So, over the next several weeks I’m going to be releasing a number of videos I’ve edited and saved up. They’re all Kimagure Orange Road videos, a series that has become very close to my heart, even though I only just watched it last summer. In preparation for these video releases, I figured I’d post here my review of the series, as originally posted over at AniDB (with a few minor edits) last summer. I’m pretty pumped about releasing these videos, and I hope you enjoy them if you decide to watch them; in the meantime…
Lemme start with a quick clarification. What follows is simply a list of observations which I made while watching through Kimagure Orange Road, filtered through the lens of my opinions. It’s about to get a little nasty, which is why I want to start this review by making it abundantly clear that I loved this anime. It gets my ecstatic recommendation, with a few “but if”s, so read on at your own peril. Minor spoilers may ensue.
The set-up for this anime is, especially today, in 2015, nothing really spectacular. A 15 year-old boy by the name of Kasuga Kyousuke lives with his family who have supernatural abilities. Having just moved to a new town, he meets (and immediately falls for) Ayukawa Madoka, a beautiful, cold-at-first-but-tender-later-on girl who is, predictably, in his class. And then, shortly after, Kyousuke also meets the clingy, naive Hiyama Hikaru, who latches on to Kyousuke and refuses to let go.
Let the hijinks begin.
And they do. Ooooooh they do. As the anime progresses, we see Kyousuke & co. thrown into all manner of over-the-top situations, perhaps the strangest of which involves a gang turf war being settled with a skateboard race. But we also see time travel, personality swapping, hypnosis, a series-long love triangle, and misunderstandings. Lots and lots of misunderstandings.
And here’s where my first big complaint about this series surfaces — in all these misunderstandings, if one character or the other would get it through his or her head to just say something they’d have had a much smoother time of it; instead, Kyousuke is often left befuddled and speechless when he’s caught in seemingly compromising situations. Chalk it up to the inexperience of youth, if you like (the characters are all teenagers, after all), but I’d rather place the blame on the series’ writers who probably couldn’t think of a more creative way to do angst. I fully realize that this is a common trope in anime, especially in romance-centered genres, but man…I guess I was just hoping that I’d found that one that doesn’t succumb to it. Ah well, the search continues!
This brings me to my next (and probably biggest) problem with KOR — it is long. 48 episodes is a hefty investment for any anime viewer, myself even moreso since I can realistically only watch one or two episodes a day at most, on average. Getting through this took a while for me. And for a time — the first 20 episodes or so — it was fine, it remained relatively fresh, and was progressing. But then, mysteriously, it stopped moving forward. I couldn’t tell you the exact episode, but around halfway through it became apparent that the story had simply stopped. Instead of making any more progress, the show devolved into a series of side-stories and isolated events. Plot points stopped being introduced, relationships stopped developing, and the series entered a state of Limbo for the greater part of its second half.
Let me stress again: I love this anime. Don’t forget, because I’m about to go off on a mini-rant here. If you’ve been indecisive up to this point, it may be best to skip the next paragraph. It should not be the determining factor in your decision to watch or not watch KOR. You should watch it. But still…
…it can’t be denied that there are a good 20 or so episodes in a row that do absolutely nothing as far as moving the plot forward. A persistent character is introduced in one episode, perhaps, or a new use for the “Power” is discovered, but by and large nothing happens. Each episode ends precisely where it began, with Kyousuke just as indecisive as ever, Hikaru just as annoyingly sympathetic as she’s always been, and Madoka still standing off to the side, waiting waiting waiting. This is a series that was stretched far beyond its limit in terms of actual content; this could have been a single season easily — 26 and done. Instead we’re treated to a whole second season of essentially filler just to get to the last two episodes. Around episode 40 my patience was being severely tried; by episode 46 I was almost completely checked out. Thankfully the last two episodes redeemed the preceding 20 or so, and I felt justified in having sat through them. But be warned — the Orange Road is needlessly long and winding.
Thankfully (and this where things start getting positive, mostly), KOR does enough things right to make the series worth sitting through, even at its most trying. To begin with, the main characters are brilliantly developed. As a viewer I liked each main character at one point or another. Even though we as the viewers are supposed to want Kyousuke and Madoka to get together, it becomes more and more difficult not to sympathize heavily with Hikaru. As annoying as she is, she is very, very human, especially given her age.
Actually, that’s true of each of the three main characters. They’re dumb, yes, and more often than not they don’t always think things through. But in almost every case it’s because they’re young and naive, blinded by emotions and confused at how to react. Kyousuke is especially likable in this regard. I can relate to him in more ways than one, and even when he made stupid, boneheaded mistakes I think back and…y’know what? I probably would have done the same thing. Being a hormone-driven teenage boy who doesn’t know what he wants sucks. Kyousuke embodies this in a very real way. And even when the story was stretched paper-thin, the characters remained interesting and engaging. I may not have cared about the specifics of what was happening to them as the series progressed, but I never stopped caring about them as people.
The auxiliary characters, on the other hand, are very hit-and-miss. Kyousuke’s sisters are cute and fun and I enjoyed episodes that featured them more heavily. His two friends, however, are completely moronic, overly perverted, and are horrible, horrible “friends” who don’t care about Kyousuke or anyone besides themselves, to an unrealistic extent. That’s the one thing that did bother me about Kyousuke’s character — he didn’t kick these two people out of his life even after they repeatedly screwed him over and showed no signs of remorse. As comic relief they’re okay, but in a show where characterization is otherwise done very well, they really stood out in a bad way.
Besides the (mostly) great characters, the animation is also spectacular. Being that it’s from 1987-1988, it is predictably dated. But I personally love this style, and if you’re not prepared for this type of animation, the ’80s may not be the best decade to be finding your anime. In any case, it’s very well-animated, there are a lot of interesting artistic touches throughout the series, and the openings (there are three separate ones through the 48 episodes) are brilliant. I flat-out love the animation in this series, but it’s obviously not for everyone. That’s the gamble you take when you watch older anime like this.
The music throughout the series is also excellent. Again, though, it won’t be to everyone’s tastes — it is distinctly ’80s. If you’re into that era of music you’ll find a lot to love here. Madoka plays the saxophone and so that gets integrated into the series throughout. I don’t have too much more to add on this, but suffice to say that if you like the ’80s aesthetic, you’ll love the sights and sounds of KOR.
The other really great thing about KOR lies in its simplicity — there’s nothing too deep or intense in this series. Even the “esper”/”Power” element is not overdone. For a good amount of the series, it plays a very slight role. This is primarily a slice-of-life anime with supernatural elements thrown in, and when they are, they typically are only used as one plot point of many. The focus here is on character development and emotional investment, both of which are done well beyond most other anime in this genre. It’s lighthearted, each episode resolves itself at the end (usually), and the angst-meter is usually kept somewhere in the middle. When it comes to the details, KOR is very well-balanced.
When all is said and done, certain series have that je ne sais quoi that, despite their glaring flaws, still get a resounding recommendation from me. Kare Kano was one. Kokoro Connect would be another. Kimagure Orange Road is going to be added to that list. If I were to rate this series on sentimentality alone, it would be 10 out of 10. No, 11. No, 20. I love this series, and I desperately wish I could say it was perfect and it was the best anime ever and that I’d found the perfect romance series and that everyone else should just stop trying because this is it, they’ve done it boys, let’s pack it in.
But I can’t.
There’s just too much of nothing in this series that I can’t ignore. If this had been condensed down to 26 episodes, it very well might be topping my (admittedly small, at the time of this writing) list of anime that I’ve seen. But as it stands, it’s at least 20 episodes too long, and I’m sorry, but that’s not something I can just write off. So, at the end of the day, yes, I seriously recommend Kimagure Orange Road. It’s a seminal creation in the medium. It’s beautiful and human and funny and touching. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking, it whips you through the full gamut of emotions like all young romances do. It might remind you of yourself at a younger age.
Just make sure you have the time and patience for it.
Personal value: 10/10
Oh, and if you’ve never seen it, you need to watch the series’ second opening. It’s my all-time favorite anime opening. I don’t know if I can explain why.