Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Volume 1 by Hiroyuki Asada
Tegami Bachi starts off with a familiar device in shonen manga. A prequel chapter shows a cool older character meeting up with a little kid, who vows to be just as cool when he grows up. The land of Amberground is shrouded in perpetual darkness, with only the capital city Akatsuki illuminated by an artificial star. Mail carriers called Letter Bees are a rare class of people that are free to move from town to town as they complete their errands. Gauche Suede is a Letter Bee, charged with delivering a small child named Lag Seeing to his aunt. Lag isn’t thrilled about being a letter or going along with Gauche. His mother vanished and he’s being sent to his Aunt in another town. As Lag travels with Gauche he learns about the dangers of the road the Letter Bees travel. There are dangerous insect-like creatures called Gaichuu that lurk in the countryside and attack the Letter Bees. The central message of the first chapter is “You’ve gotta have heart.” The Bees have special guns embedded with spirit amber that are fueled with fragments of their heart, and they are aided in their journey by animal sidekicks called dingos. They are dedicated to delivering letters that express the hearts of the postal customers. Lag has an eye made of red spirit amber, which gives him the potential to have more power than the average Letter Bee. There was a little too much weeping for my taste as Lag processes his emotions about his lost mother and begins to relate to Gauche. After Lag and Gauche have many adventures along the way to their destination, Lag vows to become a Letter Bee when he grows up.
It is five years later and Lag is ready to leave his town to take the entrance exam to become a Letter Bee. Along the way he finds a girl stuck in a crevice with a misaddressed label stuck to her arm. Lag names her Niche. As they begin their journey together, Lag learns that Niche’s hair can harden on command into sword-like blades. She’s a powerful companion. Lag wants to find Gauche, but he has to become an official Letter Bee first.
I enjoyed the world building aspects of the title. The illustration of a world shrouded in darkness, with the only illumination being a false star that looks like a Christmas tree ornament made for some compelling images. Asada uses a thick line and European designs for his buildings, making some of the background images feel vaguely like wood cuts. I’m not surprised at a certain amount of fan service in shonen manga, but a subplot involving Niche’s refusal to wear underwear and Lag’s instance on giving her a pair of boxers was more than a little bizarre. I did like Niche’s Medusa-like superpowers, which reminded me of old issues of the Fantastic Four.
Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Volume 2 by Hiroyuki Asada
The second volume shows Lag and Niche on their way to the Letter Bee headquarters. They stop in a town that’s the end of the line and quickly get into trouble when Lag’s transit pass is stolen by Nelli, a local street urchin. It turns out that she’s struggling with her feelings of anger towards an older kid in her town named Jiggy Pepper who left to become a Letter Bee. Her little brother died soon after Jiggy left, leaving behind a letter that couldn’t be delivered. Lag goes beyond the call of duty to try to help resolve Nelli’s situation and then travels on to face his Letter Bee test.
I thought the underwear shenanigans that I found off-putting in the first volume were mitigated by the second volume. It was pretty hilarious when Lag asked Niche what she was wearing on her head and she produced an animal that was all mouth and sharp teeth and announced that his name was Steak. The reader learns more about her background as a semi-mystical creature known as “the Child of Maka.” There’s a little more action and less angst from Lag as he battles the forces that tormented Nelli’s heart and then turns to his outward test of Letter Bee ability. The art in Tegami Bachi can sometimes be a bit on the crowded side, but I actually enjoyed all the extra tiny stars that often decorate the panels, as they help remind the reader of the fantastic world that Lag is navigating. I have to say that the covers illustrations for these books are incredibly attractive, with tones of blue and lavender serving to illustrate the darkness of Amberground. I wish there were even more color pages included in these books, although there are a couple at the beginning of each volume. I’m glad I read the first two volumes at once because after reading the second volume it was clear that Lag’s adventures are just beginning. There are hints of additional subplots that might be explored like the motivations of various people in the Letter Bee bureaucracy and Lag’s quest to find Gauche again. As long as Tegami Bachi concentrates on action and world building I’ll be interested to see what happens next.
Review copy of volume 2 provided by the publisher