Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
orange: The Complete Collection 2
Now that Naho knows that everyone received a letter from the future, her determination to stop Kakeru from killing himself is even more set. Working together the five friends strive to alter the future so that he will live, but as they do so their letters become more and more unreliable. Can Kakeru really be saved in this parallel timeline? Is it worth the risk to try? Also included is the five-chapter shoujo romance Haruiro Astronaut, a much lighter story about the search for love in high school.
Manga, and fiction in general, is not always the best portrait of real life. It often hits upon truths, but ultimately people read fiction to escape, to live a fantasy for a while. Ichigo Takano's Orange presents a fantasy that many can relate to – the dream to be able to go back and change the past. In this case, the past that the characters want to change is to prevent their friend Kakeru from committing suicide in their second year of high school. It's all too relatable for many, and while Takano does get more into the idea that depression is an illness that can't necessarily be cured by love and friendship, there's a bitterness to this particular brand of fantasy that will not sit well with all readers, even as Takano fulfills her promise to us.
The first omnibus, which contained volumes 1 – 3 of the series, ended with the revelation that Naho was not the only person with a letter from her future self – all of her friends had them, with the hope that the five of them together could reroute the future into one where Kakeru lives. This both simplifies and complicates things as they all have to really think about the consequences of their actions and, in the case of Suwa, put his own feelings aside. This is where things really begin to get a bit emotionally sticky, both for the characters and for the readers: ten years in the future, Suwa and Naho are married and have a child. If they save Kakeru, will that negate that particular future and remove the baby from existence? Or by deviating from the past described in their letters, will they be creating an alternate, parallel future? Arguably they've already done that, which is what allows the letters to exist in the first place: if the past was on the exact same timeline as the future where Naho and Suwa are married then the letters would have already existed and the future group would remember receiving them. So the world in which Naho and Suwa have a child and Kakeru dies continues to exist; this is just another world that branches off of that one based on the decisions made by the characters in their shared pasts. That means that there will always be a time when Kakeru cannot be saved. That's also conflicting, because while the entire point of the series is saving his life and so a world where that doesn't happen is bitterly sad, it also adds an element of understanding that oftentimes you really can't save someone from themselves, highlighting that that is the real fantasy aspect of this series.
One of the best chapters here is the one from Kakeru's perspective. This chapter finally allows us to see what's happening in his head and how he is putting on a front for his friends, even though he doesn't want to. His depression comes across clearly, and for those who have been bothered by the apparent lack of adult interference in his downhill slide, we see that he's just been hiding that from his friends along with his feelings, and that they really don't, as Naho says in the end, know the real him at all. It may be Naho finally realizing that much of his actions have been a front designed to “protect” his friends from him that is the true saving of Kakeru. It's a scene rooted in Naho's own emotional courage to change the future, an understanding that if she wants things to change, she herself cannot stay the same. But it's also a wake-up call to Kakeru that the only person he's “protecting” is his depressed self, and that what he's really been doing is shutting out his reasons to live. Almost more than the actual saving, this is the moment that fulfills the savior fantasy that the story is selling, and it's more beautiful than any amount of hearts and flowers.
Speaking of hearts and flowers, much of what I assume to have been volume five is taken up by the five-chapter series Haruiro Astronaut, in which Takano gives free rein to all of her favorite shoujo tropes. The story follows Chiki, the elder of a pair of identical twins, as she navigates her first crush(es) in high school. Mami, the younger twin, is always dating and is concerned that Chiki isn't. She tries to introduce Chiki to Yui, the hottest guy in school, who instead falls for Mami. Meanwhile Chiki is pursued by Natsuki, Yui's also-hot best friend, and Tatsuaki, an incredibly loud and awkward guy. Despite Takano's avowal that the story is trope-laden, it's actually got some refreshing aspects to it, and the relationship between Mami and Chiki is a highlight. The plot resolves nicely in its allotted chapters – and that's really the perfect length for the story – and it serves as a great palate-cleanser after the bittersweetness of the main story. Takano shows that she's not got a huge variety of character designs up her sleeve, but both Orange and Haruiro Astronaut read easily and have a good balance of gray and white space; very little black is used in the art for either, which is interesting and gives Takano's art a dreamier, softer quality than it would otherwise have.
Orange is a series I am conflicted on. It is very well executed with very little, if any, extraneous chapters and plot points and it has great emotional heft. Its basic premise about saving a depressed friend from committing suicide is better handled in this second omnibus, but it is still a relatively unrealistic portrayal of depression and suicide. If we can recognize and accept that, there's a beauty and hope to the story that is very fulfilling, even as we know that the other future cannot be erased and that in a different life, Kakeru will always die. In some ways Orange is the ultimate “power of friendship” story, where the love of his friends really does bring Kakeru back to life. It's a beautiful sentiment, but one that may be painful if you've experienced that sometimes, no matter what you do, it isn't enough. If ever there was a “trigger warning” series, this would be it, but if that isn't your button, then this is a very well executed conclusion to a story of friendship and love.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Emotionally gripping throughout, no extraneous chapters. Chapter from Kakeru's perspective is especially good, included five-chapter short is both cute and a good palate-cleanser.
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