Tegami Bachi 7

April 11, 2012

Hiroyuki Asada – Viz – 2011 – 13+ volumes

I had all but given up on this series. The artwork is really great (which is something I almost never comment on, so take my word for it that this series has some unique art), but the stories about heartfelt letters that Lag Seeing has to protect and carry… they were just too cheesy, and weren’t all that touching after they’d been repeated over and over again. When not even Gauche Suede’s re-appearance managed to get me excited again, I threw in the towel. Tegami Bachi just wasn’t for me.

But I tried one more volume, and I wound up liking this one. Go figure. It’s more plot and character-focused than the one-shot chapters usually are. Lag and Niche wind up in the town where Niche was born, and we find out both the legend surrounding the Children of Maka, and the real story behind them. We also get to meet Niche’s sister, and she talks about the gigantic insects, the insects encased in amber, Lag’s eye, and what Lag may or may not be. There are still only hints about Lag, but we do find out everything there is to know about Niche.

This one was less sentimental than usual, which might be why I liked it. I thought the approach to telling two sides of the same story was very interesting, and it also served its purpose of turning the townspeople against the Children of Maka and turning the Children of Maka against the townspeople. Unfortunately, it’s easy to hate Niche’s sister, and her motivations for acting seem to be based on… instinct, rather than emotion. It’s an interesting contrast to the rest of the characters, who are driven on almost nothing but emotion.

There’s a little bit of action, which always looks great in this series. Bonus points for being an action scene between Niche and her sister. The character designs and battle methods are more interesting than simply firing a gun, and the art makes them look even more spectacular.

I’m not sure if this volume redeemed the series for me, exactly, but it did get me interested in Lag’s origins once again. While I’ve more or less lost interest in the quest to save Gauche’s heart, I do want to find out more about Lag. There was also a separation between Lag and Niche at the end of this volume. It’s implied to be a brief separation (she simply needs to recover from injuries), so maybe it’ll just be one chapter she sits out. But there are lots of places a dingo-less Lag story could go, so I also wonder if maybe she’ll sit out a little longer.

Better, much better than the usual volumes lately. I’m interested again, and may grow fond of it if more volumes advance the plot rather than deal with the sentimental letters. Then again, the latter is kind of the theme of the series, so I’m probably just reading it for the wrong reasons. Still… I can hope. I’ve got two more volumes to try out and see if it continues to my liking.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Tegami Bachi 6

February 22, 2012

Hiroyuki Asada – Viz – 2011 – 13+ volumes

Yeah… I’m still not feeling this one. It has wonderful art, and does a wonderful job of bringing the fantasy world it creates to life. I really can’t get enough of looking at it. But the stories… they’re just about the strength of the heart over and over and over again. It’s just sadness and bittersweetness and whatnot in every chapter, and I just wish something different would happen.

It almost does, in this volume. The story finally introduces Jiggy Pepper, the express letter bee. He’s pretty cool, in the heroic rides-a-motorcycle-and-fires-a-gun way. He offers advice, but that’s about it. The bulk of the chapter he’s in is about a lonely old man in a lighthouse. The story before that is about a woman who can’t write letters, so draws pictures instead to cheer up her mistress. There’s another story about a little girl that wants to make a doll for her older brother to remember her by when he goes away. This parallels the life of Gauche and his sister.

It’s heartfelt, and well-written. But I’m starting to get tired of these types of stories. They’ve done about all they need to to give the reader a feel for Lag and the rest of the cast. I keep hoping a larger story arc will start before too long.

I might get my wish, because the end of the volume has a chapter where Lag and Niche take a trip to the place where Niche grew up, and along the way Lag finds a bullet with enough heart in it to let us know what happened to make Gauche evil. But… even this story wasn’t all that interesting, and it involved the main characters and the plot of the series.

I’m going to try a couple more volumes. It’s technically a good book. There’s nothing wrong with the stories, and they are well-written and genuinely sad. But I find that I want something more from it. But if nothing changes in the next couple volumes, I’m going to have to give up and declare it not for me.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Tegami Bachi 5

November 10, 2011

Hiroyuki Asada – Viz – 2011 – 13+ volumes

While I still love the art in this series, I find that I’m less enamored of the story with every volume. And that I wasn’t impressed this time around is a bad sign, because Gauche Suede reappears, something that we’ve been looking forward to since volume two.

It’s a little too sappy for my tastes. At the beginning of this volume, Lag is still helping the rogue town defeat their monster, but of course a monster defeat only means a sentimental flashback for at least one of the characters, in this case the side characters that had pretended to be “the man who could not become spirit.” After this, Lag runs into Gauche, but it does not go as he imagined, and he runs back to the Letter Bee home base, heartbroken. He cries for awhile, and this drives Niche and Steak away. Niche is upset that she let Lag get hurt in Honey Waters, and thinks she needs to leave him because she can’t cheer him up and there’s a better dingo out there for him. This leads us to a side story about a family that falls in love with Niche, and this story is full of all sorts of feel-good moments.

Lag is so sad, in fact, that they have to throw a party to cheer him up and remind him that he’s not the reason Gauche is the way he is. Gauche’s sister has to console him. This is not the kind of main character I can root for. Lag is too much of a crybaby. This series is trying so hard to pull my heartstrings, and it just isn’t working. It’s too obvious. You can’t be sad and weepy all the time. It worked at first, since Lag needed something sad to inspire him to become a Letter Bee, and yes, even Gauche disappearing is within the realms of believable sadness for me. But Gauche coming back like this? The fact that a sad story goes along with every letter? Every monster slaying? That this volume consisted of nothing but sad stories and consolation?

It breaks my heart that the story is so weak, because the premise is still wonderful, the setting is amazingly detailed, and the art is worth seeing. I’ve got… two more volumes of this series yet to read before I’m caught up to the current English releases. If it hasn’t turned around by then… I’m sorry, Lag Seeing. You’re just not enough of a manly man for my taste.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Tegami Bachi 4

August 9, 2011

Hiroyuki Asada – Viz – 2011 – 12+ volumes

As smitten as I still am with the art and the setting, something about the themes and characters are beginning to wear on me. Each of the stories in this volume simply come down to Lag insisting that “letters carry the sender’s heart!” hard enough to overcome whatever terrible thing is currently happening. That Lag isn’t really interested in anything else right now, and that the overarching plot is moving very slowly, isn’t helping much.

And yet, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. I loved the second story, which introduced the Letter Bee doctor Thunderland Jr. He’s an eccentric that is rumored to love nothing more than dissecting corpses, and is frequently seen trolling for deceased animals around the city. He identifies what kind of creatures Niche and Steak are right away, then steals them in order to “dissect” them. A fight ensues, of course, and the doctor is misunderstood, he’s a really great guy, there’s a reason he likes doing the dissections, blah blah blah. There’s the happy angle, but the fact he doesn’t really care that people call him the corpse doctor, and does genuinely love dissecting things to find out why they died, is fairly interesting. He’s also a pretty funny guy, and this story desperately needs someone other than Niche that isn’t totally serious about being a Letter Bee. Niche starts conversations about panties too frequently.

The story before this one is a one-shot about the crisis of faith Lag has about delivering a letter full of – gasp! – lies. Can a letter full of lies still be full of heart? Will he wind up telling this guy’s poor old mother that he’s been lying to her through letters? This was the first story in the volume, and the weakest. I think starting with this one after not touching the series for so long made my outlook on the rest of the volume bad, because there really is a lot to like in this series. Lag Seeing is just wearing on me a little.

Meeting Dr. Thunderland Jr. gives Lag a new lead to the whereabouts of Gauche, so he sets off to a town that’s been off the route for years to deliver a letter to “the man who could not become spirit.” The town is full of anti-government revolutionaries that are convinced that Letter Bees bring the monsters that attack the towns. The situation doesn’t improve when Lag shows himself, and then a monster attacks.

Don’t worry though, the villagers eventually figure out that the monsters are attracted to the heart in the letters, and things are looking good at the end of the volume.

And yes, I complain a lot, but this series really does have nifty, dark artwork and a fully developed setting like no other. The light-based systems in place in Amberground for hierarchy and wealth are quite interesting, and it’s clear that Asada puts a lot of thought into geography, since every delivery is accompanied by a map. There are also copious endnotes about all the unique objects and destinations in the series. And in this volume, we begin to see that Letter Bees use spirit amber in different ways, not just in a gun like Lag, and not only for hurting creatures, either.

It’s really good stuff, to be sure, but I do hope the plot and Lag begin to develop a little more in the upcoming volumes.

This was a review copy provided by Viz,

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee 3

September 18, 2010

Hiroyuki Asada – Viz – 2010 – 11+ volumes

Hm. This series still has a wonderful sense of place, a beautiful, original, and well-planned setting, and wonderful illustrations. The nuts and bolts of the fantasy world are spectacular, with the pictures to back them up. I just wish Lag was less of a wuss, along with everyone he meets.

There was lots of crying this volume. Crying over the revelation of Gauche. Crying when he met Gauche’s sister. Crying on one of his first real missions as a Letter Bee. And lots of melodrama and sad plots to go along with all this crying. And lots of promises that things will be better, that Lag would work harder to make things right, blah blah blah. I admire the scope of the project here, but I wish it was less depressing. That’s hard to pull off in a setting where 2/3 of the country doesn’t get the full benefit of sunlight, but I think it would definitely pick things up a lot if Lag went on missions that were more happy. Maybe reading Stolen Hearts put me in the wrong frame of mind to read this, too. I don’t know.

The plot this time around revolves around Lag letting the information about Gauche sink in, meeting Gauche’s sister, learning about the Night of the Flicker (a major holiday in this world), settling into his new life as a Letter Bee, and getting to go on a couple deliveries, one of which is very sentimental and involves a former Letter Bee and her dingo.

I still like this series a lot, and I still have plenty of hope for it (its strong points give it a place above plenty of other decent shounen manga, in my mind). I get a very Claymore vibe from it, if only because I love the amount of detail that goes into the worlds and special systems of each. And to be fair to Lag, he is only twelve years old in this volume, and starting on a new life, when he learns the hero he’d set his hopes and dreams to has vanished. I’m hoping to see him evolve into a strong, heroic character as the series keeps going, and I’d love to see more of Amberground along the way.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee 2

February 13, 2010

Hiroyuki Asada – Viz – 2010 – 9+ volumes

You know, if anything will cause me to start buying Shonen Jump regularly, it will probably be this series (well, this plus the fact I just realized the Impel Down One Piece chapters are being serialized right now, which is awesome). I liked the first volume quite a bit, but promptly forgot about it.  This volume has hooked me for the duration for the series, though.

I like pretty much everything about it, but I think its best feature is its atmosphere, assisted greatly by the art.  Amberground is a pretty amazing place, and having the characters constantly moving through the world of night and doing what they do amidst a sky full of twinkling stars and building silhouetted by the incredible night sky is pretty amazing.  I think I would love it for that alone.

But I also enjoy the plot of the series.  Admittedly, it’s like things we’ve seen before (a gifted main character with a hero to follow sets out on his own life’s journey to achieve his goals and meet back up with said childhood hero), but I think having the main character choose a career as a kind of fantastic mailman is pretty interesting, and I’m liking his journey so far to become one (though it seems like that’ll come to an end next volume).  I also like the quirky, ridiculous names in the series (Lag Seeing is the main character, and he has a dingo assistant named Niche who also carries around a little monster named Steak, there’s also Gauche Suede and Jiggy Pepper, fellow mailmen), and I kind of like Niche as a character too, creepy though she is with her underwear and all.  I had forgotten the ridiculous names, so the line on the first page, “Niche will become Lag’s Dingo!” made absolutely no sense to me in English until I read back through the plot summary on the next page.  All the same, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The art’s pretty incredible.  I mentioned it with the atmosphere above, but I also love the character designs and the way the rustic towns are designed.  All the little touches are pretty amazing, and I can see why he’s a contributor to Robot.

The plot in this volume worried me a bit.  I thought Lag might have to make a few more deliveries as a non-Bee before he got to become one, but it seemed like this was the last, and he took his test immediately after.  The conflict with the errant letter wasn’t all that interesting (a misunderstood motive behind a friend that departed), but the bridge crossing sequence and the Letter Bee test afterwards were both pretty cool.  I also loved both of the other boys who were trying to become Letter Bees with Lag.  I especially loved how the bizarre Niche schooled the first one and showed up the second one by quite a bit.  And I loved the tantalizing hint dropped at the end that Gauche might not be in the greatest position, which may lead to things outside the Letter Bee world.  Interesting.

But yes.  I like everything about it.  The plot does have a lot in common with standard shounen series, but the fantastic art puts it on another level, and there are just enough quirks and twists in the story to keep it interesting.  But hmm… is Tegami Bachi “graduating” from Shonen Jump?  That’s a shame, especially since the next graphic novel isn’t out until September.  Oh well.  The wait will kill me, and my interest will wane, but it’s likely I’ll be just as pleasantly shocked as I was this time with a wait that long.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Tegami Bachi 1

August 17, 2009

Hiroyuki Asada – Viz – 2009 – 7+ volumes

There are two things this series has going for it that make me want to like it by default.  One is that the world that it is set in is cast in perpetual night, necessitating the use of lots and lots of black, something you don’t often see in manga.  The other is that it seems to be establishing a fairly detailed fantasy world for the story to live in.  You very rarely see these done properly, so I get kind of excited when I see a good one.

This volume was mostly exposition, so I want to sort of reserve judgment until I read a bit further and see what the actual plot of the series will be.  It looks like the story will follow a young boy named Lag Seeing in his quest to be a Letter Bee (a type of mailman), find his lost mother, and also locate a Letter Bee that helped him out years ago named Gauche.  We even get a short story introducing his assistant, a young girl rather than the dog that most of the Letter Bees seem to use.

On the other hand, most of the first part of the book focused on Gauche, and we got quite a bit of background on him, so I’d hate to dismiss him as the main character.  I also liked him a bit better, since it was harder to get an idea of what makes him tick.  Sometimes his position is ambiguous, but he has goals, and seems mostly like a good guy.  In the second part of the book, the Letter Bee with Lag doesn’t really comment on Gauche, so it’s possible that something terrible happened to him, too.  I may be all right with that.

Action and drama seem to be the orders of the day as of this volume, because so far we have absentee parents, orphaned siblings, more than one orphaned child, and lots of tears and whatnot from Lag.  The “caste” system in the world the book is set in (called “Amberground”) also seems to lend itself well to this.  The action elements are mostly played out around sudden attacks from giant beetle-looking creatures called Gaichuu.  The Gaichuu are indestructible save for firing at their “joints” with a special gun powered by the user’s heart, which goes back to the drama element.  Later, there are fights with corrupt circus men or something.  It looks like Lag’s assistant is also up for a good fight, so that will probably continue to be something that happens as well.

I was very nearly turned off after the first bit of the book since the elements establishing the fantasy world come in very rapid succession.  I stopped and let the book sit for a day, and that seemed to help immensely since I wasn’t nearly so overwhelmed when I tried it again.  Once the initial information dump is taken care of, the story flows pretty smoothly, and if you find your eyes glazing over during the explanations, there’s a helpful recap in the back of the book covering all the main points that make Amberground unique.

This was a very solid first volume, and while the story hasn’t established itself as addictive or a must-read just yet, I was intrigued enough that I will definitely pick up the next volume.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.