Manga Review: orange -to you, dear one-

Manga Review: orange -to you, dear one-

This article contains information about depression and suicide which may be upsetting to some readers. Discretion is advised. This review also contains major spoilers for the original orange manga and anime series. Proceed with caution!

I first discovered Ichigo Takano’s orange during my high school trip to Japan in 2012. It was our last night in Osaka, and my friends and I stopped at a convenience store on our way back to the hotel. I walked by the magazine rack and saw the August issue of Bessatsu Margaret. Now, I didn’t buy it because orange was on the cover—I wanted the advertised manga anthology furoku instead—but I’m sure glad I did.

With all the commotion of the trip, I didn’t really have a chance to look at the magazine until I returned home. Opening the cover, I was met with a striking watercolor splash page of Naho, Kakeru and Suwa, the main characters of orange. And even with my limited Japanese language skills, I could tell this series was unlike anything I’d read before.

What’s orange about?

Set in Matsumoto, Japan, orange is much more than your typical high school drama. One day, 16-year-old Naho receives a letter in the mail from her future self. The letter explains that 26-year-old Naho regrets being unable to save her friend, Kakeru, a transfer student from Tokyo. Thinking it’s a prank at first, Naho soon realizes the letters are real as events described by future-Naho start to occur.

As the series progresses, Naho discovers her friends Suwa, Takako, Azusa, and Hagita have also received letters from their future selves imploring them to help Kakeru, who they learn will die by suicide if nothing changes. Without Kakeru knowing, the group tries to “correct” their mistakes according to the letters. At times, this means giving up their own happiness, particularly for Suwa. He’s loved Naho for a long time, but he decides to put that aside so Naho and Kakeru can be together.

Eventually, the day of Kakeru’s predicted death arrives. When Kakeru doesn’t answer his phone, his friends quickly go searching for him. They find him on the road, having narrowly missed being hit by a truck. Kakeru believed suicide was the only way to escape his depression but realized at the last second that by dying, he’d never see his friends again.

Like other stories involving time travel, orange plays with the idea of parallel universes. Even though Naho and her friends saved Kakeru in their reality, that doesn’t mean he comes back to life in the letter/future universe. Rather, their actions created a completely new timeline, one that Takano explores in her spin-off manga, orange -to you, dear one-.

One of Many Endings

By the time I finished the original orange series, I felt like all of the main characters were my friends, like I was part of their circle and that I helped save Kakeru. Maybe you did, too. Though we have to say goodbye eventually, orange -to you, dear one- gives us a little more time to spend with our companions.

Considered the seventh and final volume of the series, orange -to you, dear one- follows Naho and company’s lives after Kakeru is saved. The book is divided into seven short stories told from different characters’ perspectives: one chapter each from Hagita, Takako, Azusa, and Suwa, and three from Kakeru. These shorts were published from 2016 to 2022 in Futabasha’s Monthly Action and its digital counterpart, Web Action.

orange -to you, dear one- contrasts nicely with orange -future-, the previous spin-off volume that follows the timeline in which Kakeru dies. Given the content, the tone of -future- is quite somber. On the other hand, -to you, dear one- is much more upbeat with many heartwarming and humorous scenes.

A panel from the manga in which Kakeru comically pleads with Takako to not share his secrets

In the first four chapters, Suwa and the others reflect on the letters they received from their future selves, including the apology letters they wrote for Kakeru. Each character expresses the things they regret the most. For instance, future-Takako said Kakeru often lied about his feelings so he wouldn’t hurt Naho or Suwa. Takako thought that since Kakeru was a boy, he could handle things himself, but that wasn’t true. In the present, Takako does her best to earn Kakeru’s trust. By prying just a little, Takako gets him to admit he wants to date Naho. 

Suwa’s short story was bittersweet. As a fan of his (but also supportive of Naho/Kakeru), this chapter felt like I was punched in the gut while wrapped in a big bear hug. Even after saving Kakeru, it’s painfully obvious that Suwa still has lingering feelings for Naho. And now that he’s aware of parallel universes, he imagines there’s one in which he and Naho end up together even if Kakeru lives. So Suwa decides to put that timeline in motion by confessing, with predicted results. Knowing for certain his future won’t change, Suwa finally has the closure he needs to move on.

One of my favorite moments took place during Azusa’s short. She catches Ueda (Kakeru’s ex, if you can even call her that) attempting to steal Kakeru’s shoes. When Azusa goes to confront her, Hagita and Takako step in. Cool-headed as ever, Hagita leaves Ueda with some parting words: “Instead of making others miserable, I think you should focus on making yourself happy instead.” Of course, Ueda ignores him, but we can tell she’s annoyed. And she should be! Ueda’s really not a great person, so it felt cathartic seeing someone call her out, especially someone sharp like Hagita.

While the first four shorts were lighthearted (even Suwa’s, all things considered), Kakeru’s chapters are definitely more serious. His story centers around his desire to be strong, starting with an unexpected meeting with his estranged dad. Naho and Takako offer to join him, but Kakeru declines. He believes he must learn to face things on his own to grow. If he’s a stronger person, he can protect the ones he loves, especially Naho, as they protected him.

I think we’ve all met someone who has that same mindset: “I don’t want to live my life relying on others.” But that attitude hurts more often than it helps. Putting trust in others isn’t a sign of weakness like Kakeru initially believes. After all, Kakeru is alive in this timeline because his friends put immense trust in each other. Naho, Suwa, and the others constantly remind him that they will always be there for him, that they’d never be ashamed of him if he asks for help. And really, that’s the message of this manga: Life can be hard. We will feel sorrow and joy, pain and happiness. But we don’t have to handle things alone.

By the final page of orange -to you, dear one-, Kakeru is willing to face his future, unknown it may be, for his friends are by his side. The last panel leaves us with the main cast walking together on a beautiful spring day, the perfect wrap-up to such an acclaimed series. 

Right now, you can purchase the main orange series (Japanese volumes 1-5) in English as two omnibus volumes. The spin-offs orange -future- (Japanese volume 6) and orange -to you, dear one- (Japanese volume 7) are available as standalone books. All are licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment.

orange -to you, dear one-

Original Title: オレンジ -大切なあなたへ-
Author: Ichigo Takano
Release Date: 2022 (JP); March 7, 2023 (EN)
Publisher: Futabasha (JP), Seven Seas Entertainment (EN)

From the publisher: When Naho received a letter from her future self, it told her she needed to save the life of a boy in her class, Kakeru. At first, Naho had to shoulder this burden alone, until her friends revealed that they had also received letters from the future. Working together, they were able to save Kakeru’s life, and Naho and Kakeru started dating. But what happens next for Naho’s friends, now that they’re living in this brand-new timeline?

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