It's finally time to discuss the time travel mechanics of Orange
"Hunh? This isn't like the letter."
-Naho Takamiya, Orange, Episode 5
Naho's letters have deviated from events in her present before, but Orange's fifth episode makes it plainly apparent that the past — and the 16 year-old Naho Takamiya we now know — is changing.
Time travel series focus on fixing something that went wrong at some point in time. The problem is usually introduced first, with travelling through time to fix the past or future seemingly the only option for the protagonist of the story. Yet, Orange eschews this traditional time travel setup to focus on Naho and her group of friends first, with the time travel mechanic — letters sent from Naho's self ten years in the future — unexplained and fairly unimportant.
This past week's episode introduces the time-travel mechanic, which is tangential if only because the show's main thrust isn't time travel itself. Orange chooses to focus on the characters themselves, their interactions, and how Naho's letter from the future affects the present-day Naho we've come to care about. Unlike Steins;Gate — a well-known series that provides an easy point of comparison — where the accidental discovery of a time machine is a major part of the plot and a source of nearly all of the series' conflict, Orange is much more about a group of friends coming to terms with loss.
Naho isn't given a detailed description of her own future. Nor is she provided with any clues of what her future even looks like, or what her future self is like. All she has are various points in time mentioned in the letters which she then has to piece together to hopefully form a more complete roadmap to her final destination: a future where Kakeru is still alive.
Discussion of a time machine is shoehorned into Naho's chemistry class, of all things, after Kakeru Naruse and Naho are drawn closer together in the name of studying for their chemistry exam. Prior to the exam, Naho notices that her present is further deviating from the letters. This conveniently is explained and discussed in her class.
I enjoyed the exposition on parallel world theory if only for Naho's reaction afterwards — the realization that the past can't actually be changed if a future timeline still exists. With this small scene, Orange reminds both her and the audiences that regrets are incapable of being erased, even with advanced warning from the future. Naho won't ever be able to eradicate her future self's regrets. All she can do is try to ensure that her specific future moving forward is one without those same regrets.
By changing the past, you may have changed some good memories too. If so, I apologize."
-Naho Takamiya in a letter, Orange, Episode 5
Not only are the events in the letters differing from Naho's actual experiences, but Naho herself is changing. Spurred on by mention of the cultural festival fireworks in a letter — and likely the fact that Naho has already affected some significant events, chiefly the quick end of Kakeru's relationship with Ueda — Naho pushes herself out of her comfort zone to ask Kakeru to watch the fireworks with her alone.
A few episodes ago, Naho couldn't bring herself to give Kakeru a lunch that he specifically asked for, despite the fact that the letter had reiterated this event with similar gravity as the fireworks. Naho isn't the same person who was so terrified of giving Kakeru lunch. She's still meek, self-effacing, and shy, but Naho is also now unwilling to place her fear above what she truly wants — a monumental shift from her attitude during her first meaningful conversation with Kakeru after the softball game in Episode 1.
Additionally, there are also hints that some things remain irrevocably the same. Thus far the series has only hinted at the mental state of Kakeru around the time of his demise, but the 16 year-old Kakeru that Orange gives us is one full of regret. Events have deviated from the 26 year-old Naho's timeline, but Kakeru still has an air of sadness about him that even Naho cannot fully eradicate. He firmly tells Naho that he would travel back to the past, even if he couldn't change it, to see if there was something that he could do to ease the burden of his own regrets. Coupled with Naho's realization that there will likely always be a world where a future version of herself has to deal with the pain and regret of losing Kakeru, their conversation is heavy in comparison to the rest of the episode, and suggests that saving Kakeru will take much more than following the letters' instructions.
At the start of this particular blogging project, I committed to writing letters to my past self. Something I should have said from the beginning is that, while I have a myriad of regrets, I'm not disappointed with where my life is at this point in time. While I still struggle with finding my place in the world, and could be happier, even the decisions I regret strongly — treating others poorly, treating myself poorly — are meaningful in a greater context. Every mistake marks a point in time where I learn something, even if it takes multiple failures and more than a few tries to make a particular lesson stick.
July 4, 2009
Hello again, past self.
This is the day that you meet someone very special to you, a lifelong friend. I can't tell you how you become so close, or why, for a time, you'll be very distant from each other. His entry into your life marks a large change on the horizon.
I have many regrets about the way I treated him at certain points in time. I know he has many regrets regarding the way he treated me at points in time. I'm sorry that I hurt him and others. I know he's sorry that he hurt me. Yet all of these experiences make us better people at the end of it all. The regret is still palpable, but it's what drives me to do better to this day.
The process will be excruciatingly painful at times for both of you, but I can't, in good faith, tell you to skip over any of it, or give you more hints beyond, "Be as kind as you can be."
Emily Rand writes about anime at Atelier Emily, when she's not writing about people playing video games for a living.