Orange – 04

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I’ve mentioned how cold and bleak and dreary things look in Naho’s “bad future.” With Kakeru dating Ueda, it’s like that coldness has seeped into present-day Naho’s world. Heck, the first image in the present is of a futuristic—and somewhat frightening—looking interior of an automatic ice cream cone-serving machine.

In it, two cones are stuck in their stands, so close together and yet inexorably separate, being pushed and pulled by outside forces ever further away. One is filled with pink ice cream – which I saw as a symbol of the aggressive redhead Ueda’s new regime in Kakeru’s life.

The workings of the ice cream machine seem unchangeable, but that’s just an illusion brought on by its cold, intimidating, mechanical nature. In order to prevent the same thing happening this time, the machine has to be unplugged and reprogrammed. And Naho is the only technician who can do it.

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Kakeru is most definitely dating Ueda-senpai. He is also most definitely miserable, because of the note he got from Naho a hair too late. Now he’s trapped, and Ueda will not leave him alone. She’s hot, but she’s also clingy, monopolizing, and singleminded. She’s also not a fool, so she sees the glances between Naho and Kakeru, and doesn’t like them one bit.

There’s already tension—like Weyoun and Dukat when DS9 was occupied—that Naho could capitalize on if only she had the nerve to. Alas, she still doesn’t. Letters that tell her she can’t keep ignoring Kakeru, even when he calls you to her and Ueda is nearby (as she always is) seem all well and good to Naho, but her future self is looking back; she’s not in the moment, trying the best she can but coming up a few seconds or a few inches too short.

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What present Naho doesn’t realize is that those seconds and inches become the years and miles that end up dooming Kakeru. Ueda will be the death of him if Naho doesn’t stop running away.

When Kakeru says “bye” to Naho, and Naho calls out his name, Ueda hears it all and takes her revenge by knocking Naho over on her way to her boyfriend. But it backfires: Kakeru doesn’t take the side of his current girlfriend—who just demonstrated that one should never pick someone based on looks alone—but Naho’s side, angering Ueda, who storms off in a snit. Smell ya later, missy.

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Back to the subject of color temperature: what had been a cold and bleak episode got much warmer and more comfortable, starting with the Ueda fight and continuing throughout the remainder of the episode, as things start to turn around for Naho, her colors of green and yellow (or, ya know, orange) start to replace the blues and reds.

Naho alone may not have the strength to do what her future self asks of her, but her friends lend her some of theirs, including Suwa, who is putting Naho’s happiness ahead of his own feelings. He, Azusa and Takako have plainly seen what Ueda (whom they loathe) has done to their Naho and Kakeru. They want Naho to know it’s okay to talk to Kakeru; after all, he wants to talk to her too.

Interestingly, Suwa’s mini-intervention wasn’t in future Naho’s letter; Naho takes it as a sign that the positive change she’s affected so far has already started to change the timeline. She can’t very well stop now.

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She doesn’t, and we finally get to end an episode NOT in the depths of despair. Yay! Naho speaks up, from across the street (then crosses after looking both ways. Good Naho!), and she and Kakeru reopen a very enlightening dialogue.

Kakeru is thinking about dumping Ueda, and not just because of the little public fight they had. Naho’s “no”, which she assumed he’d forgotten or ignored, has weighed heavily on him ever since he said yes to Ueda. It’s never felt right as a result, because he only chose Ueda because, at the time, he didn’t know Naho’s position, and Naho’s position is far more important to him than arm candy.

What Kakeru won’t reveal to Naho is the person he likes more than Ueda, even though it would be clear to anyone who wasn’t Naho that he’s talking about her, and like her is too afraid to just come out and say it. But never mind; just the fact he’s considering dumping Ueda makes this a small but crucial victory for Naho.

She realized that her future self doesn’t  have it easy. She’s dealt with ten years of regret of not doing what she’s telling her to do; Naho’s only dealt with a few weeks. And while future Naho can do nothing about any of it because Kakeru is gone, Naho doesn’t have that problem. Kakeru is right there. She has to keep her chin up, and think warm thoughts.

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Orange – 03

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Mother of God…this show. The emotional hold it has over me was maintained this week; in fact, it only tightened and intensified its formidable grip on my heart. I have to tip my cap to any show that is able to make such an relatively small, personal drama and tragedy feel like a world-reaching epic.

Naho seemed so confident and resolved to change the future, and so convince it was happening, and so happy that her efforts were bearing results.

And then Ueda-senpai happened. I know, right? A “prettier” love interest moving in on the heroine’s man…Naho will surely prevail, because it’s true love between her and Kakeru, right?

This shouldn’t be such a big deal, and yet it is. It’s a huge deal, because Kakeru has no future if he dates Ueda. The two things are firmly intertwined.

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This isn’t just about Naho getting the guy. It’s about saving him from oblivion.

Sure, I care far more for Naho’s happiness than anyone else’s (which is as it should be), but the specter of that increasingly bleak, almost nightmarish future considerably raises the stakes for Naho to win the Kakeru Sweepstakes.

Naho’s fatal flaw now—and in her future self’s original past—was that she cares for others before herself. She questions whether it’s right to trample on Ueda’s feelings to satisfy her own desire. She hesitates, and before she knows it, what had been an iron resolve to save him last week starts to rust and bend.

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What’s so impressive is just how goshdarned fast just a little bit of hesitation can get Naho into such serious trouble. Kakeru asked her flat out if she likes anyone; she couldn’t answer. He asks her “what she wants” before going to get drinks; all she can say is “orange juice.” In both cases, Kakeru is, consciously or not, reaching out to Naho, and it’s either not the appropriate time, or she just can’t muster the words she needs to.

So she ends up behind the curve, and Ueda steals a march on her with the tools Naho desperately needs to develop in a hurry: Directness. Persistence. Initiative Guts. She gets his hidden eraser note too late. She writes her reply to the question of whether it’s okay if he dates Ueda (Hell No) and sticks it in his shoe locker, instead of running to Kakeru herself and yelling “NO!” at the top of her lungs in front of him and Ueda.

Instead, Ueda corners Kakeru, and both overwhelmed by Ueda and absent a clear answer from Naho, Kakeru says yes, he’ll date Ueda, and go out during the break. I was so devastated by this development, even though it was sure to come along, I had to pause the TV and pour a glass of water to calm myself. It wrecked me.

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The only, and I mean only faint glimmer of hope comes when Kakeru finds her “No.” But I imagine he’s too nice a guy to dump someone so enthusiastic about dating him so soon after saying yes, so it could well be that Naho’s response was too little, a hair too late.

As expected, Naho is so crestfallen by the events of the day, she can’t eat, let alone pretend to hide her feelings to her mom. She goes up to the bed, pulls out the juice box Kakeru bought her before everything turned to shit, and drinks it as tears fall from her eyes. Sweet, sour, sorrowful…and utterly devoid of solace (Sorry, Suwa…)

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There are a couple of “post-apocalyptic” shows out this Summer, but none of their dystopias have been as and desolate and dismal as Naho’s future in Orange. It’s still, cold, desaturated, and the trees are leafless. Kakeru’s friends find that his note isn’t to himself, but to all of them.

He didn’t write to himself because he knew he didn’t have a future, which obviously insinuates he may have taken similar steps as his mother rather than suffer an accident. At the same time, no one’s dreams for the future came true, even his wish that they were all still close.

Tears well up in everyone. They shed those tears not just for Kakeru, but a bit for themselves, past and present: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Despite all that went awry for Naho and how steep a hill she must climb, I have to believe things can be made right; that a more hopeful future can be made. I may well end up even more disappointed and disheartened than I am now, but so be it.

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Orange – 02

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I never like awarding 10s and RWHL certifications willy-nilly, but I was compelled to give this episode the score it deserved, which was, to me, the highest score possible. This episode was an emotional roller coaster that sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It contained no less than All The Feels. And it made missing the next episode, or indeed the rest of the run of the show, seem like as big a mistake as Naho not listening to her future letters.

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Naho is a good girl. She has a gentle, generous heart, but she also lacks confidence, and sometimes isn’t able to say or do what she wants. The letters she’s getting say in no uncertain terms that if the behaviors that come naturally to her in the present persist unchanged, Kakeru will be out of her life in ten years. Naho is currently falling in love with Kakeru, so she really doesn’t want that to happen.

So when the letter tells her to make Kakeru a lunch, she plans to do so. She doesn’t tell him when it seems like the best time to do so, hesitating until the latest possible moment in the day, and only after her friends tell Kakeru she makes her own lunches and Kakeru “jokes” about wanting her to make one.

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Saying it was just a joke, and worrying about “bothering” Kakeru by foisting her unworthy slop upon him (well, she’s not that harsh on herself), vex Naho terribly. Interestingly, her thought process mimics her mom’s.

Initially, she casts my heart into the cellar by deciding against making a lunch for him. But thankfully she reconsiders, and gets “fired up” making the best damn lunch Kakeru will ever have tasted.

For a second, I thought she was making lunches for everyone to provide cover and hold back rumors of favoratism. Of course, to all her friends, including Suwa, who likes her, they already know the score with her and Naho.

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But making the lunch is only half the battle for Naho. She must inform Kakeru she’s done so, and deliver the meal to him at the proper time. The time between when she nervously greets him to the lunch bell is tortuously long, as demonstrated by the montage of various teachers giving lectures intercut with quick shots of Naho and the bag containing the lunch.

But when that lunch bell rings…she CHOKES! My heart, having just started back up the stairs, ends up in the sub-basement. I was literally banging my fist on the coffee table, furious by her self-defeating inaction. But then, she waits after school for Kakeru to be done soccer practice with Suwa. And again, Kakeru gives Naho the fresh opening she needs, offering to walk home with her—and only her.

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Naho engages in idle conversation meant to learn more about Naho in basic terms: where she lives; what she does when she gets home, her hobbies. Naho’s truthful answers are nothing flashy, but Kakeru still seems to enjoy them.

Then Naho starts to ask him questions, but gets more specific…like where he was and what he was doing those two weeks he was absent. Because Kakeru has feelings for Naho, he wants her to know, but also clearly exhibits some courage of his own by coming out and saying it:

The very day of their opening ceremony—the day the future letter warned Naho not to invite Kakeru to hang out with them—his mother committed suicide. With that, my heart busted through the floor of the sub-basement and into a subterranean aquifer.

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At this point, even though they were sitting down and Kakeru clearly expressed his hunger, Naho had not yet revealed she had made a lunch for him. But by hearing Kakeru tell her something so intimate and sad, and realizing what not listening to the letters did, Naho finally summons the courage she needs to present the lunch to him.

He accepts it with elation, having hoped she’d followed through on fulfilling his desire, even though he called it a joke at the time. My heart starts another long descent as she finds her footing, promising she’ll make him lunch every day from now on, and give him wake-up calls if he needs them, or any of the other things a parent does until you find someone you love who does them instead.

Returning to her letters, details emerge: Kakeru dies in an accident in the Winter of his seventeenth year, and she and the others always regretted not saving him when, as her future self sees it, they could have. Well, that’s that; Naho WILL save him, no matter what.

GO NAHO. (Sorry, Suwa.)

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Orange – 01 (First Impressions)

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16-year-old Takamiya Naho gets a mysterious letter from her 26-year-old self in the future. The letter details everything that will happen in her second year of high school, and asks that she make different choices to avoid the regrets her future self harbors.

Most of those regrets involve transfer student Naruse Kakeru, who Naho promptly falls in love with. Reading the letter, Past Naho learns that ten years in the future, Kakeru has passed away.

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I’ll admit, at first my cynical ass was a little put off by the sheer raw earnestness of Orange, particularly the exaggerated, almost grotesque expressions made by Azusa and little in the way of comedy, but I gradually got used to the character design and soft, gentle colors evoking a wistful look back to almost idealized better times.

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I also like how Naho doesn’t immediately start doing what her future leter tells her to do, because it’s a lot to take in and she’s certainly a bit weirded out about the situation.

Of course, when she chooses not to keep Kakeru from hanging out, Kakeru ends up absent for two weeks, doing God knows what, so the next time a choice comes, Naho realizes the regret she’d feel if she didn’t pinch hit and her class lost the softball game.

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The stakes here are still low, but a tiny kernel of regret can grow bigger and glom on to other little regrets until you have enough to compel you to write a letter to your past self, so Naho steps to the plate and belts one, too-small shoes and all, and wins it for her classmates.

Kakeru is there to treat her foot injury, in a tender and beautifully lit scene that establishes the romance that’s likely to come, not long after Kakeru makes it plain he doesn’t much care for Suwa, who also seems to like Naho.

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And while I knew full well Kakeru wasn’t in future Naho’s life, just as Menma was a ghost in Jinta’s, when Past Maho reads that part and we see the letters on the page, I still got chills. It was a masterful dramatic blow right to the gut that earned the episode a 9. Kakeru, who Naho only just fell for, won’t be around if she doesn’t make different choices.

It’s probably more responsibility than a carefree high schooler should have to bear, but she seems a lot better off than her future self. Despite being a wife to Suwa and mother to a child, makes it plain that the joy and happiness her past self is currently experiencing will slip away if she loses Kakeru. Will “keeping a close eye” on him be enough?

In all, I was impressed with this first episode. It’s always great to have Hanazawa Kana in a meaty leading role, and as I said, the ending packed a punch, as did her winning homer. Definitely looking forward to this one…even if it might break my heart!

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 07

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Kaori loses her violin competition. Tsubaki loses her softball game. Even the chick-magnet-“nice jock” Ryouta loses his soccer game. None of the three are happy about it. After all, they gave it everything they had and still came up short. It wasn’t the first time they lost, and it won’t be the last. But, hey, it would be nice if someone in the quartet achieved victory, which the other three could relish vicariously. The only someone that can be at this point…is Kousei.

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Kousei isn’t certain that he can win. It doesn’t help that there’s a pushy cat with a familiar voice in his mind’s eye asking him deep questions like “Who are you?” and “Where are you?” and when Kousei doesn’t have an answer, is all like “See? You suck.” Still, Kousei studies the music and practices tirelessly, getting so immersed he skips meals and collapses in P.E.

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After being supplied with ample egg sandwiches by Tsubaki, Kousei is visited in the infirmary by Kaori. As they walk home, they come upon a stray black cat not unlike the one in his mind. For he once had a cat, Chelsea. One day the cat scratched his hand, He stood there in his mother’s shadow as she took Chelsea away and abandoned her, which was the pragmatic but hardly humane thing to do, for either the cat or Kousei.

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Kousei’s doubts about who he is and why anything matters is put to rest by Kaori, his dazzling sun, who tells him to relax; she knows who he is…he’s Arima Fucking Kousei. She also tosses out an apt quote from Charlie Brown of all people, then joins her delicate hand with his knobby pianist’s, and notes how she can feel just how much that hand is itching to play piano. That hand was frikkin’ born to play the piano…as was the boy it’s attached to. That’s who he is.

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Whoa there, Kaori. You don’t want to be telescoping your spine!

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The day of the competition arrives, and the four arrive at the fancy glass concert venue. Little does Kousei know he’s walking into an ambush: Aiza Takeshi (Kaji Yuki) and Igawa Emi (the excellent Hayami Saori) are there for blood, and we learn why as the episode gives us more of their story.

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For more than two years, Takeshi and Emi have worked to become better pianists, motivated, if you will, by Kousei. It isn’t quite right to call them rivals as Kousei wasn’t even aware of their existence at the time. A human metronome has no use for human relationships, after all. And even though Takeshi and Emi somewhat pitied Kousei, the fact remains they felt scorned and are now seeking revenge.

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As the other three settle into their seats, Kaori remarks about how Kousei’s fame is more of an infamy. Playing a piece exactly the way it was written is a skill to envy, but that was all Kousei did, and it was, to Kaori and many others, a dead end. Kousei had and has the skill to take the music further, but didn’t. Instead, he arrived at the competitions, beat the everloving stuffing out of everyone, and left without a word or a glance at the results. Why look at the results? There’s no way he’d ever not win!

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One look at Kousei from Emi, and Kousei’s somewhat guilty confession he doesn’t quite remember her or Aiza, convinces her that “he hasn’t changed a bit”, and she’s resolved to destroy him. But having been around him and witnessed his past and present suffering, we know he has changed. He’s not someone who’s sure to win, for one thing, but he’s also not someone to put in a soulless, non-resonant performance. Not after seeing Kaori play.

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Also, he seemed to be too far under his mother’s heel to worry about human emotions like fear, but now he has fear in spades and feels it, because everyone is scared to take that stage (or that diamond, or that pitch), and lose. Just like Takeshi, who wretches in the bathroom prior to his turn even though he won last year. Last year means nothing to him; he’ll prove he deserved to win last year by beating Kousei this year.

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I’ll be honest: the music I heard Kousei playing in the practice room probably isn’t going to cut it against the likes of Takeshi and Emi, and it seems a little early in this 22-episode run to give Kousei a legitimate win…but who knows? Maybe Kousei won’t embarrass himself! This episode ends on a freeze-frame of Takeshi about to hit the ivories; so…To Be Continued.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 06

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This week’s Uso showed me something: that it didn’t need a rousing central musical performance to earn a 10. In fact, this episode made the music look like glorified window dressing; icing on the cake: sweet but ultimately unnecessary. What takes center stage here is character and relationships. We start with dual aftermaths of jumping from that bridge; first in the past, when Tsubaki carried Kousei home even though she was injured herself…

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…to Kousei inviting Kaori to his house to dry off and change. Just as she wriggled her way into his heart, she does the same into his home, and proves just as positively disruptive; relieving his piano of all the books and boxes and dust that had accumulated on it. Ever the breath of fresh air; the new bright beacon of redemption.

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Then Kaori throws open the window to reveal Tsubaki next door, and, well…what the heck is Tsubaki supposed to think, considering how she feels about both Kousei and Kaori? One is the guy who’s always been with her and vice versa; the other is the girl who seems well on the way to snatching him away. This is why early, straightforward confessions are so important…but in reality, they’re far harder to get out.

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Kaori’s invasion extends far beyong Kousei’s heart and home; she’s all about fully restoring him to the stature he once had, only this time, not simply for his mother’s sake, but because it’s what he wants to do. To that end, she enters him into a prestigious competition with Chopin as the set piece, and essentially coaches and bullies him to prepare for it.

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Ever so gradually, the music comes back to Kousei. It’s not that good yet; it still sounds like his greatness is submerged in a deep sea, but to see Tsubaki’s serene, relieved face listening next door is a beautiful moment…but so it Kaori nodding off in the music room as Kousei practices.

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Things are not looking good for Tsubaki, especially when Kaori shrugs off her devotion and care towards him as simply “looking out for a hopeless kid brother.” Tsubaki saw how they looked at each other; she knows it must be more than that. Feeling desperately alone, when Saitou calls her, she suggests they go out.

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Meanwhile, as if to confirm Tsubaki’s suspicions, Kaori turns right around and heads back to school where Kousei is still working. She takes what Tsubaki said about Kousei suffering through it all, and tearfully begs his forgiveness for pushing him so hard so fast. Kousei’s reaction surprises her, even though she told Tsubaki the best music is derived from exposure of one’s innermost emotions: he’s grateful Kaori dusted off his piano and threw open the shutters.

He knows he has a long way to go, and he may look like he’s suffering, but such is to be expected when crossing “uncharted waters”. But he’s also suffering because he loves the girl his best friend likes…and clearly Kaori isn’t merely looking out for a little brother.

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I know I say this every other episode…but “Poor Tsubaki!” She tries, damnit! She tries so hard not to feel this way about Kousei, to move on to someone more attainable and uncomplicated, like Saitou. But it just isn’t there. Talking with him, she always comes back to talking about Kousei. Seeing him cheer her on with the angelic Kaori beside him is enough to totally break her focus in a crucial softball game, trying for an inside-the-parker when she only had a triple, and being tagged out at the plate by a foot.

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While it’s generally a pretty good episode for Kousei, it’s The Worst for Tsubaki, but not all is lost, as she finds when walking home from her defeat. Kousei is waiting for her, and knows just where to kick her to necessitate him carrying her on her shoulders, mirroring the cold open’s flashback. He knows because he knows her, as she knows him. Music may make words seem trivial, inadequate, or mundane, but the time and the memories they’ve shared over so many years trump both music and words, at least on this night.

As terrible she feels about losing the game and as present as the threat of Kaori taking him will remain tomorrow, in this moment on this night, on Kousei’s warm back dampened by her own tears, Tsubaki wants nothing else than for time to stand still right there.

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So do we, Tsubaki, so do we. Don’t get me wrong, Kousei and Kaori’s romance is compelling as all-get-out, but so is Tsubaki and Kousei’s. Heck, even the weakest romance, that of Ryouta and Kaori, is still stronger than most because we know Ryouta to be a decent guy and…well, just look at the two, they look like the ideal Representatives of Earth. As for Kousei’s return to the world of music, a couple of rivals who have been waiting for that return are sharpening their teeth. Even in uncharted waters, one can chance upon acquaintances. It’s a small world.

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Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle – 04

Kaito grudgingly agrees to check out another sage puzzle. He’s assigned a partner, Anna Gram AKA Da Vinci, an art and puzzle genius. They arrive at the mansion of a recently deceased famous landscape painter. The widow is cold and bitter, and wants to sell the place, but the puzzle must be solved first. The butler turns out to be a Giver from the POG who constructed it. Kaito and Anna are trapped and must solve the puzzle before they’re gassed to death. By rearranging the paintings on the wall according to how their frames match, then using Anna’s extensive knowledge of art history, they get a five-letter roman numeral, which is the code to the safe. The treasure inside is a gallery or portraits of the painter’s wife. The code was the number of the paris apartment where she fell for him.

We’re going to come right out and say we liked this episode. Da Vinci had a pretty good introduction and she and Kaito worked well together. This was also the first episode with an A and a B story: Kaito and Anna solving the puzzle in A, while Nonoha deals with her jealousy, then tries to infiltrate the mansion with the help of a very smitten and willing Gammon, who has an awesome purple bike. I like how her uneasiness about Kaito teaming up with Anna made her a better softball player, but also her realization that she’d rather be by Kaito’s side helping him solve puzzles than let some artsy strumpet take her place.

About Da Vinci…the show kinda pulled a fast one on us and revealed at the very end that she’s actually a he. Which is kinda random and silly and pointless, in our opinion Now there’s no female representation among the named puzzle masters (yet), though her being a guy at least eliminates a potentially annoying triangle involving her and Nonoha. Finally, we have the first POG giver who turns out not to be an evil asshole; as the butler was merely fulfilling the wishes of his dead charge. We’ll also admit we realized MDCLV was roman numerals long before Kaito did, though we’ll give him a pass since we’re unsure how commonly they’re used in Japan.


Rating: 3.5