Well… I suppose by Orange standards that counts as a breather episode, or at least a setup episode. But it’s all relative, because the emotional whipsaw of this series is truly exhausting. There’s a very definite wave pattern to these eps – they tend to go from more optimistic to more depressing in rotation, as if the eternal tug-of-war between possibility and regret were manifesting itself in palpable terms (as indeed I think is exactly what’s happening). This is a conscious choice on the part of the writers and director, no question about that, but as a result of it when we do get an episode like this, it feels as if we’re the ones being set up.
I see a couple of ominous developments this week, and while they’ve always been kind of hovering in the background, the optimist in me was able to do a passable job of pushing them out of mind for the most part. The first is the notion of consequences for Naho becoming a couple with Kakeru. They’re obvious on one level – I mean, future Hiroto has a baby with her for crying out loud. But he’s such a bro that it’s easy to believe he’s willing to give up his likeliest path to future happiness (even if Suwa-san hasn’t told Suwa-kun all the details, Suwa-kun knows his own heart).
The rub, though, is that the path to saving Kakeru lies in actually getting there. And that means navigating the minefield of adolescence not just for Kakeru, but the entire group. When Hagita-kun asks Azusa to “spend some time with him” after school, even though the thing he wants to talk about isn’t what’s being hinted at, it still forces the subject to the forefront. What happens when Hagita and Azusa become a couple, as we’ve seen strongly suggested? That leaves Suwa even more isolated, even more aware of what he’s giving up to save Kakeru. There’s no evidence that either Takako or Hiroto have any feelings for each other, as convenient as that would be. If his relationship with Naho caused the group to splinter, that would be a source of tremendous guilt for Kakeru.
The other source of foreboding is the issue of the letters themselves, and adherence to them. Humans are not, by nature, inclined to live their lives according to the words on a letter – even if it’s from their older selves (I myself would probably be a little resentful at 16 if my 26 year-old self had done that). Naho and Hiroto are inevitably going to start wanting to believe their own instincts and empirical data when they seem to contradict what’s in their letters, all the more so as the butterflies’ wings cause their reality to start looking different than the one in those letters. Who could blame them? It’s both human nature and teenage nature.
Now, all that may be perfectly fine – maybe Kakeru has been nursed past the moment of worst danger already. But it still made me queasy when Naho said she was going to stop “relying” on the letters. And there’s another crucial detail that’s been filled in – Hagita, Azusa and Takako have their own letters (as always seemed the most likely scenario). So now we have five genki teens all sharing a God-awful secret from a sixth, who they’re trying to save from giving up on life and checking out on it. Can they keep that secret forever, when some part of them will be desperate to share it – and what would it to do Kakeru to learn the truth?
Against that backdrop we have a very tense reality playing out. Kakeru is still, palpably, fragile as bone china – and I think he senses that the others are treating him that way. He’s so scarred emotionally that he can’t bring himself to formally date Naho despite confessing his love for her, just in case he “hurts” her (unspoken was “just like I hurt my mom – and everyone”) – the best he can do is wordlessly hold out his hand, hoping she’ll take it. The relay in the sports meet is kind of the last hurrah of the letters – Naho and Suwa know that Kakeru will be picked as the anchor, and that he’ll stumble and cost his team the victory (and feel terrible about it). So they seek to stop him running – Hiroto using the convenient fact (also ominous) that Kakeru had passed out earlier during soccer practice. But here they decide to rebel – instead of Hiroto simply replacing Kakeru, the quartet of Suwa, Azusa, Saku and Takako concoct a scheme where all six of them will run the relay together.
Again, maybe all this is fine (though poor, stork-legged Hagita may not feel that way) – a triumph for the “possibility” side, a bold declaration that fate can and is being changed and isn’t something to be feared. I’ll sort of buy that intellectually – but emotionally, that’s not how Orange left me feeling this week. Instead, that feeling is that these five kids have donned their waxen wings and declared themselves ready for takeoff. We all know how that story ended up – and sadly in life, if possibility is the wings, regret is all too often the sun.