Orange tells the story of a high school girl named Naho who receives a letter from her past self, telling her about all the regrets she wishes she could erase. Most of these are centered on a recent transfer student named Kakeru who is immediately ingrained into her group of friends. The letter tells Naho that she falls in love with him, but that he was taken away from them by a death that could have been prevented.
It’s revealed early on that his death was not an accident, but a suicide. With so much on the line, Naho is forced to try to overcome her timid, self-sacrificing nature in order to save Kakeru from the depression that will kill him.
The question the story posits then, is this: if you had the opportunity to prevent something from happening, how much would you be able to change? Could you change the future? And could you change your own nature to accomplish it?
Orange is an anime that has major glaring flaws that it makes up for with incredibly powerful strengths. Let’s start with the good though, shall we?
One of Orange’s strongest aspects is its characters. You have Naho struggling with her timidity and Kakeru struggling with his depression, of course, but the core cast is rounded out by Naho’s four other friends. There’s Suwa, the kindhearted, dependable jock. There’s Hagita, the sharp-tongued self-deprecating nerd. There’s Azusa, the cheerful and energetic girl, and Takako, the quick-tempered tomboy. They’re all well-written as individuals, but the real strength of the cast is the cast’s dynamics with each other. As a group, they all feel very much like a group of friends, and you can see varying different friendship dynamics between them clearly.
In addition, the sound design is fantastic. The music hits the emotional beats it needs to wonderfully, and the world itself is filled with all sorts of conversation and background chatter that add to the realism of the world and the sense of place. The visuals also work well for the series, with colors that pop vibrantly, but are also washed out and muted, emphasizing the bittersweet tone of the show.
This is not to say that the show is not without flaws. As strong as the characters are, they sometimes behave infuriatingly. Naho’s constant hesitance in particular can be frustrating, because she’s so afraid to take certain steps even when she knows what’s on the line. In addition, she can be dense. At one point, Kakeru offers his hand for her to take, and she’s completely unable to read the cues he’s sending her.
The show can also be heavy-handed with its metaphors. They’re emotionally powerful, but there’s not always a lot of nuance to them. The art also falls apart at times. Episodes in the mid-late range take a noticeable dip in quality.
Perhaps the biggest problem of the show, however, is an unfortunate result of the premise. The entire show relies on the letter that Naho receives, and leaving how exactly she received a letter from the future unanswered would likely feel unsatisfactory to many. However, it’s instead explained through some bad science fiction in what is otherwise a very realistic story. When the entire premise of the story hangs on something as hackneyed as what we got, it’s hard to look past.
That said, I think Orange is a series I would recommend everyone, not just anime fans, watch, because it covers such an important subject matter so well. Yes, from an objective, detached standpoint, it’s a flawed series, but when it hits, it hits well and hard enough that these flaws don’t matter. At its core, Orange is an emotional, cathartic story, and it’s that catharsis, not the story details, that will carry the show. In this sense, Orange succeeds fantastically.
Orange is, ultimately, a story about people stepping in to save a friend’s life, which is an incredibly relevant story for almost everyone. There are so many people in this world who have been touched by depression and/or suicide, and unfortunately we don’t have the option of getting letters instructing us how to prevent it. Orange attempts to offer up at least some perspective and understanding, though. What sort of signs someone who’s depressed and/or suicidal will display. What sort of phrases might send the wrong impression. What they’re wanting, needing someone else to tell them.
Orange might not be the best anime in existence, but it’s easily one of the most important. I honestly think it has a huge potential to impact lives. Maybe it’ll even be able to save a few. Five stars.