As most of you know, I don't usually write about manga that has not finished serialization. But I just cannot help up write about Takano Ichigo's newest manga Orange. Some of you may have seen her other successful shojō title, Yume Miru Taiyou (though it has yet to be finished scanlated), but it is Orange that I predict will be called her masterpiece. I can quite honestly say, I think it is the best shojō manga I have ever read. And it's not even 10 chapters in!
I've previously posted about other shojō titles such as, Strobe Edge, Kare Kano, Bokura Ga Ita, and 7 Seeds among others, but I am much more of an adamant fan of shōnen titles. As you can see from the other articles I've written, the shōnen titles overpower the shojō titles by a solid 2/3 to 1/3. Part of this might be because of that mini Jump marathon I did, but I would mostly blame it on my personal tastes. So, I am going to focus on some shojō titles to give this blog, and my brain, a little balance.
While I will be the first to tell you that I don't and haven't read many "classic" shojō titles, I can tell you that I have heard of them and usually know the general plot lines and tropes that they carry. I haven't read Nana and I've actually never read Hana Yori Dango, but I know almost everything about them because they are so popular and I just cannot stop hearing about them. Not even those, I can probably go into detail on the different tropes that shojō manga relies on. For example, Kimi ni Todoke, Suki itte Ii na Yo, and Hiyokoi all have the same trope of the popular guy in class, who is usually very "refreshing" and nice to everyone, getting together with the shy outsider. Of course, the trope is used differently between all three of them based on the intended readership. Kimi ni Todoke, which captured national attention with not only a 2 season anime, but also a live action adaptation, is easily one of Betsuma's most popular manga and the one aimed at the widest audience. Whereas Suki is aimed at mature audiences, as it is a josei title and Hiyokoi, published in Ribon, is for the middle school crowd.
So, without further ado, I shall get started on what my thoughts and feelings are on Takano Ichigo's manga Orange.
When I read the first chapter of this story, I was instantly hocked by the psychological undertones I could already see developing. Everybody has regrets and we all wish we could go back in time and change decisions we have made and words we've said. Even before you get to the full implications of why the letter(s) are being sent out and how life changing their presence is in the lives of the characters, Takano already layered the plot with so much depth in understanding of human nature.
When you read any shojō title, it is easy to see why they are usually so compelling as they usually deal with emotions, relationships, and (sometimes) sex. These are the three most intiment aspects and parts of a person. I usually draw a connection between shojō manga and Romance novels in the Western market for these same reasons. Shojō manga and romance novels both have some very strange and sometimes horribly unhealthy plot points and situational circumstances, but they both give an open space for readers to view and understand different aspects of themselves (be it their sexuality or morality). This facilitation to allow readers, who are usually female in gender, can be argued as a small or large step forward for feminism. These genres usually have little to do with men finding ways to identify with the male characters like within yaoi and shōnen ai (though there are usually evolutions of the male characters in the plots.) and have everything to do with the female reader and what the editors think they want.
Since Orange is a Betsuma title, like Kimi ni Todoke, the readership is broad enough that it can go from middle school readers up to college aged young adults. Yet it also shows you a little about what kind of arc the female characters are going to going through. Looking at the main female protagonist in Orange, Kimi ni Todoke, Aozora Yell, and Aohararaido Naho, Sawako, Tsubasa, and Futaba are all looking to change themselves. While Sawako, Tsubasa and Futaba are all purposely looking to change, Naho is only changing because she has to in order to fulfill the requests she receives from her future self. There is a constantly unfolding development of not only their circumstances, but also their personalities and their slow maturation into adults.
I find this message so wonderfully gratifying. Especially after seeing how some of the most recent manga constantly ask the reader to sympathize with the "cute" character and to understand that just because they are "cute" does not mean that they are happy about it. A great example of this is Kurumizawa from Kimi ni Todoke. Girls, especially Japanese girls, need to understand that being "cute" and physically attractive does not make them happy, they need to understand that who they are as people is what is going to get them through life and actually help them achieve happiness.
As I mentioned earlier, I am very interested and attracted to the psychological aspects of this manga. Not only does this manga deal with the universally compelling wish to erase past regrets, but it also deals with suicide and real emotional trauma. Kakeru is the quintessential tragic hero. Like an onion, he is peeled back layer by tragic layer to reveal a boy lost and damaged by circumstances that he really had no power over. He is already established as an outsider because he is a transfer, but he is further marginalized by his circumstances. No father, living with his grandmother, and a mother who commits suicide, he is further developed in this "otherness" to not only the other characters, but to the norms of Japanese society. Unable to express his true feelings, he slowly rots and finally takes his own life. In a country with one of the highest suicide rates of any industrialized nation, Kakeru represents all the lost kids who have been pushed and shoved into a life they just cannot escape from.
The layering of this manga is done so beautifully I cannot express how perfect it is. Like Kakeru's character, it is the layers that are built and exposed that really make this manga what it is. Starting with the foundation of Naho's own evolution, the layers of past and future relationships and the dynamic of these characters creates an impressionist painting. You can still see the foundation when looked at in sharp focus, and when looked at as a whole you can see the beautiful final story.
The sheer response that this manga is getting not only in the fan communities but in Japan itself is a testament to how truly remarkable this manga is. While parallel worlds are not a new plot device in manga, no where has it been used in the way that Takano has used it. This is why, with only 9 chapters, this manga has already established itself among the mainstays of shojō manga.
Tell me what you think! What really draws you to this manga? I want to hear it all, even if you disagree with me, share!