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As it was leading in the poll by a whole vote I started watching the Kimagure Orange Road OAVs on Thursday night. This is a romantic comedy series dating back to the later 80s and… it hasn’t aged well. Or I’ve gotten old. Or it suffered from me not watching the 48 TV episodes (which I don’t have anyway) first. Take your pick.

Most of the review is under the cuts and there are spoilers.

The Characters:
The following brief character summary is least partially cribbed from the wikipedia page:

Kasuga Kyosuke: The male lead in the romantic triangle. A basically nice guy, if clueless and indecisive. Oh, and he’s got a bunch of ESP powers he doesn’t like much (the rest of the family, including the sisters, are rather more enthusiastic). Pretty much hooked on (even if he won’t admit it to himself sometimes)…

Ayukawa Madoka: Also hooked on Kasuga, but not admitting it either mostly because her best friend…

Hiyama Hikaru: Isn’t hiding her feelings for her “Darling” one bit. A year younger, and a lot less mature.

The OAVs

Episode 1 – I’m a Fish, I’m a Cat

I remember laughing out loud in the past when I watched this episode. OK, some of the elements are a bit immature but what teen movie isn’t? This time, well, it was entertaining enough but I didn’t get the jokes. Granddad shows up for a visit with a rope that can cause beings who touch the ends to swap souls. The sisters Manami and Kurumi being the way they are, mayhem and hilarity ensue with poor Kyosuke ending up first in Hikaru’s bedroom as a goldfish, then in Madoka’s house as a somewhat drunk cat before his soul is retrieved.

Episode 2 – Hurricane Akane

Again entertaining enough, but not nearly as fun as I remember it being. Kyosuke’s cousin Akane shows up and causes trouble. Like most of the family Akane has ESP plus a personal speciality of illusion which she uses to impersonate the three main characters in ways designed to drive Kyosuke’s affections towards Hikaru. And failing that to embarrass him at every opportunity (a trait common to most of Kyosuke’s female relatives…).

Episode 3 – White Lovers

With the passage of time this has now become the stand out episode for the 1st disc. Based around what sounds like a traditional Japanese ghost story it places Kyosuke and Madoka in the hands of a vengeful ghost. The resolution feels like an Arthurian tale where the knight deals with the evil custom by playing it through until the end when the chance to act with virtue arrives and is duly seized. But I like tales like that and this one was well done within the constraints of a half hour episode.

Episode 4 – Hawaiian Suspense

This episode was weak years ago, and it hasn’t gotten any better. Some aspects like the English dialogue are just painful. Moving on to the second disc now…

Episodes 5 & 6 Stage of Love = Heart on Fire!

A two parter with the individual titles being Spring is for Idols and Birth of a Star. The 1st part involves an accidental soul transference between Kyosuke and an pop singer, not to mention an idol singer concert. To be honest I can’t remember ever watching this pair of episodes all the way through, and I only got halfway through the 1st one this time. Idol contests/singers are one of those odd bits of Japanese culture that I can only rarely tolerate, and only then when there’s a truly good story involved. eg Key the Metal Idol which is one of the most engrossing puzzle boxes of a series I’ve seen in a long time.

Episode 7 – An Unexpected Situation

Kyosuke’s cousin Akane is baaaack! Kyosuke experiences a precognitive nightmare featuring Akane and isn’t at all pleased when she shows up immediately even before the opening credits roll. She’s experiencing a bit of social difficulty at her girl’s school since she’s the only one who (apparently) doesn’t have a boyfriend (of course, the eyes she’s making at Madoka at every opportunity might explain that). Solution: Draft Kyosuke into masquerading as her boyfriend in front of two highly sceptical classmates, at locations frequented by Hikaru. Mayhem ensues.

Actually better than it sounds, and works out well because Kyosuke is a basically ethical person and the ending plays well to that.

Episode 8 – Message in Rouge

Again an episode that works fairly well because it is played for drama rather than laughs. Madoka encounters a situation that appears to be a betrayal by her father and doesn’t handle it particularly well. Madoka is normally played as a tough capable young lady but the vulnerability in this episode is well written and draws a lot of sympathy. Again Kyosuke handles a delicate situation well. Although what he’s thinking sometimes (most?) is rather closer to most guys facing someone like Madoka* , it is his actions that count in the end.

*Pin-up girl basically. Its no accident that most of the OAV covers featured posters of Madoka…

OAV Summary

Sometimes comedy does not age well or gracefully. The dramatic episodes have stood up much better to the passing of time, especially when the drama was based around the established characters. With that in mind I still have high hopes for the 1st movie. If I can find it I may even dig out the second movie on VHS and review that too.

Movie: I Want To Return To That Day

Ahhhhhhh! That’s better.

There is a purity to the 1st KOR movie, a distilled, tightly edited story with nothing extra and precisely staged. And at 73 minutes it is a short film.

The triangle was resolved one way (that involved Kyosuke’s ESP powers) in the TV series, this movie presents an alternate resolution shorn of the SF elements and driven purely from the characters. A clever piece of storytelling here is to use the 1 year age difference to create a real barrier, a real difference between Kyosuke and Hikaru.  Specifically by using the period when Kyosuke and Madoka are studying for college entrance exams*… and Hikaru isn’t. This is presented as an incredibly stressful period in the lives of young Japanese people and it is an entirely believable hammer for shattering the triangle.

And in the doing, lives are changed. This is what good film is about, and if it depends on familiarity with what has gone before so be it. I don’t have to rewatch the OAVs, and I don’t have the TV series anyway, but my memory is quite good enough for this film to work for me.

As a not quite a side note, Hikaru was always going to be the loser here; that was a given from the first meeting between Kyosuke and Madoka way back at the start of the TV series. But, in another clever piece of scripting, there is a second story being told in this movie about Hikaru’s first entry into the theatre in what is clearly the female lead in school production of Cats. As I recall that role is something of a tragedy, and it is implied that Hikaru uses her personal troubles to do well in that role. And in the doing, changes her own life for the better.

*Footnote: The importance of the exams is emphasised by the framing of the film as a flashback that Kyosuke experiences as he and Madoka are walking through the campus to find out their results. Oddly, the flashback is in colour while the framing footage is in B/W.

It turns out that I do have the second movie on VHS but the loungeroom is being painted this afternoon so I may not be able to get to it this weekend. And this post is long enough already.