Shortly after receiving a letter from her 26 year old self warning her to protect and look out for the new boy Kakeru in her class, 16 year old Naho learns that her friends also received letters from their future selves, also with the protection of Kakeru in mind.
Now that she is able to be honest and open with her friends, they band together in their motivation to help and watch over Kakeru. Having learnt that Naho’s letter contains over twice as much detail as their own, the gang insist that Naho clearly means more to Kakeru than they do, and alongside helping him they want to push Naho and Kakeru together, with a romantic ulterior motive.
Takano ups the dramatic stakes of Orange in a way that had me increasingly gripped while reading this volume. Gradually she uncovers the full extent of Kakeru’s struggle with depression and grief, and the bond he shares with his friends and Naho in particular make it easy to root them as they work desperately to support him and offer him moments of happiness. This is all too painfully paralleled against the friends aged 26 paying tribute to Kakeru and praying that their letters somehow reached their past selves and saved him in an alternate world.
As Kakeru’s grief and depression is gradually brought to the forefront, Takano portrays a mind lost in despair and sadness with realism and ease. Kakeru’s depression is never shown to be something that is either impossible to fix or all too easy to fix. Rather, Takano emphasises the importance of emotional support as Naho and her friends continue to reach out to Kakeru in small ways, and attempt to prevent him from cutting himself off from everyone else. Takano neatly captures the nuances of what can and cannot be altered when it comes to depression – for instance, Naho attempts to avoid saying something that the letter tells her would make Kakeru lash out at her, but he lashes out anyway. This is clearly shown to be a part of his mental state at the time that could not have been changed, and reflects the complexity of depression in that sometimes kind words can help, and sometimes they can’t.
Kakeru’s struggle is brought to the forefront in this volume, but we also see Naho’s own journey as she realises what it means to help Kakeru, and that platitudes no matter how well meaning, aren’t always the solution. She remains a kind and sweet person, so it’s easy to feel for her happiness and pain when Kakeru lets her in or shuts her out.
Orange is a wonderful, emotionally resonant manga series that any romance fan should make sure to add to their collection. Tackling themes of depression and suicide in a mature and heartrending way, it offers a balanced and moving look at what it means to support someone in the throes of grief and unwaveringly be their friend.