Okay, I’m not actually suggesting there is something wrong with Orange or of time travel as a fictional concept. Mostly because the whole point of fiction (particularly sci-fi and fantasy) is to ask ‘what if’. What if you could go back and change all those stupid things you did as a teenager? As a story concept it works so let’s leave that alone.
However, while watching Orange and reading various reviews and discussions about it, I couldn’t help but think how stupid and arrogant future Naho is. And then, once I realised that some of Naho’s advice may very well lead to Kakeru not dying and Naho and Suwa not getting together, leading to Naho not having her very upbeat future baby, I started to really get annoyed at future Naho. Yeah, you might have regrets now, but if you rewrite history via letters to your past self and you undo the existence of your own child, isn’t that going to be a pretty big regret?
This isn’t Terminator. Future Naho isn’t trying to stop a world destroying war or save the future of humanity. It isn’t Dr Who where she’s meddling in events in the lives of other species and planets and mostly just undoing the stupid messes she created by messing with time in the first place. This is a girl who as a teenager missed some opportunities (due to being an introvert) and now in all of her adult wisdom feels that telling her past self to ‘fix’ things will… Okay, I’m really unclear about what she hopes to accomplish. Undo past regrets by creating all new ones I guess.
Time travel and the chance to do something over are perfectly fine plot points and plot devices but Orange opens a whole series of questions about the actual motivation behind it. What does future Naho seek to accomplish and why can’t she, like most people have to, learn to live with the regret and take the lessons on board for the future? By redirecting Naho’s actions, she’s simply robbing her past self of the opportunity to learn whatever wisdom she feels she has in the future.
All of this makes me wonder what I would do in this situation and the bottom line is I would never attempt what future Naho is doing. That isn’t to say there aren’t situations that I wouldn’t have liked to see go differently, and looking back I can see how I could have easily done things differently, but if I changed it I wouldn’t have learned what I did from the result I got. Essentially I wouldn’t be the me I am today. And while I’m pretty sure I could be a better me, I could also be a lot worse. And how would I know which lessons I learned from which events are actually the critical ones for making me who I am?
When we were in school, we had to write a letter to our future selves that the school then had posted to us after graduation. I remember when I got mine that I rolled my eyes thinking what on earth would past me have to say that was in anyway relevant to who I was today. Turns out, past me is not someone I should rely on for advice, because she is a sarcastic pain in the neck. The letter was an A4 page with no greeting or sign-off or anything else. If the envelope hadn’t been addressed there really wasn’t anyway to know who had written it. There was only one message on the letter, written just off the centre of the page.
“Figured it out yet?”
To which my honest answer will always be no. No, I don’t know if I’ve made the right choices or if things might have been different or better or worse or anything else. No, I don’t know if there was ever anything else I could have done. No, I don’t want to waste my time thinking about what could have been when I have to keep thinking about what is and where to from here.
So if past me is unreliable when looking to the future, I somehow doubt future me has any particular insight into what past me should have done in any given situation. Even the letter itself. Should past me have written something more profound or meaningful? What would that have accomplished?
The letter was perfect as it reminded me of who I was then. It reminded me of the hour I spent at that school camp staring at that stupid piece of paper and thinking that the entire activity was just plain stupid. It reminded me of how much I hated doing things that I didn’t think were worth my time, which is why I ended up writing anything and just stuffing it in the envelope. That letter made me realise how much I’ve grown and changed, and how much I’ve stayed the same. Because part of me still wants to write a mocking and sarcastic statement on a page and walk away from things I think are pointless and that is always going to be part of me. And part of me wonders if maybe giving into that temptation is causing me to miss out on something else. And I will always wonder.
Naho, throw the next letter out.