Kimagure Orange Road TV Anime Review
Kimagure Orange Road
Whimsical/Capricious/Moody Orange Road
US Release By
Psychic Schoolyard Romantic Comedy
48 25-minute episodes (4 seasons)
1987-04-06 - 1988-03-07
What's In It
- Schoolgirl Fistfights (Madoka's tougher than she looks)
- Guitar-Pick Shuriken (much tougher)
- Cute Kids (with a mean streak)
- Parodies (subtle)
- Young Love
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
Kasuga Kyosuke is a not-quite-average Junior High student with a problem. He has a tendency to overdramatize, he frequently launches into rambling internal monologues, and he's one of the most indecisive youths in Japan. But none of those are his real problem. Psychic powers also run in his family, and since his two younger sisters aren't very good at keeping their paranormal abilities under wraps, they've ended up moving all over the country trying to avoid notice. But that's not his real problem either. Kyosuke's real problem is one that most people would pay to have: He hasn't even gotten settled in at his newest school and he's already got two girls interested in him. Ayukawa Madoka--beautiful but unfriendly and known far and wide as a bad seed, but with a soft side that shows through on occasion--and Hiyama Hikaru--cute and with an infectiously bubbly personality.
To make things even more complicated, Madoka and Hikaru are best friends. So we've got Madoka, who seems to like Kyosuke, but isn't letting anyone know, Hikaru, who definitely likes Kyosuke, and is letting everybody know, and Kyosuke himself, who's too spineless to make up his mind or tell either of them how he really feels.
Add to that Kyosuke's sisters, his loser friends Komatsu and Hatta, Yuusaku, the martial arts expert who thinks he should be Hikaru's guy, and a whole host of other folks out to raise a ruckus, and you've got one of the most popular psychic-youth-love-triangle-comedies there is.
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
Kimagure Orange Road may look like yet another wacky love comedy, but this tale of adolescent angst and romance is far more shoujo-light than harem show. Although you'd be hard-pressed to label it anything but a comedy--the series is definitely funny and usually a bit wild--the meat of the show is its touching and effective snapshot of the swirl of emotions of young love. The psychic stuff just magnifies everything and adds a twist to the mix--when the episodes are good, it is surprisingly realistic, if you can believe that. If you don't take it too seriously, and watch it as a series trying to capture the excitement, pain, and awkwardness of youth--which I think it effectively does--the drama works. It's not a visually impressive series, but the voice cast in the main trio is extremely good--particularly Hiromi Tsuru's subtle, moody Madoka--and the variety of era-appropriate (and non-anime) J-rock adds flavor.
While the series' anime comedy roots definitely show through, the central romance is handled in a more subtle and touching manner than most, and that makes this tale of young love a real gem if that's your thing. Definitely worth checking out.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
You probably think you've seen this one before: Take a guy, give him psychic powers and a couple of girls after him, and you've got yet another wacky love comedy. Except Kimagure Orange Road is far more shoujo-light than harem show. Although you'd be hard-pressed to label it anything but a comedy--the series is definitely funny and usually a bit wild--it's actually more about the awkwardness of youth and the pitfalls of young love than anything else. The psychic stuff just magnifies everything and adds a twist to the mix.
What's surprising is that, as close to sappy as it often gets, it manages to accurately capture all those emotional swings that growing up entails, and comes across with a lot more heart than I would have thought possible. That's both what separates it from the light romance crowd and, I expect, why it's so popular. (How popular? Years ago, AnimEigo managed to get something like a thousand fans--myself included--to pre-order the entire series... on LaserDisc.)
Plot-wise, about nine tenths of the episodes have exactly the same one: Kyosuke does something that gets Madoka subtly upset (be it being a little too friendly with Hikaru, trying to prove that he's not a wuss, or performing a psychic screw-up), and he spends the rest of the episode trying to dig himself out of his hole and restore the fragile status quo.
Despite this formula, the central trio of characters aren't nearly as shallow as they seem at first glance, and that's basically what carries the series. I'll go so far as to call them, and their relationship, a kind of realistic. Even I admit that sounds silly, but each of the three has their own motives and thoughts, and they don't behave like caricatures.
Kyosuke narrates most of the series in a sort of introspective, rambling manner, and his youth-enhanced swings from being romantically on top of the world to near-tragedy are the lens through which we see things. He's basically a wimp, but he's not quite that simple. Hikaru, if you pay attention, also seems to have an inner self that shows through occasionally, and makes her both more realistic and appealing than you'd expect for an apparently superficial bubblehead.
Madoka, the real star of the series, is the most complex of the three. Her moods are what puts the "Kimagure" ("capricious") in the title--one moment she's a sweet, almost normal girl, and the next, she's as cold as ice. In this roller-coaster way we watch her unspoken relationship with Kyosuke slowly progress. That's also what makes the drama work; since the story is told from Kyosuke's point of view, we're always in the same uncertain predicament that he is, trying to guess what's going on in her head (which, for a series of this sort, seems uncommonly like a real person's).
I was surprised by how real the love triangle at the center of the story feels, and on occasion the emotions are effective enough to make it a little uncomfortable to watch. If nothing else there's plenty of Kyosuke's self-inflicted torment, which could get to you if you're the sort--like me--that can empathize with him. Admittedly, you always know how it's going to turn out at the end of the episode, but even so, that feeling of uncertainty comes through. It's a bit like a real relationship--you know that you'll make up in the end, but that doesn't make the fights and awkward moments any less uncomfortable.
I should emphasize that most of the drama is rather trivial and blown entirely out of proportion, but that's the whole point. They're just kids, after all, and when you're young and in love, little things seem like the end of the world. Madoka's more mature personality also helps tie it down. So long as you approach it as an attempt to capture the excitement, pain, and awkwardness of youth--which I think it does--the drama works. I freely admit to being a sucker for tales of wide-eyed young love, but if you let yourself get sucked in, all the trivial problems, unspoken feelings, and uncertainty make the sweet moments all the more touching.
In fairness, Kimagure Orange Road has its weak points, too. It sticks closely enough to the anime comedy mold that the majority of the secondary characters are rather shallow, and at times downright annoying. The biggest problem, though, is when it loses its air of realism.
Ironically, the issue isn't the supernatural stuff, but several plots that are just too silly. Take, for example, an episode where almost every girl in the series suddenly decides to become a pro wrestler. That sort of thing can work in broader comedies, but it feels out of place in this one. Conversely, the show sometimes takes itself too seriously. The self-inflicted teen drama is fine, but for example some of the gang activity (chain wielding bad-girls and razor guitar pick throwing) is far enough over the top to break the mood.
Even so, in all but the weakest episodes there is something that shines through and makes it all work. Further, the clunkers are balanced by a few particularly nice stories, and the next-to-last episode is nearly perfect (the final episode is fine, but not really necessary).
Now, this sort of love story wouldn't work at all without believable voices, and the cast is up to the task. Most of the lesser characters are quite distinctive, with a lot of recognizable names. Of the main trio, Hikaru is rather... high pitched, which can get annoying (as the notes by the translator make abundantly clear). Nonetheless, she's certainly recognizable, and in the few moments where more depth is required, quite a bit comes through. Kyosuke is almost perfect; he sounds right for his age, and everything from his monologues to his awkward conversations are acted well. As for Madoka, I couldn't imagine anyone doing a better job than Hiromi Tsuru. She's a very diverse actress, and this is one of her best roles; Madoka is a complex character and the entire series is built on her subtle moods, which always show through just the right amount.
As for the visuals, the series is about average for late-'80s TV fare. The character animation is quite nice on occasion, though most of it is a little rough; the rest of the animation is decent, but not noteworthy. The background art is generally pretty simple, and the colors tend toward the pastel range. The character designs are attractive, though, and the character art isn't bad--the facial expressions are particularly good, supporting the emotional content. The costume design is the one memorable bit; Madoka dresses stylishly, and at times it's a sort of low-key fashion show.
The music also stands out, because most of the songs are by mainstream groups that were popular at the time. As such, it tends to be a little different (and dated, if you don't like '80s J-rock), but is also better than a lot of anime themes. It definitely sets the tone for the series as being a little more substantive than a run-of-the-mill comedy.
Summing all that up, Kimagure Orange Road looks to be another wacky love comedy, but comes across as something more. While the series' roots definitely show through, the central romance is handled in a more subtle and touching manner than most, and that makes this tale of young love a real gem if that's your thing. Definitely worth checking out.
A final note: The OAVs and the two movies follow this series in the ongoing story, and they are required viewing if you're really interested in these characters--the whole thing forms a complete storyline.
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Kimagure Orange Road is a little different from a lot of the anime in its genre. The most subdued and emotional episodes of shows like Ranma 1/2 have about the same feel, but the closest things are probably the "young love" stories from studio Ghibli--I Can Hear the Sea and Whisper of the Heart. If you do like this, you should definitely watch the OAVs, first, and second movies--in that order; watching them out of order would really ruin the plot.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a comic series of the same name by Izumi Matsumoto that ran between 1984 and 1988. It is not available in English as of this writing. The non-cel illustrations that AnimEigo used for the box art are by the original artist.
The word "Kimagure" in the title can, depending on context, mean a number of different things in English. A common translation is "whimsical," but it can also mean "capricious," "moody," or even "fickle." In this case, since the word most likely refers to the unpredictable moods of Madoka, "capricious" is probably the most accurate translation.
This series is based on a number of influences, but that's all explained in plenty of detail in AnimEigo's always-thorough liner notes. It spawned an OAV series and two movies, all of which are entirely worth watching.
As always, AnimEigo has their extensive liner notes available online as one gigantic page; there was once a PDF version, sadly no longer available..
US DVD Review
AnimEigo's DVDs have basically zip in the way of extras, but have what counts: A high-bitrate video transfer with no noticeable artifacts (although it's quite soft-looking, that's not the fault of the transfer, just old source material), a clean Japanese stereo soundtrack, and their famously accurate subtitles. The Japanese credits are left intact, with the full translated credits found in the menus, and while there's no dub, the subtitles are soft, so you can turn them off if you want. The only bonus you get is AnimEigo's famed liner notes, which can now be found online.
The themes are about appropriate to the age group of the characters, so (depending on the episode), it ranks somewhere between 10-up and 13-up.
Violence: 2 - There is some pretty serious fighting once in a while.
Nudity: 1 - In most episodes nothing, but there are a few bits of provocative dress.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Again, mostly not much, but there are a few episodes.
Language: 2 - Not foul-mouthed, but they don't talk like little kids.
Formerly available in North America from AnimEigo, though their licence has now expired. Was most recently released on 12 subtitled DVDs (originally available as a preorder set for fans, later as individually-sold discs). Prior to that it was released as two sets (24 episodes each) of either subtitled LDs or VHS tapes, again initially as preorder only, though the VHS tapes were later sold individually.
You can find new and used copies through Amazon, though later volumes were quite expensive at last check; your best bet is a set of the whole series, which is still very spendy by modern standards: Kimagure Orange Road Complete TV Volumes 1-12 (48 Episodes)