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Friday, 8 July 2016

Orange E1

New ongoing! There's not a whole lot going on in live-action television right now, so it's another anime ongoing, replacing Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. Hopefully this one will be a bit better.

Episode 1.

In all honesty, this is a pretty slow season (and a pretty slow year) for anime as well, but there are a few interesting ones airing. One of those is Orange, based on the Takano Ichigo shojo manga of the same name, published between 2012 and 2015 (with a hiatus and later an irregular schedule, due to the mangaka's health problems).

The show follows Naho Takamiya, a high school student who receives a letter, which claims to have been sent from herself ten years in the future. Filled with eerily accurate predictions of her future, the letter urges her not to make the same mistakes the writer, future Naho, did, and to keep an eye on new transfer student Kakeru - who it says will die. Sure enough, Kakeru, a quiet and lonely boy, joins the school the day Naho receives the letter, and when she disobeys the letter's direction not to let him go out with her and her friends, he vanishes for weeks afterwards. As the school sports festival approaches, the next part of the letter looms, in which future Naho says that that will be the day she falls in love with Kakeru.

The whole gang.

Okay, let's run down the technical aspects first:

What actually drew me into watching this series is the animation, and wow, it is superb - most of the time, at least, because sometimes the animators seem to have genuine trouble drawing Kakeru for some weird reason. It's bright and colourful, smooth but still detailed (very detailed in places), and manages to create setting and mood really skillfully. Every so often, it dips into being slightly more abstract, such as during a very brief flashback about a bakery; and by showing the characters moving around a park by representing them as a cluster of signs jumping about, and while that is absoluteley definitely a cost-cutting measure, it actually helps make things more interesting, injecting a little bit of variety into the animation style.

The music's also pretty good, although not especially remarkable. The soundtrack is really at its best when it's doing melancholy, sad songs, but it never really achieves anything particularly striking or earwormy, instead just kind of hovering about the 'okay for setting mood but not that interesting' point.

The voice-acting, meanwhile, is pretty great. Kana Hanazawa plays Naho, doing basically the same voice and inflections as she did for early-series Akane in Psycho-Pass, and while she might be one of the less engaging members of the voice cast, she does a pretty good job balancing Naho-as-character and Naho-as-narrator, and the emotions involved in each role. Seiichiro Yamashita, meanwhile, is playing Kakeru, and he's actually really good - his isn't an easy role, as he has to find the appropriate mix of calmness and emotion, but he does a great job with that. 

She reacts very calmly to a letter from the future, I must say.

The rest of their group of friends are played by Makoto Furukawa (Saitama from One-Punch Man), Riku Kinugawa (who's not had many roles before at all), Kazuyuki Okitsu (Serpico from Berserk), and Natsumi Takanori (Yuri from Akatsuki no Yona). They're all doing solid performances, but out of the four of them, Furukawa, playing Naho's best friend (and second love interest? Oh god, please don't let this be a love triangle) is kind of a show-stealer, making every scene he's in a joy to watch.

Which leads us onto the plot, which is probably where this episode, at least, falls down. It's not bad, I should say that - but it's almost entirely set-up, establishing who these characters are, and setting up the 'Naho's got a letter from the future' plotline, and as a result, it feels like not a lot actually happened. Our big dramatic climax to the episode is Naho winning a baseball game, and while that's fine, and it ties into the main plot (as one of future Naho's regrets was refusing to take part in the game, thus foisting the responsibility of losing off onto her friend Azu), it's not an especially meaningful or dramatic moment, or at least, it isn't right now. I'm open to the idea that, given that this is a time travel plot, there may be further consequences of that.

Kakeru smiling.

The initial romance section of the plotline also seems a bit rushed, because Naho meets Kakeru all of twice before she realises she's in love with him, and that's awfully fast. I do understand why, because it helps set up the stakes going forward, but I think I would've preferred a slow burn.

The episode also sets up the mystery of what exactly happened on Kakeru's first day, as he goes out and has fun with them (even though Naho's letter pleads with her not to let him to do so, and she ignores it, in what might be the most frustrating part of the episode given that she's just had the letter-writer's future-person credentials proven to her), only to then not return to school for weeks afterwards, implying something terrible has happened to him. 

One of the many 'at the park' shots.

All in all, not a terrible first outing for the series. I'll be interested to see where it goes, although I am a bit wary - after all, Kabaneri had a great first episode and it turned out to be absolutely terrible. So we'll see what happens here. At the very least, I'm already somewhat invested in these characters and their happiness, so when tragedy inevitably strikes later, I'm sure that'll be very sad for me. 

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