Orange continues to impress with this week’s episode. Last week, Suwa told Naho that he too had received a letter from his future self. He didn’t read it until the day they got home from the opening ceremony, so he wasn’t able to stop Kakeru from joining them, but otherwise he has been devoted to saving Kakeru. Unfortunately for Suwa, that means helping to set up Kakeru with the girl he loves.
Kakeru’s birthday is rapidly approaching, and so the friends all take turns asking him what he wants. The list is pretty typical for a teenage boy: tickets to a sporting event, comics…Naho even notices that he needs a new sports bag. Excited at the prospect of being able to get him something he would really enjoy, she’s quickly cut short by the ever-persistent Ueda.
Just when it seems like Ueda is going to bully her way back into Kakeru’s life, Takako and Azu save the day yet again! Confronting Ueda and telling her like it is, Takako threatens to tell the school how their role-model is bullying an underclassman. Ueda backs off, and Azu and Takako claim their win after weeks of pent-up frustration.
Kakeru’s birthday arrives, and the friends all give them their respective presents, including a surprise gift from Suwa:
At first everyone thinks it’s a joke, but Kakeru uses Suwa’s gift to express his feelings for Naho in the best way he can. Naho is of course overwhelmed by the attention, and doesn’t have a response for Kakeru right away. Still, I’m continually impressed by Orange because the characters actually get around to saying what they think and feel. So often the crux of drama in teen slice-of-life series revolves around characters simply not communicating with each other. Orange refutes that stereotype, giving its characters time to think, but ultimately the characters say what they need to say, or do what they need to do, to move the story forward.
The latter half of the episode takes a serious turn, as Kakeru’s first suicide attempt is due to happen soon.
Suwa is confident that due to the way things have changed already, there might not be an attempt after all, but that confidence is dashed after Naho finds Kakeru cleaning up after class “daydreaming”.
Wishing that he was more like Superman, Kakeru reveals some deep wounds that still remain regarding his mother’s suicide, and wonders aloud if he could have been able to save her. Then, with a pained smile, he laughs it off like he’s “joking”. Naho realizes what’s going on, but struggles to find the words to confront Kakeru and confess her feelings. Luckily, Suwa arrives and begins to question Kakeru about how he feels.
Kakeru admits he’s been thinking about dying because he wasn’t able to save his mom. Not only that, he sent her a very teenager-like text message just before she killed herself about how he wasn’t a kid anymore and to leave him alone. The guilt has wracked him ever since, and even though he jokes and laughs with Naho and her group, the pain refuses to subside.
Naho follows up Suwa’s confrontation by finally expressing her feelings for Kakeru. Telling him that she loves him and doesn’t want him to go anywhere, we see another smile from Kakeru as the show ends – but it remains a half empty smile. Naho comments how she wants to see him smile “for real”, a goal that we’ll likely see the friends pursue in the remaining half of the series.
The final scene in this week’s episode is exceedingly important for a number of reasons. It demonstrates a realistic depiction of what confronting a suicidal friend looks like. At one point Suwa asks Kakeru “Have you ever thought you wanted to die?”; I’ve had this conversation with someone before, and that question is both exceedingly difficult to ask and yet extremely important. When you bring that possibility into words, and make the person talk about it, you can begin to address what’s driving those thoughts. In this case, Kakeru says yes and shares the guilt he felt over the dismissive text he sent his mother before she killed herself. By putting these regrets into words, Suwa is able to empathize with him and try to ease his emotional burden.
I also appreciated the closer look at Kakeru’s smile and cheerful attitude. In the alternative world, Kakeru’s signals were missed by Naho and her friend until it was too late. Now that they’re aware of his impending suicide, however, the friends are more sensitive to Kakeru’s forced smiles and laughter despite his pain. While everyone is different, it’s a common defense mechanism for depressed people to force smiles or “happiness” and put on a public front despite their own struggles.
Overall, Orange delivered a powerful episode this week and remains on my list as one of my top anime this season.