Orange Volume 4 Review/Discussion
Synopsis: As the sports festival draws closer, everyone works harder to ensure that Kakeru and Naho grow closer to each other too. With the truth now out in the open, the group of friends can freely discuss and plan their next move while still keeping a lot hidden from Naho and Kakeru. Their efforts might be paying off as Naho and Kakeru finally start to take steps towards an actual relationship with a LOT of help and encouragement from them. Despite her initial decision to stop relying on the letter, after a most eventful sports festival, Naho realizes that there’s wisdom in following the letter after all even if it means bringing about changes and events that the letter is unaware of.
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
First off, we return to the group of friends (minus Kakeru) openly discussing the letters, its contents and how they’ve been reacting to it in secret so far…well, mainly Azusa and Takako. It’s understandable when they claim that they assumed the letters were pranks initially. It’s something a lot of us would probably assume as well in such a situation. When they admit that they encouraged Kakeru to date Ueda because they didn’t realize Naho actually liked him, it is a believable confession as well. Surely they cannot be blamed for being unable to read her as she has been shown to be someone who often keeps her true feelings hidden and buried from others. It explains why she is so into Kakeru as he seems to be like her and also the only one who was forthcoming and attentive to her feelings. Naho still struggles to understand Kakeru but thankfully, she is finally turning to her friends for advice regularly which should come as a relief to frustrated readers. Despite her best attempts though, she still needs some practice but that only makes it all the more adorable.
We also get a glimpse into Azusa’s letter to herself and see that she makes an active effort to follow its instructions, inadvertently setting something off between not just Kakeru and Naho, but Hagita and herself on her birthday. It’s great that the story often hints on their side romance as well. It feels like a sort of consolation prize for those who crave more romance in the story and it’s also a source of some cute comedy. And on a side note, Azusa’s letter looks just as adorable and bubbly as the writer herself.
Surprisingly..or finally, Kakeru and Naho finally have an honest heart to heart…well, they sort of do. Romantic stories are notorious for often dragging out the actual start of a relationship between protagonists and Orange feels like it’s determined to follow that trope. While our romantic leads do finally open up to each other, they still seem reluctant and hesitant to spill it all out. They both eventually end their ‘honest’ conversation by hiding that they both desperately want to be a couple. It’s a baffling event that is sure to annoy those readers that are either not familiar with this trope or are just plain tired of it. At this point, it seems like Orange is meant to be read as a story of friendship with some romance thrown in rather than a straight up romance. There is a lot of romance in it of course, but unless you like romances that are drawn out, you might find the budding friendships more appealing and satisfying to follow.
Chapter 14 onwards is all about the big sports festival day that we’ve been building up to for a while now and the event actually extends all the way to the end of this volume. A lot happens during this event. We get to see the parents and guardians of each one of our protagonists and even get to see a bit of their personalities just from the way they are drawn. We are also reminded that Suwa is really the most invaluable person in this story and most likely to be one of the main reasons the group of friends succeed in their mission to save Kakeru. It seems like despite their best efforts, Kakeru is not going to be enjoying this day which is something the letter had warned everyone about. The letters claim that this day in the original timeline greatly contributed to Kakeru’s growing depression and the group of friends try their best to fix it. Things seem to brighten up a bit when Suwa reveals that he followed the instructions in his letter but they are back to the normal level of doom and gloom before long. Things come to a head when frustrated by Kakeru’s refusal and hesitation to date Naho, Suwa declares that he will date her instead since Kakeru claims he has no interest in dating her himself and has no issues with Suwa dating her. Of course, we all know Kakeru is lying and it becomes abundantly clear that he is not okay when he bursts out in jealousy as he watches Naho tend to Suwa after Suwa gets injured during a sports event.
In the next chapter, everyone bands together to confront Kakeru and get him to realize that he has friends that are eager to listen and lend a helping hand. Hagita points out that Kakeru seems to have injured his leg and that could have led to him losing the race in the other timeline. After much prodding and cajoling, the group manages to push Kakeru into getting his leg examined. But despite their protests, Kakeru insists that he wants to and will still run in the relay race with them. Hagita seems to be the star for this chapter, with a lot of jokes centered around him and his observations being vital to the events in the chapter. This constant juggling of focus between chapters helps to make Orange feel more well rounded and establishes that every member of this group of friends is vital in their quest to save Kakeru.
Chapter 16 brings us to the grand finale event, the actual race. Everyone is fired up with promises of rewards for winning being made out to Hagita and Kakeru, our two male leads with strong potential love interests. In fact, Suwa turns out to be the person who gets Hagita and Azusa to date as he suggests that Hagita gets to date her as part of his reward for winning the race. Looks like a lack of girlfriend is making Suwa want to pair everyone else up. And of course, our team wins the race which ends up being a very bittersweet moment for Kakeru thanks to a flashback revelation courtesy his grandmother. It’s a touching and intimate memory, one that hopefully helps calm the demons in Kakeru’s mind and also one that is sure to move the reader.
And of course, this volume ends with a moment all the readers have been eagerly awaiting- a kiss. One that has been in the makings for forever and hopefully signifies a healthy relationship finally developing between our two introverted protagonists. However, the fact that we end on the kiss makes me worry that given how the story keeps pulling a 180 on its readers, we might be headed down a dark path in the very next chapter again. For now, as the volume ends here, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed and skip on over to Volume 5 in the hopes of a happy ending. Overall, this was another enjoyable volume and one that surprised me with how much of it was devoted to building up to the relay race. Of course, it did turn out that there was a lot of meaning and emotions tied to it for Kakeru and so it was nice having the author take their time dishing out the information to the readers. It was also good to see everyone making more and more active and sincere efforts towards helping Kakeru with his personal issues. We are seeing some of them grow and develop themselves making Orange more than just a romantic drama. It’s definitely developing into something that deserves to be promoted as a story that highlights the bonds of friendship and not just a romantic slice of life given how often our romantic leads need the interference and support of their group of friends.