By placing Naho's past against Naho's future, Orange eschews becoming cliché and instead focuses on her character development and inspiration.
Traveling from Point A to Point B can be tricky — traffic and weather conditions can change and many other variables are beyond your control. Maps help with this, especially with the advent global positioning systems and smartphones, but they only provide a starting point, a route, and a destination. The actual journey, even if it's just a ten minute trek to the next town over to renew your license or grab a cup of coffee, still has to be experienced.
You never know what will actually happen on a trip both during travel and once you arrive at your destination. Your geographical location — where you will stay, perhaps even plan out places to visit, food to eat, or things to purchase — is set, but you won't know what will happen, how it will all unfold.
Naho Takamiya's letters from her future self are points on a map. The destination is a world with her friend and love interest, Kakeru Naruse, alive and well. It's a destination that doesn't exist yet, which makes Naho's collection of specific dates and letters all the more nebulous, despite their concrete nature. Saying a date, time, and citing fixed events that have already occurred — these all usually have weight in a timeline, but Naho's circumstances muddy their authenticity not only as fixed points in time but later as a reliable map since time begins to shift from Naho's original future.
Orange contrasts this existence of a desired end result against Naho's internal struggles in the present despite the letters' instructions. Even when provided with concrete instructions she struggles because she hasn't lived through these experiences mentioned by the letters that make her the person who writes them. As mentioned in the previous week's episode, a personality cannot change that easily despite well-intentioned guidance.
Her future self has given her a roadmap, but it's one that she finds difficult to follow given her personality and lack of experience. Complicating matters is the fact that her timeline has already changed. This week's episode opens with a harbinger of good fortune for Naho's efforts — her friend Hiroto Suwa already convinced Kakeru to join the soccer club. While Naho's friends and Kakeru joke about Suwa's overwhelming, borderline obnoxious persistence, Naho realizes that her lunch accomplishment could be the first of many changes, en route to a future where Kakeru still exists. Her confidence is shattered by an upperclassmen's romantic pursuit of Kakeru, and once again typical shoujo or romantic comedy tropes rear their ugly heads. Subversion is too strong of a word to use since things play out about as well as a seasoned shoujo viewer would expect — not well at all — but these rote circumstances are given new life in Orange thanks to Naho's destination, a world where Kakeru is alive.
It's not often that a series can genuinely execute the idea of an opportunity lost, especially where high school romances are concerned. Orange places Naho and her friends' grief years after Kakeru's accident side by side with her immediate grief in the present at her inability to express her feelings in a timely manner and spend her remaining time with Kakeru in the most meaningful way possible.
The future Naho, who is married to Suwa, meets up with her high school friends and they read their respective goals set by their high school selves. Kakeru's is conspicuously different, addressing the group and praising each of his friends in turn. The preparedness of his letter hints at the fact that his death may not have been accidental.
On both sides of the timeline, letters set events in motion — Kakeru's inspires his future group to dig into the circumstances of his death while Naho is subsequently inspired to change the timeline so he doesn't die at all thanks to letters from that same future self that heard Kakeru's words years later.
To preface this letter to my high school self, I had a group of friends from another state. We saw each other for one week every summer since our families vacationed in the same place, every year, for Independence Day weekend. One year, my friend R, who was almost exactly the same age and shared similar interests, confessed to me. I rejected him, not knowing what to do with his feelings at the time, or how I felt in return. I didn't see him until the following summer. After a year to think it over, I decided to return his feelings.
R is going out fishing tonight. You leave a letter asking him to meet you afterwards, hinting at your romantic feelings for him.
I want you to stop.
Don't write the letter. Your feelings for him aren't invalid, but it's the wrong timing. It will only make things worse, and possibly ruin a friendship.
Leave tomorrow with your family. Be sad. Listen to some Saves the Day and stare out the car window for the two and a half hour drive, and move on.
Emily Rand writes about anime at Atelier Emily, when she's not writing about people playing video games for a living.