Title: Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee
Author: Hiroyuki Asada
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump)
Volume: Volume 4&5 (ongoing), $9.99 each
Vintage: 2008 by Shueisha in Japan, February 2011 and May 3, 2011 (respectively) by Viz Media
Genre: Steampunk, drama, adventure
Lag Seeing is a member of the government mail carrier service, the Letter Bees. Because the land of Amberground is in perpetual darkness, and large insect-like monsters called Gaichuu roam the land, many of the towns are isolated, and the regular citizens are not able to travel between towns. Instead, they send their thoughts to their friends and loved ones in letters which are delivered through great peril by the Letter Bees. Lag himself was once a letter, delivered by well-known Letter Bee Gauche Suede. Due to Gauche’s diligence and bravery while delivering him, Lag decided to become a Letter Bee as well, to be like his new hero, Gauche. Lag finally became a Letter Bee, only to find out that Gauche had been missing for several years. Determined to find Gauche and bring him back, Lag has searched for clues while on his deliveries. He has even met Gauche’s sister, Sylvette, and learned that no only is Gauche missing, but that he was let go from the Letter Bees after he lost his heart. With Sylvette’s support, his loyal dingo Niche (with her pet, Steak) at his side, and his new Letter Bee friends Connor and Zazie, Lag continues his journey to track down Gauche and return his heart to him.
With Gauche’s Nocturne No. 20 officially handed over to him by Sylvette, Lag sets off on his first solo official delivery, picking up a letter in Black Milk to deliver to Northeast Yuusari. Along the way he bumps into Letter Bee Moc Sullivan, who criticizes Lag’s ability to see heart (the spirit amber in his eye lets him reveal heart, or people’s memories), saying that Letter Bee’s don’t need to know what their letters contain or what they mean to the people involved. His philosophy is that letters are simply meant to be delivered, and that’s that. When he picks up a letter full of lies, Lag wonders if such a thing is even worth delivering, for how could a letter of lies really carry any heart at all? On their way back to headquarters, Steak is captured by the eccentric Doctor Thunderland Jr. Doctor Thunderland is a biological doctor, and spends a lot of time dissecting animals to develop vaccines and medicines for various diseases. Steak, who is apparently one of the rare Kapellmeisters, is a great find for the doctor, but of course Niche and Lag won’t let their friend be taken. Thunderland is outrageously misunderstood due to this profession, but when Lag fires off his shindan bullet he finds a new memory of Gauche, and learns the truth about Thunderland. Sharing Lag’s desire to track down Gauche, Thunderland sends Lag out with a letter to be delivered to a mysterious person known only as “The Man Who Could Not Become Spirit.” Unfortunately, the town where Gauche said he met him, Honey Waters, is filled with anti-government citizens, and the town has banned the Letter Bees for the past five years. They land themselves right in the middle of a heap of trouble when they’re discovered by the townspeople and ordered to be captured by a woman named Sara and a large masked man with claws for hands who is claiming to be “The Man Who Could Not Become Spirit,” and members of an anti-government organization known as Reverse. The man called Master Hunt is clearly uncomfortable with his role, and helps Lag escape, though Niche, Steak, and Connor are captured. Below the city, Lag meets a young girl named Ann, who asks Lag to deliver a large bag of letters that the townspeople have been hiding away. Unfortunately, they are attacked by a massive Gaichuu that is drawn to the large amount of heart imbedded in the sack of letters. Things are made worse when the villagers, who believe in Sara and Hunt, call on their aid rather than let the Letter Bees do their job, but Sara and Hunt are not who they say they are.
Zazie joins the fray in volume 5, but things aren’t looking too good as the young Letter Bees struggle to take down the massive Gaichuu. As the Gaichuu begins devouring hearts, memories are slowly lost, until Lag shoots a massive shindan bullet, and the city is flooded with tragic memories, including another memory about Gauche…and the day Gauche met “The Man Who Could Not Become Spirit.” Now ostracized by the townspeople, Sara and Hunt decide to go to the Letter Bee headquarters with Connor, while Lag heads back on his own on foot. While passing through an area of tall rock formations, a mysterious man appears and takes the letter Lag was carrying for “The Man Who Could Not Become Spirit.” Lag immediately recognizes Gauche’s face, while Niche faces off with someone claiming to be the dingo Roda. As Lag tries to make Gauche remember who he is, Gauche brushes him off, claiming to have no knowledge of Lag, Sylvette, or anyone called Gauche. Though Lag is sure that it’s him, the man refers to himself as Noir the Marauder. The Marauders are bandits who are suspected to be working with Reverse to intercept the Letter Bees. Having been taunted by Roda, who claims that Niche is a failure as a dingo, and brushed aside by a very depressed Lag, Niche runs away. Refusing to return to Lag as a failure, Niche wanders the town sans pants until she grows hungry, and then tracks down a large oven at a bakery in which to cook Steak. There she meets the owners, Jacob and Sandra Gobeni. Misunderstanding Niche, they think she’s been abused and abandoned by a foster parent, but a freak accident in the town brings Lag and Niche unexpectedly back together again. Before they leave, Jacob gives Lag a special bullet called a letter bullet, that is able to convey the strong emotions of the person who fires it to the person it hits.
My opinion hasn’t changed much on this one. There’s nothing wrong with Tegami Bachi, but I’m just not that interested in it, personally. I couldn’t really tell you why; I simply don’t have a desire to dive into it like I do with titles I love. The art continues to be beautiful and and expressive; it has a mystical quality that goes well with the story. The story is unique, and the mythology is interesting, if you buy into the Albus Dumbledore Love Conquers All theology. When the books says that someone’s heart is in the letter they write, they mean that both figuratively and literally. Emotions transcend physical boundaries in Tegami Bachi and manifest in various ways. This is why Lag gets so frustrated over the man who writes letters full of lies to his mother, thinking that such careless words couldn’t possibly have any real meaning attached. For an instant he even wonders if it’s worth risking his life to deliver such a letter. Then there’s the Gaichuu, who rather than outright kill people, eat their hearts. People who are attacked by Gaichuu lose their hearts and become living corpses, until they waste away and die. This seems to mean that Gauche didn’t lose his entire heart, as he is still alive and kicking, though he clearly lost a rather large portion. We get to watch this happen in volume 5, as Ann, Zazie, and Hunt are almost devoured by a Gaichuu, and their memories begin to slip away. There is some rather strange stuff going on underneath everything. Sara and Hunt are able to convince the citizens of Honey Waters that there is a government conspiracy going on, and that the Letter Bees are involved; that, in fact, the Letter Bees themselves bring the Gaichuu with them and control them. They also make some rather disturbing claims that the government experiments on citizens in attempts to create man-made spirit amber. They’re lying out their asses, of course, but there appears to be some grains of truth in little hints we get elsewhere. Then there’s the anti-government group Reverse, which wants to cause a rebirth of Amberground, though the exact nature of that is still unclear. There’s plenty going on here, and the story is well told, so while I can’t get into it, I would still recommend it, especially if you’re looking for something a little different than the norm (particularly in the shounen genre). One of my biggest pet peeves occurs in these two books, and that’s the inconsistent spelling of a character’s name. Sara’s named is spelled both as Sara and Sarah. Maybe it doesn’t bother most people, but it’s a huge problem for me. Especially since both volumes have the same staff (adapter, translator, and editor).
Also, in case you missed it, April was Rumiko Takahashi month for the Manga Moveable Feast. Not having much Takahashi lying around, I did not participate, but a listing of all entries can be found at Panel Patter under this link, which will be updated with the full listing soon, as the MMF just ended Sunday.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.