by Hiroyuki Asada; adapted by Rich Amtower
published by Viz; $7.99 US
You will really appreciate the dedication of a mail carrier after reading Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee. The book contains two stories set in the dark world of Amberground, a place heavily divided by class. The different castes are separated by desolate wastes populated by metallic insects, making travel difficult. The Letter Bees provide the connections, delivering mail from one area to another.
In the first story, Gauche is trying to complete one more delivery before his promotion. Accompanied by his dingo, Roda, he finds that his package is a little boy named Lag. (All Letter Bees have dingos, which may or may not be animals, for companions and assistance.) The two must make a 10-day journey in order to get Lag to his aunt, since his mother is gone.
The characters are distinctive, and the author seems to have thought through the world-building. The images make the reader feel as though she’s in another land, even if sometimes the details (how does the magic gun work?) get lost in the images and cool concepts. It’s very visually striking.
The flashbacks resemble memories in the way they’re incomplete, suggesting more than telling. There’s plenty of adventure and emotion in the main story, as the two boys journey and bond together, leading to Lag vowing to become a Letter Bee as well. And, in the second story, so he does. This one is about how Lag follows in Gauche’s footsteps; delivers a little girl named Niche as a package; and finds his own dingo.
I like seeing a manga aimed at teens that emphasizes achievement, dedication, and hard work without being about fighting battles, but at times I did wish that this wasn’t quite so poetic. There’s lots and lots of talk about “heart” — how Letter Bees are protected by it, how they allow people to make connections based on it through letters, and so on — but not so much concrete information. I’m still not sure exactly what happened to Lag’s mother, for example, nor whether we will see Gauche again.
Perhaps that happens in the next book. The second volume, with more adventures of Niche and Lag, is due out in March 2010. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)