“Orange” – Visual & Dialog Interplay

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Now that the Summer 2016 anime season is fully underway, I have recently been watching Orange, the newest series from TMS Entertainment and Hiroshi Hamasaki, the director of Steins;Gate. The show is about a high school girl, Naho, who receives a letter from her future self, stating that she has many regrets. The letter contains instructions on how Naho can make the “right” decisions in the past to eliminate these regrets in the future. I was struck by this one particular scene in episode two and just had to write something about it.

Often in anime, dialog sequences are handled with a complete disregard for how framing and depth of field interplay with the dialog to enhance the dramatic narrative and characterization. In cases such as these, you inevitably end up with light novel-like info dumps, flat, uninspired cinematography, or excessive use of visual techniques that value style over substance. Orange is exceptional because of how much depth in manages to cram into a single setting by actually highlighting this interplay.

Let’s take a look at the scene from episode two that impressed me so much.

The scene opens with a shot of dirty dishes. Rather than show the entire kitchen, it is more interesting to show the action taking place within that kitchen. This shot, along with the sound design, establishes a sense of place and immediately conveys the idea that the characters have just finished a meal and are in the middle of cleaning up. You hear the voice of Naho’s mother, and it is clear that she is speaking to someone off screen, her husband being the most likely candidate. A hand reaches out to grab the plate. You would expect the scene to cut to a shot of her mother, but instead, Naho is the one washing the dishes.

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The net effect of this cut is that it visually conveys that Naho is thinking, living inside of her head, while her parents are having a conversation in the same room. We hear her parents talking, and she does as well, but only we are mentally registering the content of their conversation. In a way, we are disconnected from Naho. She is just washing the dishes and spacing out.

The scene then transitions to a panning shot which gives us a better idea of what the setting looks and feels like, but Naho is put out of focus by using depth of field techniques.

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Naho’s mother is trying to decide if it would be rude to deliver the neighborhood bulletin to the neighbors with the possibly that they might be in the middle of eating dinner. She is being indecisive, and just as she says “But…”, her dialog is cut off by Naho’s internal dialog, also starting with “But…”. Naho is trying to decide whether she wants to prepare a bento for her love interest, Kakaeru. The word “But…” is used as a pivot, and the depth of field changes to reflect this dialog.

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Next is a more literal establishing shot of the kitchen which has been put off until now. The husband chimes in here with “There you go, over thinking things again”, which simultaneously acts as a reply to both Naho’s mother, as well as Naho’s current train of thought.

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Notice the positions of Naho and her mother in the frame. This positioning is useful for the following cut, where the exact same pivot and depth of field trick is used a second time, although much more subtly.

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This interplay between visuals and dialog adds extra dimensionality to what would otherwise be a fairly static scene. It creates three “layers” of content which are superimposed on top of each other.

  1. Naho’s parents are introduced.
  2. Both Naho and her mother are being indecisive, but eventually come to a decision by the end of the scene. This serves to characterize Naho. It tells us that Naho is a lot like her mother.
  3. The narrative moves forward. Naho makes a decision that directly effects the plot progression.

Too many anime series feel sluggish and unnatural because of how they present dialog, but Orange is a great example of how to instill a slow, dialog heavy scene with life. This show has been very well produced and enjoyable so far. The character designs, cinematography, and music are consistently excellent. Kana Hanazawa’s shy, strained performance as Naho is strong, even though I am not the biggest fan of her work in general. I eagerly look forward to future episodes!

By the way, the scene ends with Naho turning off the water in the sink, which has been constantly running throughout, maintaining that sensation of being in a kitchen after supper. After the dishes are done, you turn the sink off, and this is a perfect way to cut to the next scene.

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