Due to the well-worn nature of its subject matter, the second episode of Orange is grating, especially to those who have seen a large amount of shoujo anime — perhaps only one was enough, considering that gifting food to a romantic interest is so common of a cliché that it appears in nearly every shoujo romance. Throughout the majority of Episode 2, I wanted to shake Naho Takamiya by the shoulders and yell at her to give Kakeru Naruse the lunch she prepared.
In fact, Orange could easily fall into the trap of becoming just another shoujo series — and there are a few more clichés to come — although I have confidence that it won’t for two major reasons. One is a source material spoiler from the original manga around which I’ll try to tread lightly. The other is the deft visual touch of director Hiroshi Hamasaki.
Naho’s high school life was presented as a series of snapshots in the first episode — most visible during the cost-cutting measures taken when Naho and her friends are inducting Kakeru into their group, pictured above.
These are all stills, presented in a slideshow with corny background music. The only things that move in this sequence are a series of green icons representing Naho and company that frantically move around a map of the town. Often, characters are initially cut off, or ill-framed as the camera pans up through the still. In some cases, these pictures wouldn’t even be considered good candid shots to peruse as photographs, but they work in this sequence, adding dynamism to otherwise still snapshots, effectively conveying the energy and transience of each moment.
Transitions between scenes — sometimes days or weeks apart — are usually aided by Naho reading pieces of the letter, dating specific events in a timeline. For example, the camera lingers on her letter that references pinch-hitting in the softball tournament, ending with the phrase “I fall in love with Kakeru on that day.” This fades into Azusa and Takako absentmindedly singing the song of Nagano Prefecture as they walk to their softball game.
Just as the snapshots added a sense of movement to Naho and her friends’ actions, these transitions mark passage of time within in the scope of the series in an almost ominous way. Naho’s letters from her future self are full of regret, especially when it comes to Kakeru’s death, and time is made a quick enemy, simply through visual cuts.
Episode 2 is far more linear in presentation, but has similarly effective visuals that frame Naho’s actions. The letters are again used to transition from scene to scene as Naho wrestles with whether she should continue to follow their advice. Naho is always thinking of what they say, and this adds a heaviness to everything she does.
This continuously reiterates throughout Orange that time is not on Naho’s side — an interesting conundrum when considering the purpose of the letters themselves. Their main objective is to save Kakeru, but in the case that Naho cannot fulfill this task, the letters implore her to watch over him, enjoy her time with him, and keep her focus on what’s important. Naturally, with possibly limited time left with Kakeru looming over her every action, flashing back to the letters adds weight and anxiety to Naho’s every day life.
Much of Orange‘s second episode is spent on an aforementioned simple shoujo cliché — Naho must give food to Kakeru, the object of her affection. Through its visuals, Orange appears to be just as fed up with this trope as its audience likely is. Naho’s timidity throughout is infuriating and the series’ visual direction plays with its exasperated audience without minimizing Naho’s personal anxiety.
Her rejection of Kakeru after school is affecting, especially when accompanied by the words that a letter cannot change one’s personality — something that Orange will return to, even as subsequent letters reiterate that Kakeru’s life is at stake. Naho walks alone, behind her two friends as she leaves school. The camera cuts to a shot of her back, the extra bag used to carry the lunch she painstakingly prepared for Kakeru visible on her shoulder in its conspicuous, lime-green glory. The final shot shows the school entrance visibly behind Naho, the bag and her shoulder out-of-focus in the foreground.
As audience members, we know that Naho will likely give Kakeru her lunch — barring an inconvenient shoujo misunderstanding. This entire scene visually plays with our expectations and exasperation with Naho’s hesitation. I almost felt like cheering when she went back to the school entrance and waited for Kakeru, despite having read the manga and knowing what will happen.
When Kakeru later tells Naho the truth about his Episode 1 absence and why he won’t join the soccer club, that his mother passed away his first day of school — the day that Naho’s letter had told her not to invite him out — and he promised her that he wouldn’t join any clubs, the visuals and general series direction once again do the heavy lifting. Kakeru reveals this in stilted fashion and Orange allows this moment to stagnate, stifling both the viewing audience and Naho with its weight.
The background music stops for a full seven seconds after Kakeru’s admission — the only audible sound coming from ambient water rushing — and the camera shifts to the water and then to the two of them seated together. What begin as an awkward, somewhat flirtatious conversation between two people who share a mutual like for each other ends with the two of them immeasurably distant from one another, despite neither of them moving an inch.
Naho’s first letter from her future self is shown again as Naho realizes the importance of the letters, once again reiterating that time is not her friend. She doesn’t have time to waste waffling over whether or not it will be embarrassing to give Kakeru a lunch.
Naturally this inspires her to give the lunch to Kakeru. Her gift symbolizes not only her love of Kakeru, but her commitment to keeping him safe. In a way, it finalizes a contract between Naho and her future self, setting the stage for events to come.