Naho Takamiya is a normal high school student until she receives a letter from herself, ten years in the future. The letter documents all her past regrets and how to avoid them, but her biggest regret? Not being able to help a boy named Kakeru.
Orange is a Shoujo/Seinen manga created by Ichigo Takano. Currently ongoing in the monthly magazine, Monthly Action, it is also available on Crunchyroll. Readers who enjoyed titles such as Nana or Sand Chronicles will enjoy this series. Just be prepared to have your heart ripped into pieces while you do.
The manga opens up on Naho, a girl who is quickly revealed to be shy, passive, and experiences anxiety over the idea that she might do wrong to others. When she receives a letter from her future self she finds out that all those moments where she gave into anxiety have led to years of regret. The future Naho gives clear instructions of alternative choices she had wished she’d taken. Hindsight is 20/20 after all and there is a chance to fix these missed opportunities.
Some of the biggest regrets in the letter center around a boy named Kakeru, who transfers into Naho’s class the day she receives the message from the future. At first Kakeru seems like the usual good-looking Shoujo love interest and he easily fits in with Naho and her group of friends. Then the letter reveals a darker side to his always present smile. In the future Kakeru is not a part of their friend group anymore because, as the letter warns, he dies in high school.
It’s one of Future Naho’s biggest regrets, not being able to help the boy she had always had a crush on. Now she hopes her past self will be able to speak up where she had always given in. It is a beautiful message and one that will speak to all ages. Now, at the same age as Future Naho there are a million regrets I wish I could communicate to my younger self.
Regret is a key theme of the manga and shows up in various ways as Naho overcomes her fears. The emotion comes in all forms for all characters. From Naho not volunteering to play softball to Kakeru’s regret over his mother’s death. The manga also highlights how both characters handle their regret differently. For Naho it’s something she carries quietly in her heart for nearly ten years while moving on with her life. While the future letter reveals Kakeru’s regret was eating him from the inside out bringing him into a deep state of depression.
While the premise hints at science fiction elements the real heart of Orange lays in how time travel gives a subtle tension to the rest of the drama unraveling around the characters. Once Naho starts changing the future, the letters don’t always match up and there are somethings she fears that are set in stone to never change. This is highlighted in particular with Kakeru’s depression as Orange dives into a terrifying question. When someone is truly depressed, can they truly be saved? Naho shows she can overcome her own anxiety and bring Kakeru a few moments of joy but just as often as those moments appear there are times where he set in his downward spiral.
I’ve written about how Shoujo Manga features Women with depression before but Orange is one of the few that has a male protagonist with the mental illness. It is also one of the most realist portrayals of depression and anxiety I have ever seen in the artistic form. It is also a great of example that shows friends how to treat people with depression. Naho, a character who is already cautious about her words, does her best to tell Kakeru how she feels and encourages him not to bottle up his emotions. With the letter’s help she would be able to identify Kakeru’s depression, something her other self was never able to do, and thus help him.
While the idea of using time travel to deal with one’s regrets still crosses the line of realism and science fiction. Orange offers a few valuable lessons about the feeling of regret. Even with the letter in hand, Naho discovers there is no such thing as a world without regret. She still makes mistakes, still has the ability to say the wrong thing or make the wrong decision. The key difference between the Naho of the present and the Naho of the future, is that she now acts on her feelings instead of passively watching the world. Kakeru is still very much like the old Naho when the story begins, he does not talk about his feelings unless people ask and he isn’t vocal about what he wants.
Going forward it will be interesting to see how the love story between the two progresses. As a Shoujo Orange has managed to avoid some series troupes like; the love-triangle, the flawless love interest, and bumbling romance. The communication problem between Naho and Kakeru isn’t simply that they won’t tell each other how they feel. Instead they deal with more emotionally serious problems as Naho tries to figure out how to best support Kakeru’s mental illness.
I wish Orange was a manga available to me when I was in High School or even college because it shows just how important communication is for those feeling depressed or helping a friend with depression. Already this manga is teaching me the power of words, both in how I use them and how I don’t. I am eagerly awaiting the next monthly update for the Manga even as it hurts that place where my feelings are.
Overall Rating: A