Yeah, they had to trot out the butterflies sooner or later…
Orange is a wonderful anime – ridiculously involving and insightful. But damn, it’s a tough one for me to watch and an even tougher one to write about. I’ve seen plenty of series that strike a personal cord with me, of course, but this one cuts so close to the bone that it’s genuinely uncomfortable to really wrap my mind about it. Maybe it’s uncomfortable in a good way, like a visit with a therapist is supposed to be. But it’s a rough ride nonetheless, and each successive episode leaves me feeling more bruised and battered than the one before.
When it comes to Kakeru, opinion seems very sharply divided – I’ve seen some pretty out-there comments. The only thing I can say in response is something I’ve always hated when I heard other people say it: unless you’ve been there, you can’t understand. Normally, I think that’s a bullshit line – and about 95% of the time it is. But there are times when I believe one cannot genuinely understand another person’s feelings unless they’ve experienced what they’ve experienced, and Kakeru’s case is one of those times.
I imagine that many if not most viewers find themselves strongly identifying with someone in the Orange cast – Suwa or Naho, maybe even Saku or Taka or Azusa if they’ve been the helpless onlooker in a situation like this. Well, for me it’s definitely Kakeru – and I don’t think anyone who can’t identify with Kakeru (and I mean truly identify with him, above all the others) could understand what that means. I’ve seen this kind of emotional trauma hinted at in anime before (Watamote‘s Tomoki gets at the fringes of it in a darkly comedic way, as an example) but I’ve never seen it confronted so head-on and so brutally.
The thing about Orange, though, is that it’s really a series with a tripod structure – Naho, Kakeru and Suwa are equally critical in supporting the story. Suwa is the character who’s been the least explored up to this point, but his perspective is no less essential to the drama playing out. The obvious emotional crescendos have certainly hit their mark, but I find my mind continually going back to Suwa’s wordless stares – they cut right to the heart just as much as Kakeru’s tears or Naho’s fears. When one thinks of the sacrifice the future Suwa is asking of his younger self, it’s staggering – but spare a thought for Suwa-kun as well as Suwa-san. It’s clear Suwa-san is sparing him the details of what his future originally held, but Suwa-kun understands his own feelings. He knows exactly what he’s sacrificing here, and it’s no less than the potential source of his future happiness. Yet he does it anyway – both of him do it anyway, and I’m honestly not sure which one of them is making the more impressively greater sacrifice.
But again we must ask: will it be enough? Will anyone’s sacrifice, anyone’s love, be enough? They may be acting on letters from their older selves (I don’t know whether the other three have received them too, but it almost doesn’t matter) but these kids are trying to save Kakeru very much in the manner of kids. It’s heartbreakingly innocent the way they try to heal Kakeru with kindness and affection, with attention and presents and general love. What that tells me as much as anything is that the ones who gathered at Kakeru’s grandmother’s house are still basically those same kids themselves – all of us are to an extent still basically kids at 26, but the tragedy of Kakeru’s life and death seems to have frozen them in time on some level.
Suwa’s approach is as in-character for the kid he is as Naho’s halting self-doubt is of her. He’s abandoned all subtlety in favor of directness. When he wants Kakeru to say what his birthday is, he asks him straight out. He tells Naho and Kakeru to their faces that they should be honest with their feelings. He forces Kakeru to admit he’s hurting about his mother, and asks him flat-out if he thinks about death (we now know that Kakeru tried and failed to kill himself at least once). I’m not Hiroto in this scenario, but I totally get that impulse to just grab Kakeru and try to hug some sense into him. Will it work? There are very obvious problems with Hiroto’s approach, just as there are with Naho’s hesitant and halting one. But we do know this much – doing what they did before didn‘t work. In that sense, maybe beating the bushes and forcing the butterflies to take flight isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Each little moment – Kakeru wearing the sports bag and Naho’s reaction, the sleight-of-hand withe the bouquet of flowers going from Suwa to Kakeru to Naho – is a reminder of the stakes here. Kakeru’s eyes as he stares out the window and whispers “Whoosh” are a reminder of the long odds against changing fate – that Naho will ever get to see the smile she longs to see, the Kakeru without a ghost over his shoulder. The eternal tug-of-war between possibility and regret knows no beginning and no end, and perhaps the only reason to have hope is that Naho and Hiroto (both “now” and in the future) may just be too innocent to realize which one invariably wins.