This manga series has been on my To-Be-Read list for a very long time (about two years or so). I bought them in omnibus editions, which are pretty hefty, and because of their vast size, they were a bit intimidating to me. But one of my book goals for the 2017 year is to read more manga from my own bookshelves. I figured it was time to tackle this small shōjo series as a means of accomplishing said goal.
Orange, written and illustrated by Ichigo Takano, is a slice-of-life, romance manga serial about a young girl named Naho. On the first day of her second year in high school, 16-year-old Naho receives a letter from herself ten years into the future. Initially believing it to be a prank by her friends, she ignored the contents. But as predicted events started coming true, Naho has a change of heart about the letter. The whole point of this little correspondence is to ensure that Naho alters choices that she made as a teenager in order to save the life of her friend, and new transfer student, Kakeru.
Orange is the best manga series that I have read in years. Everything about it was extraordinary. I went into the manga with some hesitations as it had been hyped up, especially with the release of the anime a few seasons ago. Yet, I have to admit that the hype for Orange is well-deserved.
The writing is beautiful. The pace of plot progression is perfectly interwoven with tension and suspense as we watch Naho struggle with the decisions laid out before her. The anticipation builds delicately while we watch the effects of the changes initiated taking place. The anxiety and eagerness that is evoked felt marvellous because it had me completely invested in the story, all the way unto its intense and satisfying climax. This works splendidly in other regards to the story as well.
Naho is a sixteen year old girl with a small group of fantastic friends. The essence of their youthful joy and the conflicts they face in regards to first romances is superb. Usually in shōjo manga where there is a tight-knit clique, there also happens to be a couple of loose threads that causes conflicts within their relationships in a negative means. While these six friends do experience some difficult and trying situations, especially where love is concerned, it’s dealt with in a very natural and believable way. People actually talk to one another to sort out their issues and try to resolve matters via communication. This is seldom ever exhibited in manga (particularly shōjo) that when I read it for the first time in Orange, I was awed.
For example, there is a scene where Naho is being bullied by another girl. This girl has some insecurities and inadequacy issues that she isn’t capable of facing, so she exerts her frustrations on Naho. When Naho’s other female comrades see what’s happening, they step in to defend and protect their friend. Yet they take it one step further and openly tell the bully that she’s being a bitch and needs to re-evaluate her attitude. I have never seen this done in a shōjo manga. It felt so wonderful to watch these girls be genuine in their friendship with the main character. There was no jealousy or other immature reasons that kept them at bay. They saw a problem and stepped up to fix it. Such positive depiction of female friendships added so many good vibes. I cheered after I read that chapter.
While all of these aspects are written remarkably, my most-favourite part of Orange consists of the very serious subject matter that it deals with: suicide and soul-shattering grief.
I hate narratives that fetishise suicide or sadness, romanticising it to build a non-platonic bond between two individuals. Suicide and Depression aren’t sexy. They are serious things that need to be dealt with in the most healthy ways available to the individuals who deal with them. Orange realistically depicts the severe emotional trauma and anguish that stems from a profoundly deep-rooted loss, specifically in regards to suicide victims. The story will evoke emotions within you that you won’t even realise you’ve ever felt or hidden away. As a person who has a sensationally intimate relationship with suicide and Depression, I was utterly blown away.
Orange faces the issues that cause the relevant character to feel a need to turn to suicide, head on. It doesn’t sugar coat his pain and suffering. It doesn’t have his friends telling him to “get over it” or that “everything will be fine if he relaxes,” or other bullshit of the sort. Those are the last things you ever want to say to someone who is contemplating suicide or is in an extreme depressive state of mind. Instead, Orange shows the reader each layer of this character’s grief and ache to help us fully comprehend his point of view. This is also shown via the friends who are trying to help save him.
For the first time, I was able to read a story about suicide and not get angry. Instead, I sat down and I cried. I cried as each of these six individuals cried within the monochromatic pages of these graphic novels. My feelings were so raw with empathy and consideration because for the first time I was able to comprehend what it must have been like for people who were trying to save me during my darkest moments. It was extraordinarily overwhelming.
Lastly, I would like to take a moment and mention the artwork. Orange is told in conjunction with breathtaking and elegant illustrations. There are a lot of soft lines and intricate details that help portray the feelings of all of the characters. Everything is drawn so meticulously that you can easily decipher these responses via the physical expressions on each person’s face. The panels are positioned perfectly to highlight distinct scenes and situations, while providing a visual contrast between two people’s contemplations. Full-page drawings never feel overbearing or confusing either. The artwork helps to bring the whole piece together excellently.
Overall, I recommend Orange to every single person who enjoys reading. This is a manga series that is exceptionally heartfelt and magnificently crafted. It has a rather special place on my favourites shelf, where it will remain for a very, very long time to come.
5 hair pins outta 5!
TRIGGER WARNING: Strong subject matter pertaining to suicide & suicidal thoughts/situations.