High school student Naho Takamiya receives a mysterious sheaf of letters that purport to be from herself ten years in the future. They tell her that a boy named Kakeru Naruse will be joining her class, and will become close friends with Naho and her own close circle of friends- and will then commit suicide, leaving a void in their lives that can never be filled. Naho's "future self" urges her to change things so Kakeru doesn't die (both for the sake of friendship and for other, more personal reasons as well), but even if this CAN be done, doing it might invalidate aspects of her "future self's" life...
As I began drafting this review, a young woman recently received a manslaughter conviction for successfully inducing a young man to commit suicide, and there's a continuing controversy involving 13 Reasons Why, a "young adult" novel that was adapted into a TV mini-series, with critics concerned that that show "glamorizes" teen suicide.
Orange at least can't be accused of glamorizing either the act, or the mindset of the person who does it; we meet the Naho who wrote the letters, and the other "future" versions of her little group as well, and the devastation of Kakeru's act seems to have torn their companionship asunder ("We aren't close friends anymore"). Kakeru, and the things running through his mind that lead him to this, are also portrayed fairly honestly; he's pretty messed up emotionally, and while the common theme of bullying by peers does play a part in his fate, it's not really the central issue- the main trouble is an unresolved "family issue" (and now unresolvable, unless he can find the strength to simply let it go) that has left him with chronic guilt, and manifests as a kind of martyrdom- he doesn't want to let anyone get close to him, and if they DO start talking to him, they sooner or later will say something that he finds insensitive to his feelings; and when this happens, he won't TELL them what he's feeling or HOW they've offended him- he just shuns them. It's easy to see how this kind of passive-aggressive behavior could lead to suicide, since suicide is, sadly, very often intended as an "ultimate act " of passive-aggression.
But Naho, our heroine, nevertheless fell in love with Kakeru in her "26-year-old" version's past; and now she's not just trying to save his life (ALL her little circle of friends are helping her with THAT); her letters are actually encouraging her "young" self to fall in love with him AGAIN, and use that love as another instrument to bring him back from the edge. So she recounts the events that occurred with him, and advises her "young" self to make some alternate choices in her day-to-day actions. She doesn't always follow "her own" advice very rigorously: early on she lets a major tragedy happen to Kakeru because at that point she still didn't believe the letters (understandable, but if her "future self" had been more explicit about WHY she needed to do- or in this case, NOT do- what she did, it might have swayed her even at that stage); but even late in the show, near the time of the "event" AND after she knows the score pretty well, in an act of INCREDIBLE carelessness (actually, more like plot contrivance) she does the very thing her older "self" specifically warned her against.
There are several issues the show raises that either troubled me, or gave me some philosophical points to ponder. One is that, if the show takes the attitude that love and friendship are enough to "fix" a suicidal teenager, that's just wrong. I'm sure those kinds of support would be a tremendous help, but unless Kakeru's underlying issues are actually resolved I would deem him a poor choice for Naho's future happiness. And it's not just Kakeru's continuing potential for emotional instability that might suggest that Naho proceed otherwise; for there's another party involved. When Kakeru ended his life, Naho received consolation from another member of her little circle, Hiroto Suwa, who loved her too- and who eventually married her, and with whom her 26-year-old self has an infant child. The "young" versions of our cast are given some knowledge of these details of their future (or perhaps just one POTENTIAL future, as in Noein?), and the show, to its credit, DOES wrestle a bit with the Kakeru-Naho-Suwa triangle, and the attendant philosophical conundrum- should she pursue her first love (Kakeru), or the guy who married the "her" who wrote the letters (Suwa)? - and what should SUWA do? (Some people don't easily let go of first loves; I know of one woman who wanted to name her and her husband's child after one of her old boyfriends.) There's also the issue of whether a paradox would be created if she makes a different choice this time, and Suwa is a compassionate guy, but I won't spoil things by saying who she ultimately chooses (in THIS round).
The show has a supporting cast in Naho's small circle of friends, though not nearly as much drama or romance happens outside the triangle. We have Azusa Murasaka, a cheerful, prankster girl who loves to harass Saku Hagita, a curmudgeonly guy wearing glasses; despite their bickering, their friends think there's a bond between them, but the show does precious little to develop that relationship. I tend to prefer romantic shows that DO allow more than one couple to blossom- e.g., Lovely Complex, Boys Be, etc. Not even having THIS much going on is poor Takako Chino, a "tough girl" who really isn't given much to do AT ALL (except be supportive).
Oh, and you were wondering how those letters got to them from their "future" selves? The show offers a weak pseudoscientific explanation. I think it would have been preferable to just go straight fantasy on this (since it can't help being so ANYWAY) and attribute it all to magic. It would have been perfectly OK here; while sci-fi deals well with questions of human interaction with nature and technology, fantasy often does a perfectly fine job of illuminating what lies in the human heart.
Orange weaves a complex tale of choices and consequences around a sensitive subject, and even if it's rather contrived HERE or naïve THERE, it still comes across as more sophisticated (and a bit less melodramatic) than other treatments I've seen of this sort of subject matter. So yes, I'm willing to overlook the pure hokum of sending letters into the past- and why Naho falls into traps she's very pointedly told herself to avoid. I DO wish that the other members of the group had had a little more story of their own- and particularly wish they'd let Azusa and Hagita mellow out a bit toward each other. Still, the show carefully (and pretty thoroughly) considers the ramifications of its scenario, the character art is OK (manga-style), and whether you agree or not with how things turn out in this, everyone's "second chance", you do clearly understand the thinking (and emotions) that made it happen. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Suicide, and regrets surrounding it, are overarching themes here. There's no fanservice (it's not THAT kind of show.) Not recommended for children (or for adults who might be offended by this subject matter.)
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Orange © 2016 Telecom Animation Film.
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