I wish I was Kasuga Kyosuke. It's not because he has ESP powers - being able to time travel and teleport among other things. It's because he's the beloved of anime goddess Ayukawa Madoka (arguably the best designed anime character of all time - thanks to Takada Akemi). If you've never heard of Madoka, you're either an anime newby or plain deprived. If you do know who she is, you're probably salivating at the mouth with the mention of her name while images of that beautiful face float in your head. The mere fact that Madoka adorns KIMAGURE ORANGE ROAD is reason enough for me to praise it. But I also recommend this wonderfully whimsical series because it's truly a classic. Created by Matsumoto Izumi, it's the definitive show about being young and in love.
Kyosuke has just moved to a new town. While counting the number of steps on a long flight of stairs, he catches a red straw hat flying in the wind. The red hat, of course, belongs to Madoka. And the two destined lovers meet cute by arguing over the number of steps. He says there are 100, she says there are 99. Finally, they compromise on 99.5 and Madoka gives Kyosuke her hat. Kyosuke soon falls head over heels in love with her, and he's not the only one.
Since Kyosuke and Madoka both go to the same school and attend the same class, you'd think they can just get together and live happily ever after. Not so fast. A huge obstacle comes in the form of Hiyama Hikaru. She's a pixie little tomboy who has been Madoka's trusted friend since childhood. The girl is cute alright, but she looks like Mickey Rooney next to Madoka's sultry beauty. When Hikaru suddenly decides to be Kyosuke's girlfriend (for the most inane reason), the stage is set for the most famous and frustrating anime love triange of all time. There is no question who the audience roots for. Kyosuke and Madoka are obviously meant for each other. But they are forced to hide their feelings, while Hikaru remains very open about her affection for Kyosuke. Why doesn't Kyosuke tell Hikaru to get lost and just go for Madoka? Well, the show implies that Kyosuke doesn't end the love triangle because he's indecisive. But I don't think so. It's actually quite easy for him to decide between the two girls; he just doesn't want to hurt Hikaru's feelings. He would rather drag out the whole situation than do something so drastic. The three of them are friends afterall; if Kyosuke makes a choice, the nature of their relationship would be changed forever. To the viewer's distress, this love triangle continues for the rest of the series, and won't be resolved until the first KOR movie, but that's for another review.
With the love triangle firmly set in place, KOR follows our three leads as they go through the many joys and traumas of being young. Throughout the 48 episodes, Kyosuke and Madoka's love for each other develops in small yet firm steps. We see the softening of Madoka's stone cold exterior, and how her chameleon-like personality blossoms into a soulful yet charming disposition. Interestingly, the feel of the show is decidedly un-shoujo, since the story is told with WONDER YEAR-esque narration through the perspective of Kyosuke. Being the bumbling hero, he's constantly getting himself in trouble with the two girls who love him - one who flaunts it and the other who hides it. Case in point, in one episode, Kyosuke gets two concert tickets. He wants to ask Madoka out, but Hikaru is always getting in the way. He finally asks Hikaru out, but at the concert, he accidently calls her by Madoka's name. It's stuff like this that plagues our man Kyosuke throughout this series. And it's stuff like this that I find very relevant to my own teen years. But unlike Kyosuke, I don't have ESP powers. It may be a blessing in helping him get out of trouble, but it's also a curse. His family (a dad and two younger sisters) has moved 7 times because of someone discovering this family secret. And more often than not, the ESP power gets him into more trouble.
Nonetheless, ESP is cleverly incorporated into the show - it never seems unnecessary and brings the most out of the story. I'm glad Matsumoto uses it as a plot mechanism rather than as the plot itself. Kyosuke's premonitory dreams makes him do silly things in fear of a falsely understood future, and his teleportations are always fun. As the series progresses, we see more variety to his powers and sophisticated stories as a result. Mind-swapping is introduced with Kyosuke's young cousin Kazuya (basically a miniature Kyosuke), who has telepathy and the ability to switch bodies with anyone. There are a few very cute episodes in which we get to see Kyosuke bumbling around in the form of Kazuya. Matsumoto also uses self-hypnotism on Kyosuke to give the viewer a glimpse at what our hero would be like if he had a more decisive character. Now that's crafty. There are also several very fun and witty time travel stories that realizes our hero's worst fears and gives him plenty of second chances. In one Christmas episode, Kyosuke gets to re-live the same day four times before he finally gets it right. Don't you wish you can do that? By the way, time travel is also the set-up for KOR wonderfully directed two-episode series finale, as you shall see.
Adding to the complications of ESP are Kyosuke's troublesome friends and family. His horny school pals Komatsu and Hatta embody the sexual fascination of adolescence so pathetically, I couldn't help but think back to my own hormonal years and reminisce. Kyosuke's younger sisters Kurumi and Manami are not helping things by always falling prey to Komatsu and Hatta's hentai schemes, to be protected by their older brother. Of course, Kurumi also constantly endangers the family secret by using her ESP powers recklessly - either on the poor family cat Jingoro or just about anyone. Last but not least is Yusaku, the sorry loser who is hopelessly in crush with - and alternately unloved by - Hikaru. Despite the fact that Kyosuke would happily hand over his "girlfriend" to him, Yusaku is still intensely jealous of our hero and always pops up to give him more grief. Together with these silly side characters, our three main leads go through the typical - as well as many atypical - adventures that define youth. They have a favorite hangout: the cafe Abcb (located along a stretch of Orange Road ^_^), where Madoka works. They go to the beach, they attend tennis camp, they make movies, they even suffer midterms, you know, all the normal teenage stuff. Pleasantly absent is any type of teen angst. No problem is too tough with a little help from friends and family. In fact, the tone of KOR is so ambient, watching it often feels like an afternoon stroll through the park. The director tells these youthful stories with a surprisingly relaxed pace. Alongside the relaxed pace are some very soft-colored animation. Some people may complain that it's dated (circa mid-80s), but with the exception of the first episode, I saw absolutely nothing wrong. The quality of the drawings are about the same as - if not better than - those from RANMA ½. I particularly liked the rounded features and bodies of the characters, which are so refreshing from the anorexic and angular designs animators favor nowadays (Rei and Asuka anyone?). Personally, I think the easy pace and the 80s animation complements the romantic-comedy theme of the show perfectly.
Aside from being a wee toned down, KOR can get quite wacky and playful once in a while. KOR is a comedy afterall, and it conveys the frenziness of youth with a brilliant set of hilarious and often plain bizarre storylines. I certainly enjoyed the UFO, professional-wrestling, and Jingoro's search for his mother episodes. But it's Ushiko and Umao's random proclamation of love that always gets me unprepared. This kooky couple shows up at the strangest times and places to blurb the phrase "Wherefore art thou, Umao-san/Ushiko-san?" before disappearing into the background. Strange yes, but also very funny. Another running gag would be KOR's affinity to classic films. The director must be a cinephile, because he parlays a smorgasbord of film references and parodies. I absolutely loved the GRADUATE parody during Madoka's "wedding" episode. It comes complete with knocking on the church window, Simon & Garfunkel-esque background music, and the yellow school bus. What other anime out there imagines its main character as a Dustin Hoffman character? Seeing Kyosuke and Madoka sitting on the back of the bus was pure bliss. I should also mention the intoxicatingly fun TOP GUN-plus-GODZILLA episode, in which Jingoro is a giant monster attacking Tokyo (code-named "G"), and Kyosuke is Tom Cruise out to save the day with fellow fighter-pilot Madoka. It's so nice to see a show be as imaginative as possible. Among the many other film references are CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, BLUE LAGOON, SUPERMAN, VERTIGO, KRAMER VS. KRAMER, and GONE WITH THE WIND. Even the Cannes film festival gets mentioned somewhere in there. Amazing isn't it.
I enjoyed the show's wackiness, but some of its crazy storylines is a tad on the bad-taste side. There is Kyosuke's date with his own - albeit disguised and poor sighted - sister Manami. Why go there Matsumoto-san? That's just plain yucky! And the episode about a psycho lesbian chick who's obsessed with Madoka is very unnecessary. I suppose Madoka's charms are contagious among the female sex as well. But these episodes are rare, so they don't bother me that much. What often irks me is how often misunderstanding plays a part in this show. Much of the conflicts between the main characters arise because of a misunderstanding. Another irk factor is in the character of Hikaru. Like I said before, she has the charm of a 70-year-old Mickey Rooney. Her from-the-back neck holds and ear-piercing "Darling!"s almost make me not want to be Kyosuke. But that's not all about this annoying girl. After watching her for the entire series, I've found her to be stupid, phony, selfish, conniving, and perkier than Kathy Gifford. Being two years younger than Kyosuke and Madoka, she's also extremely childish and a cry-baby. It hurts to see the other two bend over backwards for this little bleep. Because essentially, she's trying to ruin the genuine love shared between two of her friends. There are even indications during the series that Hikaru knows about Kyosuke and Madoka's feelings, but continue to play the meddling third wheel on purpose. Well, she does get what's coming to her, but that's for another review also.
Despite Hikaru's interferences, Kyosuke and Madoka do get intimate moments together: from working together at the Abcb to being marooned on a desert island. Their relationship slowly matures from a shaky start - in which Madoka is often moody and Kyosuke is often unsure of her feelings - to a very personal friendship. By the end of the series, they could almost secretly express each other's feelings with the look of their eyes. Only in such a way have they been able to sustain this relationship in the midst of Hikaru. And they would keep on sustaining it in fear of growing up and the changes that come with it. But things are bound to change. Just as Kazuya precociously asked Kyosuke if he's happy with the way things are, he is forced to say that he's not. So how can this series end happily without resolving the love triangle? Well, why don't you click below to find out.