I believe I’m going to call this “the bowling pin episode”…
Just to get it out of the way, I was relieved that this week’s episode of Orange wasn’t nearly so hideous as #9 in terms of production values. There were one or two wonky patches of animation and a drop in detail here and there, but for the most part it was fine – and it was an ep with more action than any so far, probably. There were even some nice little touches, like the moment when Hagita intercepts the adoring “Sempai!” chants from Suwa’s admirers – the looks on their faces is priceless (and quite cleverly depicted). Hopefully that’s the last time we need to broach this subject with Orange.
And Heaven knows, there’s certainly plenty to talk about. This show remains an emotional powerhouse, one that would be tense even if you took out the magical realism element and our (and the characters’) foreknowledge of what was going to happen. One thing I’ve quite liked about Orange is that the supporting characters have all taken their moment to ease into focus, expressing who they are as individuals. Hagita Saku was probably the last to do so, but he’s emerged handsomely these past couple of weeks. He plays the role of group clown well, but he’s showing himself to be quite observant (it’s he who notices Kakeru is favoring his ankle), and a wry observer on what’s happening around him. There’s depth to him – perceptiveness hiding behind the snark – and I like that all the main six kids here are multi-layered human beings.
As for the rest of the episode, what it put me in mind of was the school play scene from Hourou Musuko. That for me is the benchmark in anime for making the audience frantic with worry about the welfare of the kids on-screen – it’s one thing to do so when kids are in physical danger as in Shin Sekai Yori or Hunter X Hunter, but we’re talking about existential harm here. The fragility of adolescents when they’re most emotionally vulnerable is a powerful dramatic tool when wielded adroitly, and the circumstances surrounding the relay very much recalled the emotions I was feeling in watching Nitorin and his classmates go through that experience.
The circumstances are very different, of course, and in its own way this is a life-and-death situation for Kakeru. His five friends are walking on eggshells, which is certainly understandable – but what they don’t seem to realize is that increases the weight on Kakeru’s shoulders. Their approach at this point pretty much boils down to straight-up persistence, hoping they can smother Kakeru with love so relentlessly that it becomes easier for him to accept it than to fight it. And they do get him to finally admit the truth – that he doesn’t think it’s OK for him to smile or laugh after what he’s “done” to his mother. You could hardly imagine a more classic emotion, but that’s the nature of what kids in Kakeru’s situation are going through.
I don’t know whether letting Kakeru go through with the relay was the right thing to do, especially given his injury – but there are often no right answers in situations like this. I think it’s the nature of kids this age to want to believe the best way forward is action rather than inaction, to try and blast through a crisis rather than be cautious. The letters may come from young adults but the ones who have to act on them are kids, and they continually revert to their instincts in trying to act on what they’re being told. No question about it, this was a really tense moment – the desire on the part of Kakeru’s friends to make this happen was so powerful it was hard not to get swept along with it.
In was an inspirational crescendo when Kakeru broke the tape in first place (not to mention Hagita screaming like a berserker as he tried to overcome his limitations with sheer GAR). But as happy as I am to see Kakeru and the others happy, with Orange I always fear that there’s going to be a price. When the series veers towards the possibility axis and gives us a burst of optimism, I can’t help but feel as if I’m being set up, and it’s only going to be that much more agonizing when that 16 lb. ball comes barreling down the alley and slams into me.
If one chooses to look for them, there are certainly ample reasons why they might be worried about what’s to come. It’s notable that after Hiroto encouraged Kakeru to wager a kiss with Naho on the outcome of the race, he declared that if Kakeru didn’t hold up his end of the bargain he’d be the one to take that kiss. As heroically supportive as Hiroto has been, his own feelings towards Naho are a powerful force (and we don’t know how much of the future he knows). And Kakeru surely feels that Naho would be better off with Hiroto. These letters – however they came to exist – are well and good, but these kids are still who they are. We don’t change ourselves so totally and decisively with ease, even if we change bits and pieces of the future. And I remain unconvinced that even with knowledge of the future, pulling off a change as fundamental as these kids are trying to pull off may just be impossible.