Teenage Love, Teenage Death: Should You Be Reading ‘Orange’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
Ichigo Takano's Orange takes divergent timelines, suicidal ideation, coming of age, and the struggles to communicate oneself cleanly in even the most dedicated friendship systems, and wraps them all up seamlessly in a sweet, compassionate teenage romance. It sounds impossible, offensive, even farcical, but that's why you need to read it. It has to be experienced to be believed. Orange ends its run this month, so get it while it's still hot.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
When she's sixteen, Naho receives a ten-page letter that claims to have been sent by her future self. It details the arrival of a new boy in class, and lo, he doth appear. The letter explains to Naho that this boy is a source of deep regret for her future self: in the future, he's dead.
Adult Naho wants her younger self to find the confidence to express the feelings of love and care that she felt towards this boy, and for her to work at creating a world in which he can live. The letter describes certain things that should or should not, be done in order to achieve this goal. For example, she tells herself that the friends should not invite this boy, Kakeru, to spend time with them on his first day at school. Why? Because in the version of events that adult Naho lived through, Kakeru's mother committed suicide while he was with them --- and not with her.
But Naho doesn't read ahead far enough to discover why they shouldn't invite him, and she's not confident enough to challenge her friends' idea when they suggest Kakeru accompany them after school.
In both versions of Naho's timeline, Kakeru must live with the regret that he feels after his mother ends her life. Young Naho's only ally in helping Kakeru process his feelings is a letter written by a version of herself who lived through Kakeru's own suicide. A twenty-six year old Naho, married, who made a new life for herself (and a new life from herself), but carries regret at never having found the social fortitude to tell Kakeru I accept your pain.
Orange follows the divergent timelines by keeping adult Naho's letter as a regular narrative voice (keep an eye out for Carl Vanstiphout's lettering; the choice of tall, elegant capitals on these letters is just portentous enough), as the changes that Naho makes -- just everyday acts of bravery, like asking a boy to hold her hand -- create bigger and bigger waves, without providing a clear path for Kakeru from suicidal to "cured".
WHO’S IT BY?
Ichigo Takano debuted at eighteen, with Ookami Shounen: a story about a boy who isn't bad enough to date the girl he likes, so he pretends he's a werewolf. She doesn't have a lot of attention from English-language publishers, but her body of work seems to favor considered takes on wish-fulfillment, the wholesome pain of separation, and coming to terms with fate.
Her linework is extremely appealing, almost chewy, and her eye for hairstyles, fashion and fabric weight compliments the social relevance of her stories. Fashion is now, problems are now... if we have to have problems, at least let's have the sweeter sides of life, too. Never underestimate how much clothing (style, shape, fit, garment) can tell you about a character.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
An earnest attempt at dealing with teenage suicide in a truthful, uneasy, forgiving way. A way, in fact, that is subsumed by the romance between Kakeru and Naho: it's an integral facet of the book, but it is not the entire focus. Naho wants Kakeru to live, that's just the baseline. But she also really fancies him, and that's the carrot on the end of the stick. Don't keep reading to see if he dies. Keep reading to see if he gets to love the girl as well as he wants to.
But it is important to note how Orange treats suicidal ideation. A later chapter is given over entirely to the Kakeru of the original timeline, between the afternoon his mother ends her life and the moment that he ends his own; we recognize the beats, having heard about them in adult Naho's letter and seen altered versions of them in "our time". But here they come one after another, with no breathing space, and what seemed light becomes unrelenting. It's all over so fast.
Layer after layer of behavior is peeled back to reveal a character's intention and motivation; Kakeru's mother is given a posthumous moment to explain how the world looked to her, and how reasonable her hurtful decisions look when presented with the values as she saw them. We cannot always keep communication at the quality we desire it to be, for many human reasons, and so we will hurt people while trying to do our best for them --- or while we only try to live our best individual lives.
Miscommunication, shyness, awkwardness, privacy and pride hinder all characters in Orange, healthy and ill, and these interpersonal hurdles are treated at every turn as things that simply are. We are all scrambling to overcome them, and that this is a community effort, with love and forgiveness as givens, is right.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Everybody in the whole, wide world. Teenagers. People angry with their unreasonable loved ones. People who don't like to talk about mental illness. People who like to read comics that have great fashion and cute hairstyles. Seriously, everybody.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?
Futubasha Publishers’ simulpub feature on Crunchyroll allows readers to catch up with the story as it comes to an end on August 25th. Two omnibus volumes will be published in English, collecting the Japanese-language release's five smaller books. A film adaptation is coming this December.