Summer 2016 First Impressions – Orange

OrangeCoverNaho Takamiya is a timid 16-year-old girl. One day, she receives a letter from her future self detailing actions she must take to prevent Kakeru Naruse, the new transfer student, from sinking into depression and taking his own life. – ANN

Streaming at: Crunchyroll

Number of Episodes: 13

Source: Manga

Summary of Episode 1: Naho is a sweet, quiet girl who aims to be the type of person who doesn’t cause trouble for those around her. That usually means allowing others to have what they want while keeping her desires and discomforts private. This begins to change one day when Naho receives a mysterious letter in the mail; the writer claims to be Naho herself, only 10 years in the future. In the letter are written instructions for how to approach the events of the coming days, especially as they relate to a new transfer student. Naho doesn’t know whether to believe the letter or not until the events of her school day line up exactly with what is written. The Naho of 10 years from now seems to harbor several regrets about things that happened during high school. As the next several weeks unfold, Naho begins to strengthen her resolve. Is it only coincidence that her feelings for Kakeru, the new transfer student, begin to blossom into romantic feelings?

First Impressions: I’m admittedly not going into this anime with zero knowledge or expectations. A few months ago I overheard a friend of mine talking about the Orange manga, and since it’s available in full on Crunchyroll (if you’re a subscriber), I decided to give it a look. The fact that I read the entire series in one go over the period of a couple hours should do enough to express how compelling I thought the story was. Needless to say, when I found out that an anime adaptation was in the works, I was pretty jazzed. I’ve been excitedly anticipating this premiere since then.

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Kakeru, the new transfer student, is conveniently assigned to sit next to Naho.

So what is it that makes this series more interesting than the glut of melodramatic shoujo manga adaptations that are floating around out in anime land? Speaking from the perspective of a manga reader (though hopefully without spoiling anything), I think there are quite a few interesting things at play in this story. For one thing, this isn’t really just a shoujo-style romance played straight. It’s got some unique cross-demographic origins that were a little bit surprising to me when I learned of them – the story was serialized in both a shojo (girls’) magazine, then later in a seinen (adult men’s) one. There’s also a very subtle sci-fi mechanic as far as Naho’s “letter from the future” is concerned, and the story is able to maintain its own internal logic well enough to keep that bit from being too goofy (time travel is rarely done well in fiction and I’m personally fine with that, but this series does well by not getting overly explanatory with the concept). What I think is most important, though, and very evident already from this episode of the anime, is that, even though the story ends up becoming an ensemble piece, a very large part of the story is Naho’s growth as a human being. That to me is way more engrossing than a bunch of dry sci-fi concepts with some characters pasted over the top.

The way Naho behaves in this episode, especially her inner monologue while she and her friends are deciding which kind of bread they want (Naho likes curry bread the best, but she defers to others when asked which kind she’d like to have), and also the way she tends to deny herself the experience of doing things she’d really like to do (because it might make her friends uncomfortable or draw too much attention to herself), cuts like a knife. Those types of feelings and emotions are so familiar to me that it immediately imbues this series with a type of realism that would otherwise be difficult to establish in so short a time. It’s fairly common practice to give shoujo manga heroines some sort of quirky trait in order to try and humanize them a bit – while I think the concept of a “Mary Sue” is terribly sexist since male characters often aren’t examined through the same critical lens, it’s also admittedly not very interesting to watch a character who is already powerful and completely capable with no flaws whatsoever (I’ve never been one for hero worship). So a heroine who is attractive and smart but also has some personality flaw or dirty little secret is pretty common. It also serves as an easy source of comic relief – think Yukino Miyazawa and her secretly-slobbish nature, or Haruhi Fujioka‘s plot-convenient gender fluidity. But Naho’s character flaw, her self-denial, is expressed with a lot of care and doesn’t manifest itself in an over-the-top way. It’s not a source of comedy, but instead serves to underscore the exact situation that the Naho-of-the-future hopes to avoid – the regretful experiences of her high-school life. It feels very genuine to me.

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Kakeru trades his curry bread for Naho’s melon bread.

Knowing that this is a story that relies a lot on its emotional content, I was really hoping that the first episode would start off on the right foot in that respect. For the most part I would say that it hits the right beats from the first few chapters of the manga, although there are a couple of aesthetic choices that I personally wouldn’t have made. The episode leans heavily on its use of visual montage to tell certain parts of the story, and while it gets done what it needs to do (showing a lot of action that takes place over a long period of time in a very short period of screen time, obviously), it adds an element of “wackiness” that seems a bit out of place. Knowing what I do about the general plot arc, this could be a ploy on the director’s part to throw off the audience, but it’s difficult for me to tell at this point. Likewise, the soundtrack tends to be a a bit goofy and overbearing in some scenes, which I think provides the wrong impression. While there are lighthearted moments, the most prominent mood I think should be conveyed is bitter-sweetness; uptempo, noisy music in the background takes away from my ability to feel that. On the other hand, there are a couple points in the episode where there are some really interesting visual filters in use (there’s a scene near the beginning where young Naho and adult Naho symbolically cross paths, and the image is given a hazy, over-saturated and otherworldly quality), and there’s some good use of framing that’s utilized to keep the focus on what’s important (namely, Naho herself). The visual composition of the series is clearly very competent and manages to use some flashy tricks in a more subtle and refined way. I like it.

It’s pretty rare for me to have read a manga before its anime adaptation is available (normally it’s the other way around since I’m primarily an anime fan with manga as a side interest), so to have so many concrete expectations for this adaptation is somewhat foreign. I can get a little disparaging towards manga fans when they get upset over anime adaptations that stray from their source material. It’s experiences like this which provide me with some much-needed perspective. People become critical of adaptations, not generally out of a need to complain  or poo-poo on others’ parades, but out of love for the source material itself. When a story grabs hold of your heart and remains rooted within you long after you’re finished experiencing it, an adaptation which falls far short of its source material can almost feel like a personal insult. But an adaptation is also someone else’s interpretation of a story, and it can really pay off to balance one’s own desires for how that story should play out with the requirements of a different medium and the strengths, weaknesses, and varying tastes and interpretations of the person doing the adapting. It’s definitely something that I’ll have to keep in mind as this story plays out. Luckily, the first episode gives the strong impression that this story is in good hands.

Pros: The story is one that should resonate with multiple demographics pretty easily, as its themes and multi-generational cast have mass appeal. The visuals are high-quality and there is good use of scene framing and modern animation effects.

Cons: Some of the music gets a little overbearing at times. There is a heavy use of montage in this episode which comes across as cheesy.

Grade: B+

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