Manga Review - Tegami Bachi Volume 1
Tegami Bachi (テガミバチ) is a strange beast. It is so far removed from the shonen stalwarts like Naruto, Bleach and One Piece, breathing some much needed vigour into what can at times become somewhat repetitive. Fairy Tail can be strikingly similar to One Piece and Naruto to Bleach. Tegami Bachi (Letter Bee), on the other hand, is like nothing I've ever read.
"Gauche Suede is on his last delivery before a big promotion. In the outskirts of Yodaka, the darkest area of Amberground, Gauche is surprised to find that the package is a young boy named Lag Seeing. Lag had been traumatized by his mother's abduction and is due to be delivered to his aunt. In this remote area rife with Gaichuu, Lag and Gauche face a dangerous journey that inspires Lag to become a Letter Bee."
As with all initial volumes, the artwork is the source of first impressions. In this case, writer and artist Hiroyuki Asada created a handful of colour pages which are so incredibly beautiful that you question whether this actually is a shonen title at all. Amberground is set in eternal darkness with only the capital privy to light from an artificial sun. This gives an overall darkness from page to page, both visually and invariably in tone. Asada's art is the perfect match for such a magical title. The use of darkness is counterbalanced by beautiful backgrounds of stars which, although pretty, can become slightly distracting. When the tone shifts to action mode so do the backgrounds, gone is the blackness and in its place are white hot fight scenes which rival Naruto or Bleach. It is during the fight scenes that the series' shonen sensibilities shine through.
Tegami Bachi pulls the old switcheroo in its first chapter by focusing so strongly on Gauch Suede. So much time is spent on Gauch and his delivery of Lag that you could be forgiven for thinking that he is the main character, well... he's not. Although not a main player, Gauch is a catalyst in what will become Lag's story. In treating Tegami Bachi as a classic fairy tail, it could be surmised that under Vladimir Propp's character study Lag is, of course, the hero while Gauch is the dispatcher, the one who introduces Lag to world of Letter Bee's and influences Lag's future quest. With the introduction of such well know character archetypes it quickly becomes a story that is instantly recognisable while still being unlike anything being sold today. While being dark, Tegami Bachi is not set in a dystopian future. It is more like Nausicaa in so much that the wilds of the world are dangerous but its main cities are well established and for the most part prosperous. This helps to counter balance the stories overarching theme of loss. Infusions of humour also assit to keep Tegami Bachi from becoming drag, these moments are delivered with a deft touch and not as heavy handed as is One Piece.
The artwork is one of the crowning glories of this series, while at times the panel layouts are overly busy it is still one of the best looking series around. Tegami Bachi manages to create a world which is full of danger, magic and characters aplenty which makes initial thoughts turn to Harry Potter. This first volume sets up a story and setting which looks to be here for the long run. The world of Amberground has a well established feeling full of rules, regulations, infrastructure and mythology, much of which is introduced in volume one.
Tegami Bachi is a refreshing change from the numerous other shonen titles on my read list, its beautiful artwork and touching storyline make for a series that, although aimed at the shonen audience, can be embraced by audiences of both genders and all ages.
Tegami Bachi Volume 1 is available now from Madman and specialist book and anime stores.
Although there has been no announcement of an English localisation, a Tegami Bachi anime series has been released in Japanese and is available on Crunchyroll.