After discussing my favourite manga Claymore, it being more on the action side, I’m also just as partial to a good romance. And as a fan of time travel, Orange’s premise as a slice-of-life sci-fi romance really separates itself from the genre for this reason alone. Ichigo Takano explores the duality of our feelings and emotions, the complexity of being human, and how the one key thing that makes us human has a timeless, overwhelming affect on all our lives; regrets. Let us explore what makes Orange an underrated masterpiece because sometimes you just need a good enough reason to cry whilst being taught valuable life lessons.
Please be prepared for spoilers and triggering subjects of depression and suicide.
Ichigo Takano is the mangaka of Orange, whose earliest works date back to 2007 but to this day Orange is her most successful title, and for good reason. Not only is Orange a shoujo but its demographic also consists of readers who fall under the Seinen (adult males) category, understandable as soon as you learn of its delicate material on metal illnesses in males specifically. The plot follows Naho, a shy and timid school girl who takes an immediate interest in new boy Kakeru, a quiet yet kind boy. On the day of their meeting Naho receives a letter from herself in the future, instructing her to follow each day’s notes she’s left to herself to save Kakeru. When the letters start to derail from the current changes and getting details wrong Naho must steel herself to aid Kakeru with her friends’ support as much as possible to create a future with Kakeru.
Time travel feels… or is it?
Its time travel mechanic is explained very simply with not much expansion on it. The friends plant their time capsules around the Bermuda triangle to cause a black hole, believing in the possibility that their letters slip through a parallel world to their past selves. While it’s a very convenient plot device with not much explained other than that, it does its job and incentives the characters’ motivations while they give the plot more weight and emotion.
The letters not only give the characters motivations, but heightens the tension with the knowledge of the final letter being the indication of the day of Kakeru’s death. But even before we know this, the changes its characters make have already altered their future, so much so that their letters end up not lining up to what has transpired in the past world. One of the catalysts for this is due to Suwa choosing to not join in the Double Year Shrine Visit, where Kakeru and Naho have an argument. Suwa comforts Naho and confesses at this time, setting in the moment where Naho distances herself from Kakeru. Additionally, in the most important moment for Kakeru is her confronting him on their misunderstanding during their argument while confessing to him. Naho does what her past self was unable to do, and where the majority of her regrets plagues her from 10 years ago.
This moment sets in motion where the letter stops being important, instead putting Naho and friends in a position where they have to use their own words and knowledge of Kakeru to make a final difference without guidance. The importance of the letters therefor become far less substantial and necessary, and its character’s growth and decision making (especially Naho’s, of course) has the most meaning and impact. So let’s get into how impressive these so called important characters are then.
Multifaceted, developed characters
In a manga centered on human emotions, its cast is extremely relatable. As the tight knit group who ultimately helps Kakeru through his struggles its six main characters all have solid personalities and character development.
Kayano Takako is a loyal friend who defends those she cares for, especially with Naho who has a hand in encouraging her to better herself in being more confident and decisive. Takako is mature and confident and acts as the motherly figure of the group, so much so that despite supporting Kakeru and Naho’s relationship she keeps an eye on Suwa as he ignores his own feelings and talks it out as support. Saku Hagita is the intellect who is the only reason the group thought of the time traveling as he brings up the black hole theory.
He is actually very humorous and silly despite his neutral expressions, that is until Murasaka Azusa speaks up. This pair has great chemistry together, with Azusa being an absolute joker and often teases him, backed up by the group’s continuous cheeky remarks on the two being a married couple. She’s the bakery girl with a lot of passion, enthusiasm and confidence. Hagita and Azusa are often the two that bring comedy to many heavier moments of the manga, and also being a very nice OTP of us readers. Now we come to the main three characters, forming the love triangle.
Orange’s bitterly sweet love triangle
Out of all the characters of Orange, Hiroto Suwa strikes a chord within me. He’s wholeheartedly good natured and selfless, going as far as putting aside his love for Naho to allow the relationship between her and Kakeru to blossom. He does this even when he knows with Kakeru out of the picture he would eventually marry Naho and bear a child together with the woman he’s always loved. To see Kakeru not only survive by helping him through his depression but allow the woman he adores to have her first love is absolutely touching. For it is truly bittersweet that his current self and future self knows that he will and has always been second best.
Naho is our main character who is extremely timid and shy, and in a continuous effort to prevent a future without Kakeru, she becomes more assertive and confident in order to do and say the right thing. This can be the wrong attitude however, as she makes a habit of sticking it to the letter, ignoring Kakeru’s feelings at the time. She makes the effort to better herself, and despite being a mostly disliked heroine due to her being more annoyingly shy (I personally do not like this criticism as I know plenty of lovely people as nervous and introverted as she is) she is most definitely not the main focus of the manga. Despite this, her character development is noticeable and wonderfully done, as the comparison to how she used to be with where she ends up is a massive improvement.
She ends up with the courage to speak up to apologize to Kakeru for saying the wrong thing, confront him due to a misunderstanding and finally muster up all important strength to gift him chocolates for valentines and confess to him. Her feelings of not wanting to say anything that will hurt someone or have them hate you personally hits very close to home, so much so that she is a personal favourite main character of mine for her overcoming this very negative and self-loathing mindset.
Kakeru appears as a kind of enigma until his bond grows with Naho and his friends, therefor making us sympathetic with him and connect to him at the same time we see his newfound bonds develop. Its not immediately evident that Kakeru has depression, instead being explored as Naho and their friends learn to understand him at the same time by giving Kakeru the time he needs to open up and feel comfortable with them. His depression is understandable and explored progressively where its realistic without being forced, from past events concerning supposed friends he meets years later from school and his misunderstanding with his mother’s motivations. And better yet, Takano’s message isn’t on the miraculous cure of having friends that solve depression but is instead as support to Kakeru’s well being.
Solid characters all round
Even Orange’s supporting characters have solid personalities and exploration, the most memorable being Kakeru’s mother. We see so little of her, but the explanation of what transpired that lead her to her suicide is not glossed over nor hidden, but instead completely laid out simply and completely human. All from miscommunication and misunderstandings. Through her actions she always carried out with the one and only intention of making Kakeru happy, it did the reverse as she never was able to communicate her intentions to her son before it was too late.
By her feeling guilty by leaving Kakeru’s father due to the physical abuse he put her through before she divorced him, her throwing out Kakeru’s club equipment and banning him from the club to avoid Kakeru being bullied, she thought she was making the right decisions to make Kakeru happy. She believed she’s caused more pain to Kakeru than being a loving and supportive mother, causing her to commit suicide, leaving a son who has since then blamed himself for her death by putting up a wall and reacting frustratingly from her texts. With the manga’s time travel element we see first hand how the loss of Kakeru in the future has damaged the friends even 10 years later, creating a knock on effect of each person feeling guilt through loss.
An exploration of the complexity of feelings
To sum up what I mean as the duality of our feelings and emotions can be seen in one strip of the manga, where Kakeru gifts Naho with an orange juice, being the reason the manga is titled after the fruit.
Not only is there a duality in emotions, but the states of its characters is at constant odds. We explore Kakeru’s imprisonment within his own mind of feeling so weighed down by his guilt and depression that he feels he has to end his life, while the loss of Kakeru has made for a future of his friends filled with regret; a cycle of endless pain going hand in hand. But despite this, they still keep hope for a future with Kakeru even though they know it can’t be in their own timeline. Even in Suwa’s motivations he’s at a constant back and forth in confessing to Naho or giving Naho and Kakeru the room to grow closer.
Each of its main characters is battling a constant back and forth, even in Naho’s indecisiveness with her uncertainty in how to be there for Kakeru. These worries in all of their feelings really hits home in how human they are; Orange’s characters are truly commendable for their development, and extremely sympathetic with their ongoing struggles. But of course, no one’s struggles are as important or significant as Kakeru’s, and rightly so.
A discussion on the most damaging part of being human
Naho regrets not being there as much as she could for Kakeru. Kakeru regrets not being there to save his mother. Suwa regrets not being able to make Naho fully happy. Kakeru’s mother regrets not doing the right things as a parent. The whole motivations of its main characters is fueled by the remorse they feel for not being there for Kakeru, even after 10 years since his suicide. But Orange is more than a typical shojo romance when it deals with this cycle of suffering, exclusively in Kakeru’s character. With just a simple act of compassion and a memorable comment or gift, he smiles.
The connection between friends is just as important as the blossoming love between Kakeru and Naho. Orange isn’t only a shojo, but its an exploration of mental illness that can be even just slightly healed not through love exclusively but by the connection of friendship. It’s wonderfully interwoven into the romance and reinforces how helpful and realistic its overall message is because despite how prominent having regrets is, Orange reinforces how important and helpful having those who care for you to be around you to at least help ease the pain.
The narrative doesn’t only present Kakeru’s depression as realistic, but it avoids calling it as saving him from his depression and shows the realistic mental battle Kakeru is constantly experiencing. Through following the letters, the bond and memories of Kakeru with Suwa, Naho and everyone has helped him value existing even if it’s just a bit. Through just being around him they give him support. His depression never just stops existing. Takano knows how sensitive writing material on this subject is and handles it with respect, sensitivity and realism.
A reminder to everyone that life is worth living
My favourite moment of the entire manga is the schools’ relay race. The friends confide in Kakeru, supporting him with the race when he has an injury and allow him to take his time to express his feelings. Alongside his new friends who do not ridicule him on his trauma and offer support, he also has his grandmother there to watch him unlike his parallel self who had no one visit on the day everyone else’s parents came to watch their children compete on the day. It is also the first time we see Kakeru truly smile. It’s a heart-warming and important moment for everyone involved, and to top this off, the friends relay a message to one another before coming first in the race, the placement they did not previously manage to come, with Naho’s line to Kakeru himself being “”Don’t give up! It’s a promise! We’ll always be together! Even ten years from now! We’ll all be waiting”.”
All these scenes are important stepping stones for its cast but are just as impactful to us due to the continuously growing characters delivering the gut punching words. Each heartfelt line and warm words penetrate the soul and stay with you for life. The manga is not only showing the importance of Kakeru being alive and around, but is just as much of a reminder of its readers’ significance in also existing. It’s beautiful.
Conclusion: An underappreciated Shoujo manga that’s more than romance
When many of us talk about anime movies such as A Silent Voice, we all can agree on its lasting effect it has on us. Orange, being a lot more underappreciated compared to many other emotional, heart wrenching manga out there is deserving of as much attention and acclaim due to Ichigo Takano’s delicate exploration of depression and what others can do to help. We all have regrets, so what’s important is to remember to do what you can in the moment.
Orange is a showcase of how our feelings are at constant strain and battle, through sadness there is happiness, through negatives there are positives, and through something sour, it can still be sweet. The manga has touched my heart, and has made me value the time I spend with others and what I can do to be more supportive to those I cherish. Because there’s simply nothing else as important as that. Make every second count.
You can buy the first omnibus volume on Amazon here.
Thank you to Ichigo Takano, to you for reading, and take care of yourself.
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