You know, life would be simpler if it weren’t so complicated.
I’m always tired after I watch an episode of Orange. It’s a good kind of tired, the kind you get when a series totally sucks you in emotionally not with trickery but with good writing and strong characters – but it’s still exhausting, It’s pretty remarkable how much Orange has packed into five episodes – more than most shows in two cours – but there’s no sense that we’re nearing the bottom of the well. More that we’re just skimming the surface.
In fact, what I’m sensing this week more than anything is that we’ve reached a high-water mark with Orange, in the existential sense. Maybe I’m wrong but it felt to me as if this episode – as bittersweet as it was – represented the series at its most hopeful and optimistic, the apex of possibility. If I’m right of course, that means that after five episodes where possibilities expanded they’re about to start to contract. The universe of these six endearing kids – however you want to define that universe – is going to start closing in around them. Possible futures will be blocked off, eventualities will become inevitabilities. I hope I’m wrong, but the heart senses what it senses.
There’s a ton of subtext in this ep, that’s for sure – my notepad is as crowded as it’s been after any anime episode for a long time. This was also a week where a lot of things that were previously unspoken were brought to the surface. There was much discussion of time travel, interestingly – of the usage of black holes for the purpose (for you physics geeks out there) but perhaps most relevant for Orange, also of parallel worlds theory. It’s no secret that this is a popular notion in fiction generally and anime specifically, and it’s no mystery why – it offers seemingly limitless possibility, for the writer as well as the character.
So why not this, then – why not two futures, one where Suwa and Naho are happy parents, and one where Kakeru survives and he and Naho wind up together? That seems to be the vision Orange wants us to focus on here, but it begins the process of undercutting it even as it teases us with it. Why does the future Naho – the one married to Suwa – tell her younger self that Suwa “used to care deeply for me”? I’m not certain that parallel worlds exist in Orange‘s mythology at all (Saku certainly doesn’t believe in them) but even if it does, I don’t think it’s so simple as all that.
Look at it this way. In a world where Naho is with Kakeru, Suwa will always regret having stepped aside (even if he did so prompted by his future self), and both of them will know it. In a world where Kakeru dies (the “real” world as far as we know) both Suwa and Naho must live with the reality that they couldn’t save Kakeru – and that he and Naho loved each other once. Would it be any surprise if they grew apart, married or no? Regret is a huge theme in Orange, and indeed for me one of the most crucial concepts in human existence. Kakeru states that if given the choice he’d go to the past (Naho would choose the future) to “lighten” his regrets, and the wording is apt – regrets really are a weight. And the older we get the more of them we must carry with us, and the heavier that weight becomes, until it leaves us bent and stooped under its heavy load.
No, none of this is simple. I do think Naho clarifies one thing for us by referring to “the letter” – singular – from her older self. It seems there was only one delivery, and its contents don’t change even if the past does. I suppose that supports the possibility that a parallel worlds plot is playing out here, but that too seems too simple to me. And as Naho-chan notes, even if that possibility is true, there’s nothing she can do to lighten Naho-san’s load of regrets. Even if she changes her future, it won’t change Naho-san’s – she’ll always have to live with that heartbreaking and mysterious final text of Kakeru’s. The text where he admits to the final regret that pushed him over the edge, the one that made his load too heavy to carry for one more day despite his tender age and strong back, and asked her what about the Valentine’s chocolate.
This is all very brutal to watch, even if this ep indeed was the high-water mark in terms of possibility. Hagita-kun spilling the beans about Suwa’s love for Naho changes everything, even if everyone in the group except Naho knew it. That moment where she finally expressed thanks to Suwa – in the moment for saving her from Ueda and her thug friends but in truth, for everything he does – felt less like a triumph and more a goodbye. This is so hard because these kids are so human, so innocent, so likeable – they should themselves be a living embodiment of the power of possibility, but the burden of future regrets has reached into the past to weigh all of them down before their time. Even as A viewer who desperately wants Kakeru to live I really wonder of Naho-san, no matter how good her intentions, has done the right thing by setting all of this in motion.