Plenty of Heart – Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Manga Review.
Title: Tagami Bachi: Letter Bee
Genre: Shonen, Adventure, Fantasy
Viz Rating: Teen
Tegami Bachi seperates itself from more mainstream Shonen Jump titles instantly, its softly toned blue-white colour scheme a refreshingly calming alternative to the boldly coloured Naruto or Bleach, it is a mood that is eminated throughout the first two volumes of the manga, a mood somewhat unusual amongst most Shonen titles on the market. As Bakuman is keen to point out, the most popular Jump series are traditionally battle manga, so it is perhaps not surprising that a series like Tegami Bachi never featured in the main Shonen Jump lineup.
Tegami Bacchi (literally: “Letter Bee”) follows the day to day adventures of a “Letter Bee”, a government employee charged with delivering mail across the perpetual darkness of Amberground. Yes, essentially a postman. However, the job is not as easy as you may think, for amongst the wild darkness of the outer areas of Amberground lurk tremendous beasts that have a nasty habit of getting in the way. The giant insectoid “Gaichuu” are fierce creatures covered in armour stronger than swords, and ability to sense a person’s “heart”. Not only that, but the only way to kill a Gaichuu is to use a specially modified weapon to fire a fragment of your heart into one of its weak points, a concept strangely reminiscent of the Care Bare Stare, however, the results are gladly more spectacular.
The first volume of the series consists of only 2 chapters, with the first chapter acting as an epic 118 page prologue to the series itself. The chapter introduces you to the world of Amberground by following a 7 year old Lag Seeing, who has become the latest parcel for delivery by the cool and collected Gauche Suede. The real story begins 5 years later. Driven by gratitude to the compassion shown by Gauche (and a desire to find his missing mother), a now 12 year old Lag is finally on the brink of reaching his goal. All he has to do is pass an interview with the National Postal Service to become a Letter Bee, and be in with a chance of seeing Gauche and his mother again.
Lag Seeing is one of those cliched, bright eyed ambitious characters, with buckets of naivity and an insatiable desire to obtain success, whilst make the world a better place. It’s not an original concept, and one that normally grates on event the most patient of readers, but the strong moral obligations of Lag see the manga creating a very innocent feel to it’s storyline, as it mixes with his niavity to see him taking on unnecessary tasks, or being victimised by more cynical characters. Yet this doesn’t feel particularly artificial, and found me cheering for Lag to win through, a positive feature of any shonen series; though it doesn’t come without its flaws. As a highly emotionally extroverted individual, Lag is not afraid to show his feelings, and if not through a cheesey uplifting monologue, then they’re sure to show through his tear ducts. It is alarming how often Lag finds himself watery eyed, or bawling over some encounter or other (a feature also shared by a number of minor characters), and it is never particularly poignant. It feels almost as if Asada is trying to inject more emotion where it is unneeded, instead the abuse reflects more on the immaturity of Lag, and serves as a reminder that the target audience of Tegami Bachi is towards the lower end of the Teen spectrum. But I would urge older readers to look beyond Tegami Bachi’s target audience, and embrace its childishness. There’s a pureness to the plotline that is hard to find in popular shonen manga accompanied by an intriguing world that’s waiting to be explored.
There’s always a danger, having engaged the main character in employment as something such as a Letter Bee, that the manga reverts to an episodic structure, where each chapter brings a new monster/delivery/job related task, where the storyline is slowly advanced through some tenuous connection to the main plot. It would be remarkably easy for Tegami Bachi to fall into that trap, and it has flirted with the boundary at points throughout the first 7 chapters, avoiding it with a stronger interweaving plot than others that have fallen victim, with the occasional linking chapter for further development.
There are so many generic shonen manga available today, that it has become very hard to pick a series that isn’t about ninjas, exorcism, vampires or similar, however Tegami Bachi is exactly what I want from one. It is a story driven manga with an original and fascinating world, that adheres to enough of the shonen norms to make it a comfortable read for any of the demographic, providing you can handle a little cheese and plenty of sobbing.
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