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Manga & Anime ● Review: Orange by Takano Ichigo

English Title: orange

Japanese Title: orange

Writer & Artist: Takano Ichigo

Released: Volumes 1–5, 2012–2015; Volume 6, 2017; Volume 7, 2022.

Length: 7 volumes

Publisher: Monthly Action (Japanese), Seven Seas Entertainment (English)

My Verdict: A solid romance slice-of-life drama about dealing with regrets. Can use more dramatic tension but mostly avoids being too cheesy.

Orange: Omnibus Volume 1 (English cover)
Orange: Omnibus Volume 1 (English cover)

● One morning, as Takamiya Naho is uncharacteristically running late for school, she receives a letter. Opening and reading the first page in class, the writer claims to be her 26-year-old self, ten years in the future. The writer knows about Naho’s lateness and informs her that a new student from Tokyo will be joining her class.

● Indeed, Naruse Kakeru joins the class. Naho’s friends ask Kakeru to join them after school, which he does so and they become friends. The letter, however, reveals that in the future Kakeru is no longer with them. Whilst the cause of death is not revealed, the obvious possibilities are illness, accident or suicide.

● Naho’s letter contains instructions to be more courageous and to do things for Kakeru and to prevent the regrets her 26-year-old self has. The plot follows Naho (and her group of friends) as she tries to do just that.

● They live in Matsumoto, Nagano, and most of the story is set in that prefecture. This is not surprising considering that the author is from Nagano.

● Structurally, it is rather simple, each chapter is about 40 pages long and is actually labelled as a “letter” because that is what it is referring to.

● The main story arc spans 22 “letters”, distributed over 5 volumes. The (latest) English release combines these into two omnibus volumes: volumes 1 to 3 in the first and volumes 4 to 5 in the second. Volumes 6 and 7 follow but more on that later.

● Some may classify this work as romance. There is obviously that aspect, but it is also about friendship, growing up and living with guilt and regrets, and living for others presented in the mode of slice of life.

● Naho is the main viewpoint character but there is enough focus on her friends so that readers do not get tired of following just Naho.

Takamiya Naho (anime)
Takamiya Naho (anime)

● Naho and her friends are all likable even if the setup is a little artificial. Including Kakeru and Naho, the group is gender-balanced as is common in anime.

  • Naho is shy and timid and she is seen as one who overthinks her decisions. She obviously comes to like Kakeru.

  • Suwa Hiroto likes Naho but is willing to not express it for the sake of Naho and Kakeru.

  • Chino Takako is the “cool chick”, although she does threaten violence in defense of her friends.

  • Murasaka Azusa is, relatively speaking, the “hot head”.

  • Hagita Saku is the “nerd” who seems to be able to almost completely set aside his feelings when dealing with problems.

● Obviously, the personalities all follow some sort of template to complement and balance each other. Perhaps the most unrealistic is the level of maturity given their age. They may be arguably a little immature in the sense of not being entirely confident in their decision-making but that is expected in circumstances typical of that age. On balance, they are level-headed and considerate. They are not so unrealistic that it is jarring, but they can be more realistic.

Naruse Kakeru (anime)
Naruse Kakeru (anime)

● A common criticism is that Naho is too timid. She is at times and that is just her character. It’s not enraging even if it may be mildly annoying in a few instances. But, more importantly, she is relatable and it mostly works.

● The author, via Naho, makes the obvious but interesting point that even with the letters—that is, the benefit of hindsight—it is difficult to act given the pressures of the moment.

● Naho’s friends look out for her but they, thankfully, don’t tolerate it to the extent of saying nothing about it. They do encourage her and she does grow to become someone who is more open to taking overt action.

Hagita Saku and Suwa Hiroto (anime)
Hagita Saku and Suwa Hiroto (anime)
Murasaka Azusa and Chino Takako (anime)
Murasaka Azusa and Chino Takako (anime)

● The possibility of sending letters back in time is partly explained, not ever going into details. Whilst some may prefer a more detailed explanation, it is not a big issue. It is a necessary and indispensable device but it is not the focus of the story. By the time this is brought up, one has either already invested in the characters and story or given up.

● The text does address the issue regarding time-travel paradox. If our main characters send letters back to their past selves and they act accordingly, then the future which does not have Kakeru will not exist and therefore that future will not send letters back. The author’s solution is commonsensical so it does not cheapen the consequences of one’s actions.

● The author does not neglect to address a more immediate issue regarding the paradox. As Naho acts on the letter’s advice, she incrementally changes the immediate future as well such that the events deviate from the letter’s contents. However, this is not capitalized on. This could be taken further to enhance the dramatic tension.

● The narrative does occasionally shift to the main characters’ future selves. The story actually starts with their future selves digging up a time capsule. This occasional shift provides some relief to the present.

● The ending at the conclusion of the 22nd letter is a little abrupt in the sense that it lacks a denouement. The buildup to it is mostly fine but lacks an epilogue of sorts. Thematically, the work is about consequences and dealing with them, but the ending doesn’t address this. This is why volume 6 and, to a lesser extent, volume 7 help complete the story.

● The pacing and overall length of the manga are good, as is the anime at 13 episodes. The anime, as is typical, is a condensed version of the manga. The first few episodes follow the first few letters closely before the compression starts. The anime never diverges from the manga by introducing new elements. For better or worse, it remains faithful to it. The 13 episodes cover the 5 volumes.

● Volume 6 orange: future is a retelling of the story from Suwa’s point of view. This is organized into four chapters. There is a substantial amount of material that follows Suwa and Naho in the future. The anime film of the same title is based on this volume, although the manga contains more material. The manga, by providing more material, acts as a proper epilogue that that main arc lacks.

● Volume 7 orange: to you, dear one is a collection of vignettes from each of the main characters’ point of view, including three chapters from Kakare’s perspective. It is not as substantial as future but is a nice addition. This also includes a side story that is a crossover to the author’s earlier work Dreamin’ Sun (夢みる太陽) and is mostly there for comical value.

● It is arguable that the manga can be a little shorter but, as already mentioned, the pacing is good. There is always something happening. The anime is also good at 13 episodes. It cannot be shorter and, if anything, one or two more episodes might be of benefit.

● Is it overly dramatic? There are one or two scenes in which that is the case but this is fortunately not something the author abuses. For example, the relay race at school is way too cheesy. A subtle approach would be best since the imagery associated with a relay race is obvious enough to convey the relevant themes.

● The biggest weakness is arguably, and ironically, its strength. In trying to be ordinary (despite the premise involving letters from the future), in trying to be what one typically expects of slice of life, it lacks suspense. There is some tension between characters and it is sufficient to hold one’s attention but it is not outright engrossing. Naho is trying to change the future, and everyone knows it’s Kakeru’s life and all their futures at stake, but

● The artwork is good. There are a lot of tight shots of faces for their reactions and the characters are consistently drawn. The designs can be considered typical but it works and the six main characters deliberately differ to avoid confusion.

● The anime is beautifully executed, particularly the environment and background, taking full advantage of color. The characters can be more consistent, the manga being superior in that regard. Voice-acting is solid.

● On balance, despite lacking drama in certain parts and the main arc lacking a proper denouement, it is a good story. There is nothing so wrong with it that it is outright jarring, but there are definitely aspects that could be done better. Despite one or two moments that are too cheesy, the author avoids overdoing it. If anything, there could be more tension and emotional charge. Still, the pains of growing up and living with regrets are relatable and these are themes the author conveys well.

Naho and Kakeru after school... (anime)
Naho and Kakeru after school... (anime)

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