so well with Steins;Gate. To simplify this point, it means that any changes made to the past will not affect the current future that adult Naho (and her friends) exists in. That means that the anticipation throughout the series of how the future will be altered is rendered inconsequential.

What is perhaps equally compelling, depending on the viewer’s investment in Naho’s feelings, is how her relationship with Kakeru grows. I mentioned before that she struggles to follow her own instructions to the letter (hah!), but her motivation behind doing so is a sweet story all its own. While her initial reasons seemed to be no more than saving the live of a classmate, she quickly begins to develop feelings for him that aren’t solely dictated by the letter. The thought of losing Kakeru takes on a new meaning at that point, creating a real urgency within her that makes her push herself into uncomfortable territory. Those patient enough to reach those points with Naho will find her successes heartwarming.

While Orange does manage to invoke the necessary emotional responses like slice of life stories typically do, the narrative starts to feel repetitive early on. Normally I argue that manga adaptations try to cram too much material into a short amount of episodes, Orange has the opposite effect. Even though the manga has been compiled into five volumes, as of May 2016, the pacing of the series makes it seem as though filling thirteen episodes was just barely achieved. A lot of this has to do with the constant back and forth of Naho and Kakeru’s relationship, but viewers may finish episodes desperate for something to happen, even if it’s tragic, just to move the story along.

For those who have seen the series and are still struggling (like me) with how Suwa would risk the future with his wife and child for a friend, you’re in luck. The movie Orange: Mirai  aired on November 18th, 2016. At this point there are no licensors for the film, but FUNimation may yet pick it up for western markets. The story is narrated from Suwa’s perspective, as he selflessly supports Naho and Kakeru’s romantic feelings.


Summary and Recommendations

Orange tells the story of a girl named Naho and her close friends from high school who experience regret and remorse over being unable to prevent the death of their friend, Kakeru. Still overcome with sadness ten years after his death, Naho begins sending letters to the past, urging her younger self to change the moments she has come to regret.

Despite the element of time traveling letters, Orange shouldn’t be classified as a sci-fi series. If anything, it is a slice of life drama with elements of romance mixed in. The characters and their experiences are the driving force behind this series. Any use of time travel is overshadowed by these factors.

The animation style is inconsistent at times, with issues in sloppy detail work. Regardless, the great attention to facial expressions allow for interesting visual storytelling while the beautifully designed backgrounds and lighting add towards a great viewing experience.

Music and vocal talent serve to further elevate this series. The opening and closing themes were written to express human experiences and emotions, which is the message Orange intends to convey. Similarly, seasoned seiyuu like Kana Hanzawa serve up realistic, emotional portrayals that add to the characters’ charm and highlight their unique personas.

Although the premise is interesting, the narrative starts to feel repetitive early on. Viewers who stick with it are rewarded with a touching story about friendship that has a clear resolution in the end.

Watch if you:
Enjoy themes of drama and romance
Prefer anime with a clear ending
Appreciate plots that keep you guessing

Don’t watch if you:
Expect this to be a sci-fi series
Hate indecisive characters
Can’t handle thoughts of depression or suicide


My Rating

A decent slice of life series that provides a touching story for those who are receptive to its presentation. I give it 3.5 out of 5 Nahos.

Image of 3.5 out of 5 Naho heads


Final Thoughts

This section has slowly turned into a spot for me to reflect on components that stand out in anime for me. From time to time though, I am struck by a certain theme which bears expanding upon. Given the content of this series, one of the most obvious aspects is its treatment of mental health and how it affects relationships. I had to struggle extra hard to avoid spoilers in this review, so hopefully this discussion doesn’t give too much away.

From my experience in the weekly discussions for this anime, many viewers struggled with watching it week to week. Whether it was the stagnating relationship between Naho and Kakeru that couldn’t seem to progress or the repeated failures on Naho’s part to change Kakeru’s path, despite following her letters, there seemed to be more than a few gripes with the portrayal of these characters. Why would the reaction skew more toward annoyance than sympathy?

The answer is because, just like in real life, depressed people are hard to deal with. You can genuinely feel bad about their problems while still feeling like they suck the joy out you. Attempts to console them are often unsuccessful and can lead to frustrating encounters. Even moreso when the cause is unknown, trying to accept the behaviors and symptoms that come with depression is a non-trivial challenge. This was the situation Naho found herself in at so many points throughout the series.

Despite actively trying to change her future self’s regrets, the new and seemingly happier memories she was creating with Kakeru was still failing to overwrite his own regrets. This is because simply having good memories doesn’t erase the pain of bad ones. Naho and her friends absolutely gave Kakeru reasons to be happy and find joy in his life. Getting to the real cause of his depression, however, required time and patience to let him see that his life had value to them and that his problems weren’t unwelcome in their lives. Naho was persistent, if not strong willed on her own, because she loved Kakeru. The others came to feel the same way even if their feelings toward him were given the less romantic label of friendship. There was still a love there that is hard for the viewer to empathize with.

I’m not stating that you should love Kakeru or not be annoyed by his backsliding nature, but Orange is a lot easier to absorb if you can watch it with these considerations in mind.


More Reviews

Don’t feel like getting hassled by your ten years in the future self? Avoid regrets by checking out these articles from other great bloggers:

Orange Anime Series by Raistlin
A short and sweet spoiler free review from a guy who enjoyed the series which explains some of the elements he liked.

Orange Series Review by Karandi
Another great spoiler free review from Karandi that talks about the drawbacks and merits of the series. Check out her week to week coverage (linked on the review) if you’ve watched the series and want to see some fans getting frustrated.

Orange Anime Review by Bloom Reviews
A fantastic article discussing the choices Naho makes and the series’ treatment of mental health. Very small spoilers regarding the time travel aspect (which was dumb anyway), and definitely worth a read.

 

For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.

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6 thoughts on “Save Your Friend’s Life for the Cost of Postage – An Orange (Anime) Review

Add yours

  1. “Why isn’t the movie Butterfly Effect more popular?” I wonder that every day~

    I’ve seen so many polarizing reviews about this anime, that I know I’m going to wind up watching it. I love drama and romance, so I feel like that’s going to get me through watching the series, at the very least. I always forget there are simudubbed shows now, I’m so used to waiting for them to be dubbed. I may break down and get a Funi subscription, since they seem to have the most shows available.
    And ugh that final thoughts paragraph about dealing with a depressed friend or family member hit home, so if this show can portray that struggle well I’m open to watching.

    Also, the descriptive images work! The “3.5 Naho heads” gave me a good chuckle XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does have a lot of issues, but there are good things about the show if you can deal with it long enough to see them. It really is a case study in dealing with feelings of depression and I think there is some cathartic value in that.

      A Funimation subscription is a great idea, and now is the best time since they’ve done such a good job with simuldubs. I’ve not seen the Orange dub yet, but Micah Solusod plays Kakeru and he’s usually fantastic. Let me know how you like it if you do get to watch!

      I’m glad the descriptive images work. I’ve been adding them for a few reviews now ever since I found out how to do it, so hopefully they will make the reviews better for everyone.

      Like

  2. What a fantastic and thoughtful review on this great series. It is great to see that there luckily are other people out there that have enjoyed this show. I could relate with a lot of elements that happened in this series. As a guy who has been struggling with shyness all his life (and getting rid of a lot of it) I could completely relate with what Naho was going through. As you say:it is easy to say you have to do something, but to actually do it, is a whole different matter. I agree that the animation at certain points was lacking in quality, but because the story was powerful enough, I did not get too distracted by it. It’s great to know a movie is out now, I hope it will get released here at some point. I wouldn’t mind meeting the characters one more time.
    Lastly, thank you so much for including a link to my post: that is so cool 😀
    This was a great post to read as always: keep up the great work you are doing 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think a lot of people have been in your shoes, including me. I still have a lot of trouble approaching people even for simple things. I think it would be a lot worse if I had depression.

      Thanks for your kind words, and it was my pleasure to share your review! I’m still planning to work on that blogger award sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review and thanks for the link.
    I really agree that this should not be sold as a sci-fi because other than the basic plot device or a letter from the future there is no sci-fi in this. It is a slice of life, romance and it does that part well, as long as the characters don’t drive you up the wall.

    Liked by 1 person

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