I typically don't go for the whole "shoujo manga" thing — what with every character (boy and girl) looking almost identically effeminate, and with the main crush of the main girl being a total douchebag 95% of the time — but sometimes one will come along that does surprise me.
Yes, most of the shoujo shit out there is set in high school, and features a boring girl who comes across a brooding dick of a boy. And this girl is able to waste all of her free time trying to break into his heart and into his usually self-tortured world. She does this because not only is she as boring as an Amish kid waiting to grow his first chin-beard, but she is typically dumber than a box of teeth as well. And she gets the boy to see things differently than he did before. (Like, GASP! Somebody DOES care for him!) And by the end of the book she gets him to be very slightly less douchey. Maybe.
Anyway, you know that if the manga continued for another 2 chapters they'd break up because he'd finally realize that they have NOTHING in common, she's dull, and he's hot and a douche and he could have any other girl that he wanted... But I digress.
This shoujo manga, Orange, is a fairly typical manga aimed at teenage girls, and it's filled with the usual tropes and pitfalls that all manga of this genre fall for, but it (get this) actually has a plot, and that plot was more than just "can the dumb, boring protagonist get with the kind-of-an-asshole class hottie?" The main narrative of Orange is all about suicide prevention — a real problem for real peoples — and it's actually quite gripping and emotional (without being super clichéd about it). It drew me in and made me care for the core group of friends who pull together, due to supernatural means, to stop one of their own from throwing himself in front of a literal truck.
Orange goes a little something like this: right before her junior year in high school begins, regular-girl Naho receives a letter in the mail from "her future self." The 10-page long note tells High School Naho that it comes from 10 years in the future Naho who has some major regrets regarding a friend that High School Naho is about to meet. It gives her diary entry-like messages and instructions on what to do in order to keep this friend of hers, named Kakeru, safe, since he's not there with the rest of her buddies in the future.
At first, because she's a reasonable person who doesn't believe in time travel, High School Naho doesn't believe what her supposed future self is telling her in the notes that she received. She starts off by brushing the instructions off thinking they're some kind of really bad joke, even though the diary entries begin coming true, in great detail. It soon becomes clear that High School Naho missed her chief opportunity to alter the future due to her disbelief in the letter's legitimacy, and then she finds herself playing catchup in order to makes changes to the timeline in a desperate attempt to reshape her days of future past.
Sometimes the entries are right on the money with their prophecy, and sometimes they're a little off, and Naho can't figure out if it's because of changes she's already made, or if her future self is misremembering. Sometimes Naho can't build up the courage to do what her future self insists that she has to do, and sometimes she goes a little beyond what she's instructed by her future self to do. Time keeps wanting to correct itself though, and it seems to constantly fight against Naho's meddling (just like in Stephen King's 11.22.63!).
For example, future Naho guides High School Naho into avoiding a series of snags in conversations and activities that might upset, or set her new friend Kakeru off, and one by one High School Naho does the right thing, and chooses the correct adventure. But then, at the crucial moment that Future Naho warns High School Naho about, High School Naho says something different than what Future Naho had originally said, but it's still not the RIGHT thing... Hell, there really was no right thing to say at that time... It was just always meant to be. And things subsequently go to shit in a flaming hand-basket.
The main boy of the story is Kakeru, the new kid who just moved into Naho's small mountain town. For a shoujo series, and him being the main pretty boy, he's surprisingly likable. Not a dickhead or a brooding loser, and you actually give a shit that Naho cares about him and is trying to save him. The mangaka actually did a pretty good job of making a three-dimensional character out of this poor sap.
The rest of Naho's and Kakeru's circle of friends are all genuinely enjoyable characters too. They're all different, personality-wise, but they're all good people, and you can see why they all came together like they did in their teenage years. I liked the whole cast, and even laughed a bit at what the sarcastic guy in glasses always had to say. Sarcasm is always the best personality trait in my book.
That's all I'll tell you about the plot of this Orange series. It's too good to ruin things for you like this. It's a short series, and easy to gobble up the entire story in a morning or an afternoon.
I've stated it before, but I really must reiterate it here: Orange is VERY shoujo in appearance and art style, but it's a good story that's not just about a girl falling for a giant turd sandwich that the majority of all shoujo manga is about. There's actually a plot and a goal that has to be accomplished within a certain time-frame; it's not just a rambling "I love him, but he doesn't love me!" narrative. I wouldn't have given it a full 60 pages if that were the case.
Is the story perfect? No. It was good, but there were some instances where the author wrote herself into a corner, and couldn't get out without making some huge leaps in logic. The weirdest jump being when the science teacher just suddenly starts talking about time slipping and parallel worlds. The teacher just pulled that topic out of his ass at the end of class one day. It was like the mangaka was writing and thought "Oh shit... I guess I have to try to explain how the future Naho can send those letters, no? Better shoe-horn that in here somewhere." The problem with that is we DIDN'T need an explanation for the notes. The story was just fine if High School Naho received them via unexplained magic. It was just a strange, random moment that took me out of the narrative almost completely.
I was pleased that they avoid a LOT of overused, shitty plot devices that most shoujo stories run towards and embrace like a dog humping its neighbor's leg — embarrassed if normal people see it, but knowing that any fellow horny dogs would just watch on and nod in approval. The biggest and shittiest contrivance they avoided being CHARACTERS ACTUALLY TALK to each other. They don't just assume things when the plot gets complicated, nor do they let things get out of hand because they simply couldn't take a moment to ask a simple question like "Hey, why did you do that?" or "What are you thinking right now?" There's no Three's Company-like misunderstandings here. Everybody acts like a real person, not just a shittily-written character in a bad shoujo manga.
The part that I liked most about this series is the characters act like real teenagers. They're optimistic, and a bit shortsighted, which comes from having very little life experiences. There's lots of second guessing themselves too. Oh, and their interactions bring forth a lot of organic humor by the characters just being themselves. Well, mostly by Hagita being himself. That sarcastic bastard's my favorite cast member in this thing.
Anyway, Orange is also a story about regret. Regret and sacrifice. Who the fuck doesn't have something to regret from high school? There's a point in this tale when a certain character makes a HUGE sacrifice for somebody else, and only this one person gets to know about it. There is no bragging about it, no "Look at what I did, aren't I amazing?!" It was a completely selfless gesture that could have cost this character their entire future, but they did it because they thought it was the right thing to do. It was something I, for once, don't think I'd have been able to do myself if I were in that person's shoes. Usually I can read a story and be like "Yeah, I would have done that exact same noble thing, had I been in the same situation," but not here. And the sacrifice was written so well, and was so natural that it didn't feel like a shitty tacked-on plot point.
Wow! This Japanese comic gave me some major league flashbacks to mah years in high school. There was this kid there — we all called him "Richard the Dick" for some reason — who we all mocked mercilessly! He was a stringbean of a boy, his hair was always greasy, and along with his horrible complexion, he had a terrible habit of talking to his shoes whenever he was forced to interact with other people. We took it upon ourselves to make his life a living hell.
We'd knock his books out of his hands whenever we saw him walking down the hallway, trip him in front of girls that he liked, dump our Cokes all over his head as he sat all alone at lunch, and we'd even go to the Micky Dees he worked at on the weekends in order to make fun of him during his time away from school.
Good times for all!
Wait... The Rossman tells me this show is actually about suicide prevention... Ohhhhhh. No, Ah don't have anything to compare it to from my real life then.
A manga series called "Orange?" Dealing with high school kids and strange supernatural circumstances? Really?
We did it better. And 30 years earlier.