Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Vol. 1

By Hiroyuki Asada
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

There’s no official creed of the United States Postal Service, but you often hear the following attributed as such: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." (Turns out it’s actually based off of Herodotus’ Histories.) I like to think that Hiroyuki Asada was inspired by something along those lines, though, when creating Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee. Of course, Tegami Bachi‘s postal carriers have bigger foes to worry about than snow or rain or heat, thanks to gigantic killer insects and worse.

In the world of Amberground, only an artificial sun hovering over the center of society keeps its people from being plunged into perpetual night. Instead, those who live near the core are the most privileged, living in a twilight-level of ambience, while those less well off are furthest from the sun, in almost complete darkness. And more often than not, the only ones able to travel from one region to the next and through the checkpoints are the Letter Bees, postal carriers who transport not only literal letters, but objects and even people…

Tegami Bachi starts off with an extra-long, 120-page first chapter that could have served as a (slightly slim) graphic novel in its own right. It does a good job of introducing the concepts and ideas of the world of Amberground, in a way that doesn’t feel like an expository dump upon the reader. There’s something intriguing about a world of night with just a single manmade item keeping the center lit for the most-privileged caste, as well as checkpoints and guard stations that keep the different regions separate save for the Letter Bees. Once nice fake-out is that Lag Seeing, the main character of Tegami Bachi, starts out as a supporting character in the opening chapter as he’s transported by a Letter Bee to his aunt’s home town. It lets the reader experience the strangeness of Amberground through Lag’s eyes as he leaves his sheltered life and discovers all of the dangers and society that he’d been kept from. By the time the introduction is over, it’s easy to see why Lag would want to become a Letter Bee as well, and the series’ five year jump to Lag preparing to become a full-fledged Letter Bee is a smart one.

Tegami Bachi has its dark moments, no pun intended, but some work better than others. Lag as well as Letter Bee Guache Suede have tragedies in their past, but they don’t stay buried for long. Letter Bee’s weapons shoot shards of the user’s "heart" at the Gaichuu monsters, which both serve as a chance to stir up those memories and emotions, as well as stand in with a slightly clunky metaphor for the main characters’ vulnerability. On the other hand, after Lag rescues Niche, her repeated comments about how no one has ever forced her to wear underpants comes across in an uneasy way. For a story aimed at teens, it’s honestly hard to tell if this is supposed to be played for comedy (wacky underpants hijinks ensue?) or serious (insinuations of sexual abuse). With the character appearing as a young child (although there are hints she’s older than she seems), I can only assume it’s the former based on the overall tone of Tegami Bachi, but none the less it stands out like a sore thumb.

Hiroyuki Asada’s art in Tegami Bachi reminds me a lot of Takeshi Obata’s work on Death Note, with its use of heavy inks to help make everything seem weightier and more textured. I love the folds and drapes of Guache’s scarf, for example, and the way that it curls and hangs around his neck and shoulders. In a world of mostly night, this darker style with its use of pools of black is a perfect choice. While I love the personal styles of Asada’s characters, though, the one let-down are the Giachuu insects, which look surprisingly non-threatening. I’m hoping later volumes make them feel a bit more fearsome, because their current depiction fails to evoke any sort of feeling of danger.

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Vol. 1 is a good introduction to Asada’s series. I’m hoping that now the "pilot" episode is over, things pick up a little bit more with Lag’s decision to become a Letter Bee and we see more of him in the world of Amberground. Still, there’s enough already here to make me want to read a second volume. Being a letter carrier in a world where travel from one zone to the next is strictly monitored has huge potential, and Asada looks to have the skill to fully exploit those ideas.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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