Kimagure Orange Road is a romantic comedy television series that originally aired from 1987 to 1988 with a total of forty-eight episodes. Produced by Studio Pierrot, the series, based on Izumi Matsumoto’s manga, is a classic love triangle story of a teenage boy whose attentions are drawn between two girls. But there’s something highly unconventional about the boy in question.
Series protagonist Kyosuke Kasuga, a fifteen-year-old student, is an ESPer. Born with special mental powers inherited from his deceased mother, he can perform a variety of acts that a normal person would never be capable of. But the rarity of such powers means that his family has to keep them a secret. Something that hasn’t always been successful, particularly when he also has two younger sisters, the twins Kurumi and Manami, who also have the same powers. And each time their powers have been discovered, they’ve been forced to pack up and move somewhere else in an attempt to start over.
At his new school, Kyosuke quickly becomes infatuated with another student, Madoka Ayukawa; a beautiful girl that can fluctuate from cold and distant to warm and welcoming seemingly at the drop of a hat. But in turn, he also catches the attention of Madoka’s friend Hikaru Hiyama, a bubbly, energetic girl that falls head over heels for him to the point that she commonly refers to him with the English pet name of “Darling.” Caught between the two girls, Kyosuke is forced to navigate awkward teenage life while keeping the family secret.
Unlike some other television series that have been profiled in this column like Serial Experiments Lain, there really isn’t a strong narrative underpinning events from one episode to the next. The love triangle between Kyosuke, Madoka and Hikaru is the driving force of the show, and by necessity, it’s kept alive through a series of absurd twists and the occasional touch of ESP. If it were to be resolved, then the series would be over.
Without a strong serialized narrative, the show falls into a fairly standard pattern of episodic plots. Odd misunderstandings and ESP shenanigans are often the order of the day. And sometimes, there are both at once, such as in the episodes where Kyosuke inadvertently hypnotizes himself, causing his behavior to change from his normal, mild-mannered demeanor into a suave jerk, or perhaps just a jerk. Such escapes are generally resolved in the closing minutes, often to Kyosuke’s embarrassment and confusion.
While Kimagure Orange Road does fall into some of the pits that affect sitcoms, like repeating plot devices, the way that the series executes always keeps things entertaining. Kyosuke, for all of his bumbling, is sympathetic; he has a girl he likes, but there’s a girl that likes him. Is it better to keep pursuing Madoka, who at times seems completely unattainable, or to be more serious in his relationship with Hikaru, who at times can’t be detached from his arm?
Though the series does reach a satisfying conclusion, one that involves time travel, memories, and some very dramatic twists, the ultimate question, Madoka or Hikaru, is left unresolved. The final answer wasn’t revealed until the 1988 feature film that brought the series to its true conclusion. Of course, the answer to who Kyosuke ends up with probably wouldn’t surprise most people. Or would it?
The Japanese word “Kimagure” can be translated as whimsical, which is truly the best way to describe the tone of the series and the behavior of its characters. There is indeed a very light-hearted whimsy to the series, with Kyosuke encountering obstacles that are, more often than not, farcical, and sometimes outright ridiculous. It’s also descriptive of the way that Madoka tends to shift moods, going from caring to kick-ass and back again.
The show’s art style is rather standard for anime of the era, but the character designs are all great, suitably matching their respective personalities. Madoka in particular looks natural, warm or cold, while Hikaru has a more innocent look to match the intense strength of her affection for Kyosuke. Kyosuke himself has an everyman appearance; plain without being bland, he’s a nice guy that’s perhaps a bit too indecisive for his own good.
Though viewers will undoubtedly come to favor either Madoka or Hikaru as Kyosuke’s love interest, Kyosuke himself is a likeable guy. He’s just trying to live life honestly and finds himself in one awkward situation after another, from undergoing a body-swap with his bratty young ESPer cousin to taking his sister Manami out on a date. Yes, a date.
There are certainly some flat episodes and some gags that repeat a bit too often, but overall, Kimagure Orange Road is a classic series of the 1980s. Light, breezy, and goofy, its cast holds well together and provide consistent laughs. Kyosuke’s love foibles are entertaining to watch, and the nostalgic charm of the show never lets up.
Kimagure Orange Road was released on DVD in North America by AnimEigo. The release features the original Japanese with English subtitles. No English dub was produced. The series is not rated, but features adult humor and situations.