N.B. This review contains some spoilers.
As sixteen year old Naho begins eleventh grade, she receives a mysterious letter claiming to be from her twenty six year old self. Her future self warns her that a new boy will be joining their class called Kakeru, and instructs her on all the things she must do and not do to watch out for him and prevent the regrets occurring that her future self has already had to live with.
Although Naho is initially sceptical of the letter’s authenticity, when Kakeru joins the class and events begin to occur as her future self had described them, she attempts to carry out her future self’s wishes and look out for Kakeru as best she can. Naho’s future self outlines particular “key moments” to her that she wants her to either carry out or prevent such as making him lunches, or ensuring that he joins the football team.
Naho initially doesn’t understand the purpose of some requests, and is not able to carry out all of them, in particular the kind of requests that ask her to reveal her feelings to Kakeru or connect with him in a way that her natural shyness prevents her from doing. When she finds out that Kakeru’s mother committed suicide, it gradually becomes clearer to her that the requests from her future self are less about just befriending Kakeru, but more about offering him emotional support in a way that may help prevent his death that is due to unfold in the not too distant future should Naho not be able to alter the course of events.
The scenes that the manga depicts of Naho as a sixteen year old are also shown alongside her life as a twenty six year old in the world where Kakeru’s death was not prevented. In this world, Naho has a baby with Suwa, a mutual friend in their group who held a torch for her since their teenage years. In this future reality, everyone leads a relatively happy life but painfully regrets the loss of Kakeru whose death they are not entirely sure was an accident. Naho particularly regrets that she had not been more honest and open with Kakeru about her feelings for him.
Orange is a stand out manga, with wonderful characterisation. Naho is a typical shy, caring female protaganist, but her feelings for Kakeru and desire to do the right thing by him and for her future self are wonderfully realised and never come across as overly saccharine or clichéd. Kakeru is presented as a warm and kind young man carrying a huge emotional burden which is always approached by the author with great care and sensitivity and never presented as something that can be fixed overnight. Naho and Kakeru’s unfolding relationship has all the sweetness and awkwardness of two young people coming to greatly care for each other and neither wanting to hurt the other or jeopardise what they already have as good friends.
Orange has over one million copies in print in Japan, and I did not find it hard to see why. This is a story that tackles strong emotional themes of suicide and depression in a poignant, thoughtful way and overall presents a more mature and well rounded portrayal of teenage life and first love than many other manga out there. I will definitely be purchasing the second volume of this series!