My expectations for adaptations can be summed up with a coin flip. There is a possibility that everything will go right, and there is also the chance that the producers will throw any semblance to the original out the window. Before we get into details on which side of the coin we got, let’s talk about what went down.
Orange Marmalade is based off a comic written by Seok Woo. The story’s main protagonist is Baek Ma-ri (AOA‘s Seolhyun), a teenage vampire who lives in an age where her kind face discrimination despite a treaty between humans and vampires. She does her best to live quietly among humans, but one day, she falls asleep on the shoulder of Jung Jae-min (Yeo Jin-goo), a human student who attends her high school.
Ma-ri accidentally nips at his neck during her bus ride, causing Jae-min to take notice of this strangely forward girl. When she wakes up, she realizes what she has done, but tries to pretend nothing happened. Jae-min, however, is instantly curious and pursues her, demanding an apology. Ma-ri acts as if she never met him, even though they’re classmates.
Meanwhile, another teen vampire named Han Shi-hoo (CN Blue‘s Jong-hyun) appears on a live broadcast to discuss the oppression of vampires. His actions do not go over well with the Vampire Control System (VCS), an enforcement group that regulates vampire laws. He is warned not to disturb the peace again, or he’ll face the maximum sentence. He’s ordered to transfer schools under a new identity, and given no Sun Protection Ample shots (SPA) as punishment. His uncle, Han Yoon-jae (Song Jong-ho), comes to his aid with SPA, explaining that he’ll be his guardian during his punishment.
Jo Ah-ra (Gil Eun-hye) has a huge crush on Jae-min, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Given Jae-min’s recent obsession with Ma-ri, it’s only natural that Ah-ra target her for annihilation, because this is a high school K-drama and that is the rule. Adding fuel to her jealousy is the scene that unfolds when a starved Ma-ri stumbles into Jae-min’s arms. Ma-ri pushes him away to avoid biting him, but ends up fainting into the available chest of Shi-hoo. He whisks her off to the infirmary and feeds her “tomato” juice, which is actually a blood pack. Being reunited with his childhood friend Ma-ri, he no longer regrets his punishment.
The sweet reunion is temporary bliss as Ma-ri becomes Ah-ra’s target for a plan to destroy her. Ah-ra stains her own gym clothes and feigns surprise when it falls out of her locker. One of Ah-ra’s minions targets Ma-ri as the culprit, inciting a mean girls showdown that prompts our male leads to rescue her from the hair-pulling danger of a cat fight. Shi-hoo takes the heat and confesses to the crime, causing Jae-min to lose face and gain a snarky rival.
Luckily for Jae-min, Ma-ri’s little brother Joseph (Jo Yi-hyun) gets lost, giving him another shot to regain his knightly status. This search is harrowing for Ma-ri because Joseph is at the age when he’s most likely to bite any human that approaches him. Jae-min finds him first, and there is a tense moment where Joseph comes close to a nibble, but Ma-ri discovers them before Jae-min becomes his snack. Jae-min is alarmed by Ma-ri’s response since he figured finding Joseph scored major points. Unfortunately, he’s still unaware that they’re vampires, and ironically, they run out of fear from him. This prompts even more awkward encounters between the two because Ma-ri can’t get over how sweet Jae-min’s blood smells.
Because it’s a K-drama set in high school, we must focus on other stereotypical tropes. Insert the basketball battle between the hot-headed male leads to reinforce their rivalry and prompt the audience with a brief flashback that reveals they met as kids also. We find out that Shi-hoo’s uncle Yoon-jae married Jae-min’s mom Kang Min-ha (Lee Il-hwa) years ago. Sadly, this backstory was poorly executed, leaving the viewing audience to believe he’s only pissed about his mother’s re-marriage to a vampire. I’ll discuss that later.
Ma-ri finally gains the courage to thank Jae-min and apologize for avoiding him. This is probably one of the more touching moments in the drama because she explains that she’s different from him, and it’s not easy for her to be as open as he is. She tries to make it clear that he’s privileged, so he doesn’t experience things the same way she does.
By “privileged,” I’m referring to the fact that he is human, which is the accepted majority in this world. This allegory speaks to any minority group that feels inferior because the accepted majority is regularly celebrated for being themselves. Vampires are themselves also, but viewed on uglier terms based on the prejudices set upon them by humans who believe themselves to be the superior race. In other words, vampires never inherently think of themselves as bad for being different, but their treatment by humans reinforces this belief that they deserve to be treated harshly for existing.
Once the air is cleared, Jae-min serenades his way into Ma-ri’s heart, and we head to the school festival where the band plays! Ma-ri gives another touching speech about why their band is called Orange Marmalade, in which she compares orange peels to misfits, and explains that they all come together to make delicious spread and music. Jae-min has an uncomfortable chat with his mother and continues to act like a prejudice brat about her re-marriage to a vampire.
Meanwhile, Ma-ri is playing guitar at a lighthouse because romance must happen. Logistics about how she got there and how far away the school is don’t matter because this is the perfect location for that first kiss between our leads. By the way, this happens at the end of episode three. Screw waiting an average of ten episodes before they lock lips! This is revolutionary!
Too bad it goes downhill from there. Once Jae-min and Ma-ri finally reach official couple status, we’re thrown back into more drama in vampire world. Shi-hoo overhears a conversation between Yoon-jae and Min-ha about how an incident with him lead to his parents’ imprisonment. Because humans witnessed his parents using their powers in public, they were punished. Jae-min just happens to be in the area when he eavesdrops on this argument between Yoon-jae and Shi-hoo. He confronts Shi-hoo and demands to know if he is a vampire. Shi-hoo reveals his identity, and they fight. Jae-min warns Shi-hoo to stay away from Ma-ri.
Ma-ri hears about the aftermath and checks on Jae-min who warns her to avoid Shi-hoo. She tells him that Shi-hoo has gone missing, so they search for him. While searching, they come across a kid crying for help on a crane. Jae-min saves the kid but ends up being hoisted into the air by a rope attached to the crane. He’s knocked unconscious, so Ma-ri tries to summon the courage to use her vampire powers. Shi-hoo swoops in, literally, and rescues Jae-min. An implant in his neck pulses an alert to VCS, revealing his location. He exits before anyone arrives, leaving Ma-ri to attend a bloody Jae-min. His blood is irresistible to her, so she bends down to bite him. Before she can sink her fangs into his neck, Ah-ra arrives and catches a glimpse of her. Startled, Ma-ri regains her senses and tells Ah-ra to call an ambulance.
Back in the hospital, Jae-min wakes up to the sight of Min-ha watching over him. They share a tender moment. Ma-ri, distraught and drained, encounters Ah-ra who asks if Jae-min knows she is a vampire.
The scene is quickly shifted to Shi-hoo standing on a cliff. He ignores a call from VCS but answers one from Ma-ri. He gives her some final words before tossing his last vile of SPA and allowing the sunrise to disintegrate him.
Jae-min learns about Ma-ri being a vampire from his classmates. No one knows where she is, so he searches for her. He finally finds her at the lighthouse, where they argue during a thunderstorm. Ma-ri almost falls over a railing, but Jae-min pushes her out of the way and ends up in the ocean. Ma-ri uses her vampire powers to rescue him from drowning. He survives, and they find themselves back on the same train where they first met again. He flashes back into a memory of a past life, and that’s the end.
Earlier I mentioned how adaptations either go really well or really badly. After four episodes, the main story has been told. Here’s the thing: That little past life blip at the end never happens in the original. In fact, this entire story centers around their lives at high school. There is no time traveling or past lives! An entire series was watered down to the bare-bones essentials of a typical high school K-drama.
To make things worse, we’re doing the past life trope now. What bothers me is that it’s very clear that the writer does not appreciate the essence of storytelling, which includes plot and character development. It’s too soon to say for sure if this move is truly disastrous because I haven’t watched the fifth episode for context. Still, if the first four episodes are any indication, then my hopes aren’t high.
Orange Marmalade isn’t some basic love story between a vampire and a human. It’s about how those two races relate to each other in a world that says they should be enemies more than friends. It’s about fear between the majority and minorities in society, and how that creates unnecessary tension. I don’t want to hate this series, but I’m finding it so hard to love anything.
I will say that Seolhyun did surprisingly better than I expected. She held just enough emotion to keep me interested, which I’m sure some viewers will call deadpan, but I’d rather she hold back a little than go overboard. That is my issue with Jong-hyun because he looked like he studied every contrived tough kid role. All the extra head-cocking, ubiquitous side-eye, and tongue-clicking was beyond annoying. I didn’t even care when Shi-hoo died.
Speaking of annoying, there is the matter of glossing over why Jae-min hated his mother. To be fair, those who never read the comic probably would’ve just accepted the bratty teen pissed over his mom’s choice for a second husband, but his actual fury called for more than “I hate vampires.” Had the plot included Jae-min’s child abuse from his step-mother and his parents’ divorce from the mom’s infidelity, then it would’ve made for a far richer sub-plot. In the comic, it was a really integral part of explaining Jae-min’s character and his relationship to his estranged mother. It also would’ve given us better context as to why he hated vampires.
Also, I wanted Ma-ri to have her best friend Jung Soo-ri in the story. A shame that her character wasn’t even considered as a role worthy of casting because she was a strong female ally. Jae-min served that purpose in the drama, but it’s still the same old, girl-must-get-boy-to-protect-her narrative that tells young women they can’t depend on themselves or each other but can always find safety and comfort in a good boyfriend. Even Ah-ra was extra catty as her bully. Did anyone ever consider the crazy notion that women can be actual friends and not fight over men? And let’s not forget, Ma-ri is a vampire with POWERS! She should be able to handle her own.
This is only the beginning, so it should be interesting to see where this story leads. Now that we no longer have a comic as a point of reference, we’re going to get the drama writer’s original take on this love story. Regardless of my severe ire for condensing an entire series in four episodes, I just thought this was okay. I wanted and expected more because of the source material, and now we see what happens when that is completely ignored.
Readers, did you enjoy it? Are you like me and also upset about the story compression? Are you unfamiliar with the comic and curious to read it now? Comment below!