Author : Ichigo Takano
# of Volumes : 5 (This is a review of volumes 1, 2, and 3. Part 2 review forthcoming.)
Year Published : 2016
Genre : Manga, Romance, Fiction, Sci-Fi
Edition : Paperback, Digital (ComiXology)
# of Pages : 523 pages
On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal.
Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny? The heart-wrenching sci-fi romance that has over million copies in print in Japan!
Note : A few pictures are included in this review, I took them personally of the paperback omnibus edition of Seven Seas Entertainment’s English Translated release of Orange. For those unfamiliar with manga, the text bubbles/paragraphs are read from right to left.
Only half-joking in saying this, I need to make a series on this blog called Time Travel Tearjerkers, and this will be its theme song. (If the embed doesn’t show up, it’s Morphogenetic Sorrow from the 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors soundtrack)
But seriously, Orange is a sweet, warm-hearted, well-intentioned shoujo (for teen girls) manga. It gives lots of warm fuzzies and has a cute, inviting art style.
But- content warning- it’s also about suicide and how friends and family of a loved one cope years afterward.
The main character of our story is Naho. She’s 27 years old, married, and has a child with a childhood friend. But she still thinks back to a day ten years ago, when a boy she can’t forget about took his life. His name is Kakeru. She copes by writing letters to her 17 year old self, telling her the things she should do or would have done to help be there for him and perhaps prevent multiple deaths.
This is a sci-fi romance with two timelines- Naho as an adult, and Naho from a parallel universe at 17 years-old who receives the letters and is trying to follow the directions therein to change the course of fate in her timeline and save Kakeru’s life. The story follows these two timelines in equal measure with equal consideration. While my frankness at revealing this plot may make the story seem dark, the prevailing tone is heart-warming and following the characters in their everyday lives.
This is a story full of nice and good-hearted characters who take every step in trying to help each other. While cultural differences and this already very dicey subject matter can easily lead to a piece of work that is laden with potential controversies to warn about, Orange is pretty high up there as being sensitively handled on a surprising universal level. About as much as one can be in dealing with this subject matter.
It should perhaps be disclosed in critiquing this area of the story that I do have personal experience in knowing people who have committed suicide and struggling with mental health in general. My main takeaway from these experiences is that everyone is different, their comfort levels are different, and whether a work will serve as cathartic or potentially harmful varies so much. Orange is mainly centered around the feelings of loved ones in mourning. Where I live, the main problem surrounding the depiction of suicide is the culture of silence that surrounds it. Hostile and ignorant viewpoints of victims has been rampant and finding thoughtful representation of this topic is rare and usually very recent. Orange is such a massive step up from the hurtful and unproductive viewpoints I’d heard growing up. If teenagers and adults read this and come away with more compassion, I think it’s doing good work.
The prevailing genre explored here is slice-of-life– for those who are not familiar, that basically entails a strong emphasis on the everyday lives of characters. Heavy emphasis is placed on conversations and relationship development. There are some moments that try to explain the time travel mechanisms, but the focus remains mainly on an aww-worthy romance and friendship-driven storytelling. Slice-of-Life is very much a hit-or-miss for me. It hits if I end up feeling for the characters, and very much misses and flows into boredomville otherwise. Orange was very much a success hinged on its unique back-and-forths through time.
I liked Naho. She’s an average type of character, but her devotion to helping Kakeru is often touching. However, I do sense that she is a character that could annoy some people. She cries early and often, and struggles to follow the simple directions of the letters she’s given. I found this a mostly realistic approach though, as her ability to strongly deviate from her meek personality as a teenager- based on 27 year-old expectations- that’s just not easy. She can come off as delicate and wimpy though. I would like to mention to anyone whose first manga ends up being Orange, if you prefer heroines with more take-charge attitude and powerful presentation, please don’t let Naho’s characterization be too influential. There are many shining examples out there worth trying out. An English Translation coming out in January of an all-time classic, Rose of Versailles, comes to mind.
Naruse Kakeru is sort of a mystery. I’m very curious about his past and his family. We know he’s dealing with heavy stuff but puts on a very brave/pleasant front for his friends. He’s usually seen smiling and being lighthearted. But there are occasional moments where he reveals that there’s more going on, and I found those to be well-handled.
Hiroto Suwa is a side character and, unexpectedly, my favorite. I loved this character. Please do note that some of this forthcoming description gets minorly revealing so feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph. Suwa could be considered the odd one out in a love triangle between Naho and Kakeru. But thankfully, this series bucks convention a bit by making him one of the most unusual third wheels ever- giving, great, and caring deeply about both characters to the point of doing everything in his power to set aside ego and.. ship them? He’s the most unexpected character I’ve come across in romance/fiction. There is a series spin-off film devoted to his viewpoint called Mirai and it has shot up in my must-watch list. /
There are a number of other side characters, students who are part of their inner friend circle. While they don’t get a large amount of side story development or back story, each one stands out and is brimming with potential. I am hoping volumes 4-5 in the second omnibus gives them more time to shine, or that some of the adaptations make an attempt because characterization across the board is quite good in this series but has much more room to flower.
You can probably tell whether or not it will be to your tastes looking at the pics I included (all from the Seven Seas English-translated release of this title.) The style is simple but clean, the panels flow nicely due to the lack of clutter. The character designs are cute. The transitions between more serious/realistic proportions (usually during serious moments) to cuter ones (during more lighthearted moments) are smooth though might be jarring for those unused to such things. I’m a fan of shoujo art in general and the charm here is quite top-notch and at a level on par with other titles from 2016 to now. I have a bias toward old-school manga art, but the approach to design here is still appealing. Reminiscent of Ai Yazawa’s works like NANA and Paradise Kiss. Also reminds me somewhat of Honey and Clover by Chiho Umina.
Overall – I liked Orange so much and am somewhat struggling to come up with areas to give it noteworthy criticism. In short, everything Orange tries to do it does well. I’m giving it a 9/10 mainly on account of reading so many ambitious manga over the years and titles that get a 10/10 from me are generally unputdownable despite long-running volumes, massively creative artistically and in world building, or have a large cast with oodles of impressive development. Orange might not aim for such extravagances, but it brings a dynamic take on time travel and has a meaningful storyline. These first three volumes of Orange well done and a must-read if you find yourself very drawn to its basic ideas, style, and story concept. Moreover, the success of this title led to a live-action film from 2015, anime series, other manga series/sequel, and novelization in Japan. Orange is a sort of rabbit hole of a franchise to dive into with several adaptations to hunt for if you end up enjoying one foray into it.
Overall Rating – 9/10
Thanks so much for reading this review! It’s probably more elongated than usual, since there is much to say about the first 500+ pages of this two-part collection. I do plan on reading and reviewing the second and final collection of volumes in November. Also very interested in trying out its sequels and adaptations as well. Have you read Orange or want to? Do you read manga? I haven’t posted a manga review in a while so am glad to read another series this month. I have more manga features planned, including some reviews of longer series I’ve loved this year. Thanks as always for your comments, likes, and views.