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Kimagure Orange Road Review

Kimagure Orange Road is a show that is often treated as one of the more influential shows of the 80s, often paired alongside Maison Ikkoku as representing the more notable stories in its genre during that period.  My other blog posts should indicate that Maison Ikkoku, despite its flaws, became one of my favourite anime, and that was due mostly to a strong attachment to the characters. That is one of the most important factors which affect whether I enjoy an anime of this genre or not, and I have found that the slice-of-life series of the 80s and 90s are often strong in this regard.  They usually possess a gentle pace and down-to-earth characters that tend to make them quite agreeable and easy to relate to.  Thus, I approached Kimagure Orange Road with an open mind.

Though the series, in my opinion, has perhaps benefited from a nostalgic perspective, it does show some of these strengths, and I still carry a degree of fondness for the characters.  To be objective, however, I think most of that is directed towards the main female lead in particular, Ayukawa Madoka, who has the most well-rounded and mature personality.  The male lead, Kasuga, who is somewhat typical of shonen leads in this genre, often inspires annoyance in the viewer, while the third character, Hikaru, is more or less a plot device and does not really have any interesting traits.  However, Madoka herself is captivating enough to keep the viewer interested, and the scenes between her and Kasuga do often have a bit of charm to them.  The primary conflict of the show is often described as a love triangle between these three, but I would disagree with that.  On the surface, you do have the basic skeleton of one, but the viewer is never really in doubt as to where the character’s feelings lie.  Rather, because the three main characters are all good friends, they find themselves in an awkward situation which is delayed rather than dealt with.  This limbo makes up the bulk of the series.

Where Kimagure Orange Road is not particularly exemplary is in its lack of consistent character development.  Maison Ikkoku, for example, was wonderful in this regard because it was so long – yet the character and story development felt very tight. There were several significant moments of growth, and that series’ entire 96 episodes were like a long journey towards a final resolution.  KOR is not the same type of series, and though it admittedly isn’t trying to achieve the same ends as Maison Ikkoku, the lack of character growth often becomes frustrating.  The series could be described as a story with a beginning, an end, a whole lot of episodic material in between which generally draws from the same formula.  While plenty of episodes have interesting character moments, they rarely affect the overall dynamics until the very end.

I should mention, at this point, that there is another aspect to this story than the romantic plot – the main character and his family also have psychic powers.  Strangely, although I was expecting a somewhat tacky way of handling this element, it never really detracts from the series’ realistic, human plot, and only a few times does it become excessive in its presence. And indeed, it also contributes quite positively to the ending, which, although it isn’t bells-and-whistles perfect is it’s execution, has all the sincerity and charm that a finale should have, though viewers may wish that more conflicts were directly resolved.  I will admit that the final two episodes contributed strongly to leaving a good impression of the series on me.

Apart from the television series, there is also a set of eight OVA episodes which were released after the show had ended, to provide more KOR content to hungry fans (as well as provide more money to the hungry producers). Unfortunately, in my opinion, this isn’t really a significant collection of episodes. Mostly it is a group of episodic side-stories involving the characters in various different situations involving a misuse of Kyosuke’s powers, or a side character. In other words, it’s meant for KOR fans who want to see more “adventures” with the cast, but it doesn’t really have any significant milestones for the plot or character development. The one exception, however, may be the final OVA episode, “Message in Rouge”. In this episode, Madoka has to confront the idea of her father being unfaithful. It is a subtle and poignant, though I would recommend that it be viewed before the final 2 episodes of the TV series, which round of the “TV” portion of the series very well in preparation for the concluding films.

So what is my final opinion of this series? First, we have to look at it in context – this was a very early anime, and aired before most of the series in this genre that we are familiar with.  A lot of people might say that it contains certain cliches or typical behaviors, but that isn’t really a fair statement when you evaluate it in context, as it was most likely one of the origins of those cliches. But, of course, context only gets one so far in terms of enjoying a series. In the end I have to make an absolute statement of whether I think this is a good series, a worthwhile story to become involved with. My answer to that is “yes”, but it is almost entirely due to having a soft spot for the character of Madoka mixed with the influence of nostalgia.

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2 Responses to “Kimagure Orange Road Review”

  1. Kerry Lourashon Dec 26th 2013

    One of the first manga and anime I saw – probably my favorite of very many, now. And one of the few that I imagine the characters still living their life, though older. They have become real to me.

    Madoka is, of course, one of a kind, unforgettable. I think there’s growth shown in Kyosuke, though one has to go to the movies and novels to see it. And I don’t know if Hikaru ever got over him, tho I like to think she eventually found someone who made her happy.

    The difference between this and most other works is that the triangle wasn’t resolved easily and cleanly – it was quite realistic and painful and messy. And the relationship between the two girls wasn’t downplayed.

  2. DPon Dec 31st 2015

    The thing that makes Kimagure Orange Road great – and in my opinion, it isn’t just nostalgic and decent, but an unabashedly fabulous work that is easily among the top handful of anime ever made – isn’t so much Madoka, who is almost impossibly perfect not just to Kyousuke, but to the audience, as well.

    KOR is deeply resonant (well, for me, at least) because of Kyousuke himself. I generally hate the word “relatable,” but I think that’s what applies here. Kasuga is a very fully realized teenager. He is plagued by doubts and insecurities, frequently acts like a selfish jerk, but usually figures out what he’s done wrong and works hard to correct it. He is the very antithesis of the modern anime bland “Potato-kun” male lead – as you can very easily imagine why Madoka and Hikaru would both fall for him.

    Kimagure Orange Road is a sitcom, but throughout its run – up to and including the two follow-up movies – it was clear that it always knew where it was going and how it planned to get there. There may have been a few silly and unnecessary stops along the way, as is usually the case with sitcoms, but at the end of the final movie, when Kyousuke unequivocally declares his love to Ayukawa and then FINALLY calls her by her first name (the very last word in the movie!), it’s pretty hard to imagine a more perfectly told, or completely believable, fictional love story.

    The best part of any KOR “nostalgia” a viewer may feel isn’t necessarily that for the 1980s. It’s for the heartache and exhilaration of one’s first and lost loves.

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