Great art in an unusual environment
Writer/Artist: Hiroyuki Asada
Translation: JN Productions
Adaptation: Rich Amtower
What They Say
In Amberground, a dangerous terrain where a man-made star casts a permanent twilight, young Lag Seeing aspires to become a Letter Bee: a postman entrusted to deliver the hearts of people separated from the ones they love.
Viz has done a bang-up job with this volume. From color inserts (yes, on a Shonen Jump title!) that reflect the beautiful purple and indigo hues of the night controlled land of Amberground already evident on the cover, to the extensive notes of the currently mysterious Dr. Thunderland, Viz puts their self-described "steampunk" series with best foot forward. This is a very attractive book and the good looks extend to what's inside.
Mangaka Hiroyuki Asada, whose previous works included the basketball manga, I'll, may also be familiar to readers as a frequent contributor to Renge Murata's Robot series of illustration anthologies. His graphic sensibilities and sophistication are not lost when applied to a sequential format. The style has a strong, expressive and confident line to define form that is modified by either an abstract graphic component or increased technical draftsmanship depending on whether it's character or environment. Asada chooses to define environments with more detailed drawing and then bringing his unadorned but very emotive and effective character designs to the forefront with application of simple light and dark form. The balance of these contrasts - bright and dark, light and shadow, simple and complex, makes for a rich and pleasing page.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
In Amberground, a land of darkness illuminated only by man-made means, a postman named Gauche Suede picks up a delivery in the poor and low class area of Yodaka. Though these postmen, called Letter Bees, normally deliver paper, they're not above any other type of delivery and this time for Gauche, it's a whiny seven-year old, Lag Seeing, to be delivered to his aunt in another part of Yodaka. In this first part of the volume, from the meeting of Gauche and Lag through the journey across the mountains to deliver him to his aunt, we are given some details of quasi abandonment of Lag, a glimpse of the tragic situation that motivates that sterling example of the Letter Bee, Gauche Suede, and see some of the modus operandi of the Letter Bees, especially their use of Shindanjuu, the weapons that use "fragments of the heart" to take down the Gaichuu (armored insects) that plague the land.
Gauche Suede is an attractive, almost charismatic character and we do miss him when the focus of this volume moves to Lag Seeing some five years after their initial meeting. Lag is now twelve years old and a little less of the frightened cry-baby of five years previous. He is the very model of a Jump main character - earnest, honest and a young person with a mission, well, two missions: to find his mother and to meet up again with Gauche Suede. In order to accomplish these things, Lag needs to be able to traverse the various parts of Amberground, and there is only one way for lowly citizen of Yodaka to be able to do so and that's as a Letter Bee.
Lag's later adventures begin as he heads out to Yuusari, another part of Amberground accessible only by permit, to take the test to become a Letter Bee. He accompanies the local Letter Bee, Connor, and his dingo (a Letter Bee helper most often a dog) on their rounds. They come upon an unusual package, a young girl, for delivery. Letter Bee Connor must leave the girl as undeliverable since she has insufficient postage, but Lag, remembering his own past and unfettered by the code and rules of the Letter Bee as yet, decides to make the delivery.
But the excitement and satisfaction of his first unofficial Letter Bee job quickly fades as Lag realizes that he may have put the young girl in jeopardy. But Niche, as the young girl is now called by Lag, is not without her own strengths and her own secrets and is very much not what she seems. The confrontation with the Gaichuu that closes out the volume finds Lag triumphant. And while one would like to think that she joins Lag as his dingo out of gratitude, Niche, much as Gauche had previously, is allowed some access to Lag's memories as a result of the use of his Shindanjuu and this is what brings Niche to the decision to join Lag. Niche's intent remains to be seen.
Hiroyuki Asada has made a good start on realizing the Amberground universe and getting his main characters introduced and well on their way. The introduction of such a strong character as Gauche Suede at the outset defies expectation since we would expect the main character to be presented this way and when Gauche exits center stage leaving us with Lag as the main character, we can't but help be disappointed. But his appearance - and disappearance - at this early point in the story serves a purpose, for Gauche provides much of the background information necessary to the story and it's done cleanly and efficiently. And it also sets the stage for a major conflict. Gauche has warned Lag to reveal his secret to only those he trusts. But is it too late?
Tegami Bachi looks great, reads well, an adventure in a very unusual environment.