Having moved all over the country for the better part of a year working one-month stints as a pharmacy student, I have come to appreciate the postal system. It has often been a physical link to family and friends when I was in an unfamiliar location. When everything was an unknown to me, I was always able to get a good-luck letter or care package in the mail, send a post-card, thank you note, or birthday wish. That sense of closeness despite my distance from what I know and care about has been a source of comfort in some pretty dreary times. The lengths that the postal service will go in order to deliver packages to me has also impressed me, especially during this harsh and unforgiving winter. However, just because I like getting mail and I don’t complain all of the time about the post office being a government-sponsored monopoly doesn’t necessarily sell me on a manga that is focused on these ideals. But, they say you can write comics about anything, and Tegami Bachi is one that does its darndest to prove it.
The series features a young man named Lag Seeing in a perpetually dark world called the Amberground. Man-made stars are the only source of light in the world, and the rest of the Amberground is darkness and Gaichuu, monsters made of plate metal and bad intentions. In order for people to communicate with one another, they must send letters using the Letter Bees, a group of men and women who valiantly traverse through dangerous territory in order to make sure mail and other packages reach their intended destinations.
The setting is vibrant and beautiful. Hiroyuki Asada is an excellent illustrator, and uses the thick black lines and swaths of black and white to infer depth and shadow, instead of specifically drawing it. This is unlike most art in manga, where the artist uses screen tones or cross hatching to develop depth. The art really sets Tegami Bachi apart from other books in the Shonen Jump imprint.
It is unfortunate that the writing that accompanies the great art of Tegami Bachi is not nearly as strong. This book took a while to get going, and while the setting adds a lot of interesting twists to the story, for now, it seems like the only things happening in the book are:
1. Killing Gaichuu
3. Delivering Letters
4. Proclaiming that Lag is going to work hard and become the Head Bee
5. Some combination of the above
While the specific missions have a bit of back story, they aren’t that interesting, and Lag Seeing is one of the least interesting heroes in a shonen manga currently being published in the USA. Far more interesting is the enigmatic and talented Gauche Suede, a character who delivers Lag to his family in the boonies from the City, and becomes Lag’s role model and reason for joining the Letter Bees.
Asada is not talentless when it comes to writing. He adept at slipping little notes of discord into moments that wouldn’t normally have them. He drops hints about things not necessarily being as they seems, so a sense of ambiguous foreboding as well as the bizarre premise of the book keeps you turning the pages. He also has the ability to create truly touching stories, and while he hasn’t hit all the right notes with some of his more poignant tales, he has gotten fairly close.
Tegami Bachi is a bit of a mixed bag, but it proves that you can write a manga or a comic about anything. I love flipping through the pages and looking at all the wonderful art; that said, I can’t recommend it for those who need their shonen manga to have a strong main character or find Lag’s crybaby antics annoying. Still, Tegami Bachi has a sort of unique charm not normally found in shonen manga, and Asada’s writing may improve over time, so for now, I will keep reading.