Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tegami Bachi Vol. 1

By Hiroyuki Asada
Published by Viz

I bought Tegami Bachi while cleaning out a closing Borders Express. The cover art really grabbed me and a quick flip through the pages revealed some great artwork. I finally found a moment to sit down and read it and figured the ol' blog could use an update.

The overall concept of the manga is fascinating. The world is divided into three landmasses separated by concentric rivers. Citizens are divided according to class and require government-issued passes to travel across the bridges that connect the cities.

Perhaps my favorite part of this world is that there is no natural light at all, so the elite upper class have a man-made star built for their themselves. The outer towns don't have the resources to make another (so far, that's the only explanation I can come up with) and the outskirt towns have no light at all.

It is in the darkest part of the world that the story begins. Asada introduces readers to this world through an adventure of a Letter Bee: a government worker charged with delivering the mail throughout the world. His name is Gauche Suede (which is a truly awful combination of words) and he and his travel dog, Roda, find a mail post with a young boy chained to it. The Letter Bees all make use of the Nuremberg defense, which allows them to keep doing their jobs.

The act of chaining children to mail posts is a recurring plot point in volume one, which makes it impossible for me to want to pick up any further volumes. Gauche's original "letter" is named Lag and the story shifts over to Lag a few years later as he is leaving the town to become a Letter Bee. Along the way, he comes across a girl chained up to be mailed. She has insufficient postage and no return address, so she's left alone and untouched by every Letter Bee around. Lag offers to deliver her since he's not a full-fledge Bee and is allowed to assist in unpaid human trafficking.

Lag names her Niche and delivers her straight into the hands of some creepy men running a freak show. They've been after Niche because she is rumored to possess a "golden sword" because her mother ate some mythical creature. The sword in question turns out to be her hair and she destroys the tent and takes off. All of this begs the question: if she can turn her hair into a bladed edge, why the hell did she stay chained up in the first place? I can't believe not a single editor called Asada out on that and made him change it.

I'll finish with a little discussion of the art. Asada draws some really great landscapes. The star-studded skies are all beautiful to look at. His character designs aren't bad, either. What is bad, though, is the way he draws tears. Sometimes it even looks like the characters are oozing cottage cheese from their eyes. This wouldn't be much of an issue, if it weren't for the fact that someone seems to cry on every other page.

Tegami Bachi is a great concept with a botched execution. I really want to like it but there are so many flaws I know I won't be picking up any more volumes.