Orange focuses on the awkward gift exchange trope this week as Kakeru tells the group his mother won’t make him lunches. Naho is the type of anime girl that excels at housework and cooking so she casually offers to make him a bento. Now, what I like about Orange is that this show and this episode in particular focus on the changes in oneself. In a lot of ways Orange was written and created with a traditional Japanese woman in mind for the protagonist and being an American myself of course this always causes a level of disconnect. However I admire when someone can do what they genuinely enjoy and still become strong in her own way. Naho spends the entire episode actively afraid to give Kakeru a bento she made for him. At first this makes me frustrated and angry because the letter states she always regretted it, and she already made the bento!
Cultural differences aside, it is very hard to be a girl Naho’s age and have feelings for someone. I have always been the exact opposite: If I feel something I must tell everyone within a 40 foot radius how I feel and what’s going on with me. I have grown in the opposite direction of Naho, choosing to become more reserved as I get older and wiser. In that sense Naho is growing a very different way than I am, as she has to open up a part of herself to make decisions she won’t regret. My personal differences actually endear Naho to me. Perhaps in shoujo anime it is a little common to see a caregiver type protagonist (they all tend to go on to have children and get married and few vary) but I try to view Naho as a potential person as opposed to the trope she embodies.
On top of that, it seems like even though Naho belongs to this trope she still finds room inside of herself to grow. Even though she can’t bring herself to give Kakeru the bento after a small misunderstanding she apologizes to him and they go for a walk. This walk is progressive for Naho and ultimately reveals heartbreaking details about Kakeru: he was absent for that two weeks because his mother killed herself the day Naho and friends invited him out. Naho feels the suffering of her future self for a moment as she laments that the letter was supposed to meant she’d have no regrets, but she deeply regrets not listening. Taking his sadness and her regret as a cue Naho gives him the bento. He admits he wanted her to bring one for him and then gives a smile that just shows how badly he needed support and concern.
Naho goes out of her characters comfort zone and promises to bring him one all the time, which he says sounds like a mom. However, he smiles so genuinely at her I wanted to cry. It’s clear Kakeru is suffering and hiding it very well at that, but Naho’s own decision to try and live a life without regrets gives her the courage to help him. Because of that I find her endearing because she is both the trope of a traditional Japanese woman and strong at the same time (because you can be a traditional housewife as well as a strong woman. . .surprise!) and I really like to see it done so well. If the trend continues then Naho might become my favorite invocation of the type of character she is.
That being said, this episode really cements for me that Kakeru is my favorite character. Kakeru is suffering so much but manages to be kind and funny to all of his friends, a true sign that not only does he struggle with genuine issues but he still cares about people anyway. This is how depression actually works and he is just too precious for this world. I tend to find cinnamon rolls in anime very often, but Kakeru is a special one because he is trying so hard to be strong and good to people. As hard as I try to love everyone else as much, I just want to cuddle Kakeru into a million blankets and let him know everything is going to be okay. So if the future doesn’t change to let him be with Naho, at least let him live and have a happy life, oh anime gods. (I’m not talking to you Urobuchi)
But seriously, stop awkwardly not giving things to people shoujo anime. Someone could need a kidney and these people would be like “o…o….h I…h.h.h.have something for you uguuuu ;w;”