Orange – 09

Our eyes tell us a very obvious tale.  But here’s the real question…

Orange - 61 -1Before we dive into this week’s (as usual) deep, dense and emotional episode of Orange, let’s address the elephant in the room.  Yes, the budget for this series has obviously cratered.  The animation and (especially) background detail and character modeling has been gradually slipping, and this week it pretty much fell of a cliff.  But does it really matter?  I think that’s kind of an interesting question, actually, and one whose answer may not be as obvious as the idealist in us would like to believe.

Orange - 61 -2My short answer: yes – it does matter (to me).  My slightly longer answer: it depends on the viewer.  My full answer is that it’s complicated.  Without any question a character-driven series like this relies mostly on its writing and character development, and without any question I would take a smart and powerfully-written show with dodgy production values over an empty designer suit any day of the week.  I love Orange, just like I loved Baby Steps.  But it does make a difference, seeing the stick-figure background characters with grotesquely odd facial features.  This is an age-old issue for anime fans, a function of the limited budgets most anime are produced under.  I wish it wasn’t, but it is, and likely always will be since it’s the big disc-sellers that usually don’t have it, and they’re rarely the best series (or even the good ones).

Orange - 61 -3In the end, a show as compelling as Orange can overcome that sort of thing, and while it provides intermittent distraction this week, the episode is still a thought-provoking and engaging one.  If I were to try and encapsulate it, I think it would be this way – tug-of-war.  It’s an apt metaphor for this sports festival-themed ep, because Orange has always been about the tug-of-war between possibility and regret.  But what’s happening in this episode is that the two and finally starting their inevitable collision, one that’s been foreshadowed for the entire series.  This was the week when the unstoppable force finally met the immovable object, and there are certain to be casualties.

Orange - 61 -4Pray for rain” is not a theme we see a lot in anime (I don’t know if there’s a reverse-teru teru bouzu or not) but that’s exactly what Azusa is doing this week.  She’s the in-focus supporting character this time, because it’s her birthday.  And to her credit, Azusa is mostly concerned with how that plays into Naho and Kakeru’s relationship.  Azusa, it seems, was a skeptic – she encouraged Kakeru to date Ueda because she thought the letters were a hoax.  But now she believes, and the umbrella Saku gifted her (seriously – those two really need to just set the date already) is a crucial part of what Azusa sees as a missed opportunity for couple-building.  Sharing the umbrella is a teenage romance cliche, it’s true, but in Japan I think there’s really something to it.

Orange - 61 -5No question about it, everyone wants to help.  The problem is, that’s not enough.  Hiroto slips as little as he’s trying to push Kakeru to formally ask Naho out, asking “So you wouldn’t care if I dated her?”  That question hits a little too close to the mark, and Kakeru’s answer – “I actually think that would be a good idea” – even closer.  Kakeru is already (and still) thinking about his exit strategy, and terrified that if he gets too close to Naho she’ll be terribly hurt in the end.  That makes all their interactions – the hand-holding, the non-dating – terribly awkward.  They both want to be together very badly, and they’re both afraid to let it happen.  And Naho’s inveterate shyness complicates things immeasurably.

Orange - 61 -6This is the episode when the hard and difficult truth begins to dawn on Orange.  No amount of wanting to help – even aided by insight from the future – is in itself enough to change a person’s fate. Superficially the notion of asking Kakeru’s grandmother to the sports meet seems like a great idea, but I fear it may have made things worse by reminding him of just how much he misses his mother.  What this ep did so beautifully – and heartbreakingly – was let us inside Kakeru’s world.  This is the painful reality: when one is facing depression, they feel utterly alone.  And when surrounded by adoring and caring friends or family, they may feel even more alone.  And this is the Kakeru we see this week – alone while in the embrace of his friends.

Orange - 61 -7It’s a very helpless feeling watching this, seeing how all the efforts of Kakeru’s friends aren’t enough on their own to bring him back from the dark place he’s in.  And I suspect it’s going to be an even more helpless feeling for them as that realization dawns, as it’s just beginning to with this episode.  Kakeru is so aware of what’s happening here, of the way the others are being solicitous of his feelings and trying to help him, and my fear is that’s making him feel worse.  Did Naho-san and the others study up on depression before they started all this with the letters?  It doesn’t seem as if they did – but the really painful thing is, even if they had it still might not have mattered. That’s what depression is – it’s as if Kakeru is at the bottom of a deep and dark well, and there may be no rope long enough to reach him…

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8 comments

  1. I was reading this while watching the current episode of Orange, and until then I hadn’t noticed how bad the animation was. (I watched it after watching Days, so comparatively Orange seemed like a masterpiece.)

    I can’t work out whether Naho is also depressed. I don’t think she’s meant to be, but she is so implausibly naive that I keep looking for other explanations.

  2. s

    I think it’s very interesting how you approached the whole animation production issue with orange. Does it matter? Yea it does, because visual aesthetic is narrative and for a guy like hiroshi who relies on that when directing anime, it’s kinda like this series is taking repetitive shots in the foot. It’s funny because no later than tomorrow, mob psycho 100 is about to prove what anime looks like when you have a well organized and time-concise production team showing off their talents and what you can achieve with that in terms of visual narrative

  3. To be fair, Mob Psycho is doing that with a massively, massively larger budget.

  4. s

    comparatively speaking yea but as with the situation with one punch man, im pretty sure the animation budget is pretty average. If the pv’s for mob psycho are anything to go by, based on when the first one was released anyway, it’s clear the staff had been finishing up eps of mob psycho months in advance before being aired. In this case, it looks like a combination of budget, talent, and great scheduling. It’s similar to space dandy where that series had excellent animation because it was just scheduled better. Some eps of space dandy were finished months prior to airing so the series looked consistently good and that’s the same thing we’re experiencing with mob psycho; but more on that when you post your episodic write up. Basically, it’s a shame that orange’s visual quality is tanking the way it is. The emotional gravity of the narrative can carry a viewer through, but a part of feeling for these characters is watching how they emote and it gets a bit distracting to see the character art tank when you’re in the middle of empathizing with the characters in heart-string pulling moments

  5. Sometimes I wonder if the characters are asexual… “I like you.” “I like you too.” “Wanna hold hands/date?” “I dunno..”

  6. Yeah, seriously. I mean, being shy and scared and insecure is certainly a big part of being a teen, but another big part of being a teen is being horny. Did these kids all undergo hormonal suppression therapy? “Wanna hold my hands” “nah, we did that already a few weeks ago” – OH COME ON!

  7. I would have thought everyone’s reaction to Suwa’s “Abu!” should have answered the question of whether the girls are horny or not.

  8. I found it especially funny how everyone went “Suwa you’re hot!” in the moment in which we got probably the derpiest close-up of a main cast member in the episode. I guess that’s the real problem with bad art and animation even in a non-action oriented series – it just makes you laugh at all the wrong things and in all the wrong moments.

    But yeah, I guess my main beef is with Naho, she’s really unbelievable. I suppose the idea was to go with the “shy/pure” kind of character but it’s really overdone, to the point of stretching the suspension of disbelief. We’re talking Takeo levels of denseness here – and THAT was played for laughs.

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