Sunday, August 2, 2015

ORANGE by Ichigo Takano

In the midst of the usual shoujo manga varieties that cater to the many shades and conflicts of school-girl infatuation and romance, Ichigo Takano's ongoing series ORANGE easily stands out. This manga's central romantic development, though more or less integral to the tale being told, is not Orange's real selling point let alone its primary focus. Instead, Orange is a rather earnest and at times painfully realistic story concerning a teenager's clinical depression told in the perspectives of his high school friends. In a bittersweet fashion with an understanding and depth of how mental illness truly affects a person and his social ties, Orange produced such a nuanced examination of depression in the character of Kakeru Naruse. It's not just a mere plot device to get two people in a relationship or for the lead heroine to go on a journey and fix the guy with tender love and care. It started out with that premise but progressed into a more meaningful and even darker path where lead girl Naho Takamiya along with four other friends discover that often times love and friendship is not enough to help an individual so fundamentally damaged.

There's also a science fiction element to Orange's premise, however. The story opens with Naho Takamiya who received a letter from her twenty-six-year-old self, informing her of the future ten years from now. She disbelieved it at first until each entry acccurately described a specific day and the notable events that transpired, especially when it concerns the new boy in class whom she eventually develops feelings for. The chapters alternate between showing the present in high school and the future where Naho is now a wife and mother but continues to reminisce her deepest regrets about the boy she loved at sixteen. Right from the very first chapter the readers become privy to the devastating fact that Kakeru had passed away ten years later and how Naho felt as if she could have done something about it. The truly moving parts of the manga, of course, happen every time any of these young people would make an effort to make their friend feel loved and accepted, hoping it would be enough to prevent the inevitable. The most heatbreaking thing is when it doesn't seem enough. That's when Orange chokes you up. Every single chapter has left me misty-eyed. I was always in the verge of tears when reading this manga.

It was only when we keep reading that it was revealed that, according to Naho's letters, Kakeru is increasingly becoming more reticent and withdrawn without his classmates' knowledge until one night he got ran over by a car as he was riding his bike. There were also small revelations in between where Naho's group of friends find out about Kakeru's mother committing suicide on their first day of school and how deeply he had blamed himself since and that it had also driven him to attempt to take his own life once. These details were revealed to the present Naho via letters and whose actions since learning these things gradually improved Kakeru's perspective about himself and others. She now has a personal mission to save her friend. With only letters from her future self to aid her, Naho is determine to create an alternate world where Kakeru could live happily and still be with her and their friends a decade later. It sounds like a noble plan but Orange was inquisitive enough to show that depression is an ongoing battle that a bunch of well-meaning teenagers can't absolve by themselves.

You can't just tell someone who is clinically depressed to "get over it" or do everything in your power and sacrifice so many things for the betterment of that person's life and believe that's all it takes for him to shake it off. Personally, I think Kakeru needs serious counselling and professional therapy and I certainly hope that the manga will deal with that in the upcoming later chapters. If you're interested to read Orange right at this moment then you are in luck! The online site kissmanga has amazingly translated pages of the story that's ready for your enjoyment. I personally also read the comments and discussion among the readers below each chapter, and their insights and their arguments among themselves also happen to increase my emotional investment on the story and the struggles of the characters. It's interesting to read about what fans think of certain scenes and how easy it is to misunderstand Kakeru himself whom some readers feel is too much of a downer and who cannot appreciate his friends's efforts to make him happy.

There are readers, who know enough about depression either through personal experiences with loved ones or as people who suffered from it themselves, who quickly come to Kakeru's defense, citing that he is not fully in control of his emotions and that, really, these are all a bunch of kids during puberty which only adds to their helplessness and confusion. If the writer finally updates with a new chapter, I could only hope it will touch upon about the more complicated issues and dangers of trying to help someone with depression when you yourself don't have enough experience or maturity such as Naho and her friends, in spite of their good intentions.

Nevertheless, I myself would gladly buy and wear a shirt that says SAVE KAKERU because I want the best outcome from his story because I've also learned to care about what happens to him and whether or not he can survive. We all want happy endings, or at least a manageable life for Kakeru who has tons of adjustment to cope for, and years of therapy ahead of him. But at least he will live.

Here are some sample pages:











Orange is a splendid, humane tale about friendships and self-love and I can hardly wait to read where the author intends to take this story next and how the pursuit to save Kakeru Naruse's life will be resolved. IMPORTANT: As I post this, a new chapter is out and there's only one last chapter to go!

RECOMMENDED: 9/10

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