Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
orange: The Complete Collection 1
One day sixteen-year-old Naho receives a strange letter in the mail – a letter from herself ten years in the future. Twenty-six-year-old Naho tells her younger self that soon a new boy named Kakeru will transfer into her class and that there are things that she must do to avoid future regrets. Naho isn't sure she believes the letter, but soon enough it is proven to be real and Naho becomes devoted to fixing the mistakes of her future self's past. But Kakeru's troubles are more than just the average teenage melodramas, and the more entangled Naho and her friends become, the harder it is to know if they're doing the right thing...or anything that will help at all. Can determination really save someone from himself?
It feels like stories about fixing the mistakes and regrets of the past have been popping up a lot in recent months – from winter 2016's Erased anime to Arina Tanemura's magical woman story Idol Dreams and now to Seven Seas' release of Ichigo Takano's Orange, the theme of going back and changing that one regret you just can't let go of is one that is both poignant and appealing. But where the other two use narrative tricks and science fiction elements to tell their tales, Orange relies more on the power of human interactions – yes, there is an element of time travel and alternate worlds, but it's secondary to the human element – to create a story that wavers on the edge of sadness and hope and really may hit too close to home for some readers.
At the risk of offering a spoiler, I think it is important to know that this series is, at its root, about stopping a suicide. While I would not normally mention something not revealed until at least half-way through the omnibus, this is an issue that is likely to make Orange a much more difficult read for some people. It's a fantasy that many of us have had about a regret that simply may not have been fixable, and if this is likely to upset you, I would urge caution before picking up the book.
The story follows a group of six friends beginning their second year of high school. Shortly before the start of the year, one of the girls, Naho, receives a strange letter in the mail – a letter claiming to be from herself ten years in the future. Future Naho desperately wants Past Naho to change one thing that she has always regretted – the death of the sixth member of the friend group, Kakeru. In the letter she details all of the things she wishes she had done differently, ultimately with the goal, it later comes out, of saving Kakeru's life. Through flash-forwards to a world ten years in the future, we learn that all five of the remaining friends have never stopped mourning Kakeru's death in February of their second year in high school, and while elements of their lives do feel fulfilled, they've been unable to move past it. So thinking back on a discussion about alternate worlds existing side-by-side with theirs based on different choices made, Naho somehow sends a letter back in time to try to create a future where Kakeru lives.
The best word to describe Orange may be “bittersweet,” which could also describe the title – the bitter skin covering the sweet fruit within. There's always the fear that Naho and her friends will not succeed, leading to a worse future for themselves where they knew what was coming and failed to prevent it, as well as the realization Naho comes to later on that even if they do save Kakeru, the future her who sent the letter will always lose him. This is actually a rather convenient way of getting around the time travel issues that might otherwise plague the series, but it also reminds us that failure isn't just an option, it's happened. That said, whenever we see Naho successfully do what her letter asks, there's a real sense of triumph and a surge of hope, because maybe, just maybe, this time things really will be different. Of course, with this also comes the frustration of Naho trying to do what her older self asks while still being sixteen. There are plenty of teenage hangups that Naho has trouble overcoming, even as it becomes clear in the third volume contained in the omnibus that she's really not alone in this. Confessions and emotions are difficult for her, and she's not great at reading people, which makes not only her task more difficult, but also the reader want to shake her. But this is actually part of what makes Orange appealing as well – there really is a clear difference between sixteen-year-old and twenty-six-year-old Naho that feels real. It's part of how these three volumes never delve into unbelievable situations despite the science fiction theme of time travel: despite its central conceit, Orange is a series that feels real.
Ichigo Takano's art is fairly typical of shoujo, reminiscent of Io Sakisaka's work, and she does a very good job of portraying emotions and body language even as bodies are just slightly off (especially male torsos) and movement is occasionally stiff. The pages aren't overcrowded or overtoned, making reading easy, and the spine of this very thick book is flexible and relatively crease-proof. The translation reads very well, feeling smooth and evoking the proper emotions at the right time without awkward word choices or attempts at being too slangy. Really, the hardest part of reading this book might be the actual story, which can slow you down as it hits your heart. But that's not necessarily a bad thing – this is a book you want to think about as you go, not fly through and quickly move on.
Orange's first omnibus does make it clear why it has been such a success in Japan. Its bittersweet story and tough emotional content make it stick with you, even as it might be hard to handle. A lot of us have regrets about the way we might have handled something in the past, whether it had consequences as dire as those in the book or not. Orange lets us fantasize about the possibility of changing that...even if that might not be the easiest or the best thing for us to do.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Poignant and moving, flash-forwards help to really round out the story. Nice evasion of time paradox issues.
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