At the center of the time travel tragedy is mystery. We have a tragic hero that is attempting to change a tragic event and come up with a happy ending. And he is stuck trying to understand that tragic event and the rules of his universe, what secret forces are working behind the scenes, all through investigation within a controlled environment and a certain span of time. It's a mystery.
2016’s Orange has its own spin on this closed-room (closed-time-loop) mystery. High schooler Naho Takamiya and her friends receive letters sent from their future selves that recount a series of events to take place and suggest alternative actions: all with the goal of preventing the seemingly inevitable death (suicide) of their friend, transfer student Kakeru Naruse.
So, there’s only one instance of time travel, and it’s not even engaged in personally by our tragic hero. It’s just a bunch of letters that travel through time. But a bunch of letters can’t be a tragic hero (or, I just haven’t seen it yet). So, Naho is left to assume that role and is given only a single chance to change the outcome of a series of personal decisions involving Kakeru. But nothing is tested here. Nothing is tried-and-true. Naho has no idea whether confessing her feelings to Kakeru will change anything in the end or just make it worse. And in the tragic tradition, despite one or two divergences, there is still a set timeline and order which all lead up to the tragic event. Though Orange does approach it slightly differently, giving us a series of “micro-tragedies”—things like the death of Kakeru’s mother, or his own failed suicide attempt—which all contribute to the occurrence of the ultimate tragic event. The paradigm of Orange is veiled in uncertainty and limited trial-and-error, but like always, it ultimately comes down the the tragic flaw and how the tragic hero has offended the universe.
I’ll place Naho’s tragic flaw somewhere between her romantic feelings and a lack of courage. Like in a traditional Greek tragedy, neither of these characteristics is inherently bad, but because of the laws of this universe, because of the gods pulling the strings, they are seen as hubris and lead to the tragic event of Kakeru’s death. However, as we see in other time travel tragedies (Steins;Gate, Okabe overcomes his “pride”), Naho is given a second lease on life. The new mold—of time travel tragedy paradigm—allows her to overcome her tragic flaw and grow as a person. Hence, much of the story and the episodic conflicts (“micro-tragedies”) revolve around Naho mustering up the courage to go through with various decisions and change the timeline, as well as Naho better coming to terms with her romantic feelings for Kakeru and addressing those.
Orange lays in front of us a fork in the road. We know what happens down the left path, but the right one is a mystery. Is it better? The story and cast present a unique spin on mystery and tragedy by addressing this situation, knowing very well the possibility that “All roads lead to Rome,” Kakeru’s death.