Orange Days is a Japanese drama series based around the lives of college students. There’s Kai Yuuki (Satoshi Tsumabaki), a senior studying social welfare, and his group of friends (Hiroki Narimiya and Eita). They’re a tight-knit group, hanging out whenever possible, and just generally having fun. Kai is in the middle of applying for jobs, however, and this is stressing him out. One day he sees a young woman named Sae playing the violin near the school. He gives her an orange. Sae, however princess-like she may look, is all full of attitude, fragile emotions, and complexities. A few years ago, she went deaf, and it’s only recently that she’s gotten back to her normal life. The show is then about their complicated relationship.
I would like to mainly focus on just one aspect of Orange Days (though I’m sure I’ll end up mentioning a lot of stuff anyway): how it shows the time of your life when you start to love someone more than your own family, who means something completely different to you and can give you a completely different sort of happiness.
There’s a moment late in the series where Sae’s mom tells Kai he has no business meddling with Sae’s health issues, since he’s a stranger. It’s an understandable attitude coming from a mother. She’s worried about Sae, and she sees this boy Kai as relatively unimportant in the scheme of things. But what we’ve learned throughout the show is that Kai is not just a stranger. In fact, to Sae, he’s become her most important person. She has her friend Akane who she can talk to, sure, but when it comes to Kai, it’s different. There’s a great conversation in the show where Sae talks about what she imagines her future to be like, and in every scenario, Kai is there. The series is largely about the crucial time when the bonds and friendships you’re going to have for the rest of your life are created; it’s something different than your family, because this is something that you created yourself.
It’s something that’s inevitable. We each create our own world, separate from our parents at some point during our life. One of the key struggles for Sae is trying to figure out how to deal with her loyalty and love for her mother (and respecting her feelings) while still trying to be true to her own heart and do what she wants to do. In a sense, these thoughts and feelings are a little selfish. We must come to the conclusion that our happiness is what matters the most, and to seek that will mean forgoing some other person’s idea of happiness. Sae tries to go along with her mom’s vision of her happiness, because she’s trying to be a good daughter and she respects all the sacrifices that her mom had to make because of Sae’s illness. But it is not her happiness. Kai, the one who can make her laugh, the one who can make her cry, the one who can make her feel like “just a girl.” In Orange Days, Sae and Kai change each other’s lives, they motivate each other to keep trying hard, they hurt each other deeply; no one else could do those things for them. So when Sae’s mom calls Kai a stranger, the audience immediately knows that she is wrong. Who else could Sae share her fears, her insecurities, her tears, other than with the one she truly loves? No one could provide the same comfort, the same assurance that he could.
Most love stories are about this, in the end. But they rarely affect me with the same power as Orange Days does. Perhaps it’s because I relate more to the college setting, the level of maturity and self-awareness of the characters that this strikes me as the best Asian drama series I’ve ever seen. Most of these shows are fun, charming, and all that, but it’s very rare that I find one that I think has beauty and grace. It’s a show that dares you to become a better person. After watching Kai and Sae try their best to find their happiness, it’s up to us to go forward and seek out our own.
There are many different aspects of the show that I think are worthwhile and worthy of analysis: the character’s awareness of “coming of age” tropes, the different paths and definitions of “adulthood” and, most of all, its take on friendship. So this might not be the only time I write about it. This is the 3rd time I’ve seen this show in the last 7 years, and I continue to find new things in it. I think it’s a show I’ll keep returning to as I grow older. It’s absolutely one of my favorites.
How To Find It
Unfortunately, the Japanese don’t really license these shows (either for physical releases or for streaming). You’re going to have resort to other means.
Orange Days (2004)