When the Orange manga was first recommended to me, I was hesitant. I’ve stayed away from shoujo manga and anime due to my growing personal frustration with it. The insipid storytelling based on years upon years of tropes coupled with often insidious messages for young women found in most shoujo romances is still far more difficult for me to ignore than routine sexual fanservice aimed at men. I approached Orange with trepidation, but came away rewarded with a strong story that skirts around these expectations by focusing primarily on regret and the premature loss of a friend.
Orange is less about romance — despite the ever-present tropes — and more about dealing with the death of a loved one.
The anime adaptation of Orange continues to impress through it’s excellent sound and visual direction. Following Episode 3, I was again struck by how confidently this series is directed, and how well the visuals convey themes of grief, loss, regret, and hope found in Naho Takamiya’s letters from her future self.
Orange‘s premiere episode begins without music, just ambient sound and idle chatter between Naho and her friends as they prepare their letters to their past selves. The sound of rustling paper, a slight breeze, and passing cars form an audible background soundtrack before music begins to play as the group is shown in front of a fence. These same audio cues are repeated when the entire scene is bookended at the end of the series’ third episode.
The sequence pictured above is from the first episode of Orange. Naho and company are digging up a time capsule where they placed letters to their future selves ten years prior.
Orange begins with establishing shots of the grounds just outside of the schoolyard fence. As previously mentioned, there is no background music, only Hiroto Suwa giving instructions, organizing their project as they each prepare their letters. This series generally uses somewhat saturated colors and contrast, but the visually ups the contrast in scenes of Naho’s future, making shadows darker and colors brighter, especially when the sky is shown. The fence is ever present in all of these shots, visibly separating their adult selves from the high school. When Takako Chino and Naho are handed their letters, their faces are not shown, and the viewer’s focus is drawn to the letter itself rather than the person.
The first time faces are shown, it’s still through a fence, drawing visible lines between them and the school — an obvious visual nod to the fact that they’re not in school anymore, and that part of their lives is firmly locked away in the past. Naho’s monologue is short and to the point: “Now that I’ve turned 26, I have so many regrets.” The series cuts to a blurry scene where only Naho is in focus and her high school self walks by her 26 year-old self.
This entire visual sequence is repeated in Episode 3 — when Naho and her friends read their own letters and Kakeru’s — with subtle changes in framing.
Leading into the third episode’s visual bookending of the series’ initial opening is a scene of 16 year-old Naho, drinking orange juice from a juice box that Kakeru had bought for her, lamenting the fact that she couldn’t express her feelings in time to change the outcome written in the letter from her future self. Kakeru still responds favorably to the upperclassmen Rio Ueda, and the two begin dating. Even though Naho does attempt to express her feelings to Kakeru, her message is too late and doesn’t reach him in time.
Her regret is palpable and the scene is bathed in the sharp, warm tones of the setting sun. This makes for an interesting contrast when the scene transitions from Naho in her room, to Naho’s 26 year-old self in the future. The saturated colors and high contrast appear sharper because the scene that followed was so specifically lit.
Unlike the scene that precedes it — with Naho’s 16 year-old self alone in her room at sunset — the sun is rising in the scene of Naho’s future as she and her friends dig up their old time capsule in front of the high school. The colors are still saturated but there’s slightly less contrast in most scenes. When compared side-by-side with their Episode 1 counterparts, Episode 3’s shots appear brighter with less sharp shadows.
The group is framed with the “camera” above or below the group — including a shot from the hole that the time capsule used to be — as if someone is watching them, where in Episode 1, shots focused on the letters themselves. Similar framing is often used when a spirit or ghost is peering in on the living, a deliberate choice that makes it appear as if Kakeru is watching them the entire time. This makes Suwa’s reading of his letter all the more effective, especially since it hints that Kakeru was preparing for his own death.