Monday, November 15, 2010

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Volume 3 by Hiroyuki Asada

Lag Seeing lives in the world of Amberground, a land of perpetual night lit only by a false, amber-colored sun. In the wilds, creatures known as Gaichuu roam, insectile creatures with metal exoskeletons that make any kind of travel extremely dangerous. So, the people keep in touch with letters, carried by brave messengers known as Letter Bees. Their weapons, powered by the same kind of amber that forms the sun, are the only ones that can affect the Gaichuu and keep people's hearts connected.

Lag has just passed his test to become a letter bee, and with nearly record time, also. The only person to deliver a letter faster than he did was his hero, Gauche Suede. All his life, Lag has only wanted to become a letter bee like his idol, and now he learns, much to his shock, that Gauche is no longer a letter bee. Even his sister, Sylvette Suede, has no idea where Gauche has gone. All she has left of him is sadness and his letter bee weapon. She is still in a wheelchair, trying to make a living making dolls and clothing and selling them.

When Lag arrives, she thinks he is one of her creditors, looking for payment, but when Lag asks if she is Sylvette, she recognizes him for who he is and serves him and Niche, his Dingo, some milk tea. Niche is jealous of Sylvette for her body, and even though she is very sensitive to heat and hates milk, she gulps her milk tea when Sylvette tells her she will never grow without drinking milk. Lag tells her he saw into Gauche's heart when he delivered Lag's letter, and saw Sylvette crying. Sylvette is unhappy with the memory, but tells Lag that she only discovered Gauche had gone when he received a letter of dismissal from the Letter Bees, revoking all his privileges and passes for not showing up to work.

Sylvette has concluded that her brother lost his heart and died, and that is why he disappeared and never came back to her. She can't stand that Lag reminds her of her brother and asks him to go, and he does, crying. On the way back to the Akatsuki, he asks Lag what would happen if he lost his heart and forgot her. She tells him that she would bite him and drop him, but even if he forgot her, she would never forget him. That makes him cry again, and he returns to Sylvette's home and promises her that he will find her brother. As he does, his spirit eye activates, and he aims the beam at Lag's old Gun, reviving the memories inside it. He sees Gauche meeting himself, and of Lag's last job as a letter bee, buying a new gun, and the fact that he was being followed by an anti-government group calling itself "Reverse". And then him speaking with Sylvette, asking her to promise to give Lag his gun.

Sylvette gives Lag the gun, telling him she wanted him to go because she was afraid her memories would hurt, but at the same time, she really wanted to meet him. Lag takes the gun and is accepted into the service of the Letter Bees, and tells the council that he wants to be Head Bee because he wants to connect the hearts of the people separated by distance, and to reach the hearts of everyone. He wants to become the best kind of bee, like Gauche Suede. One of them, the Assistant Director, Aria, is surprised that Lag knew Gauche, and Lag gets a room with Sylvette, taking over Gauche's old room, and paying her rent. But he will only stay until he finds her brother.

A few days later, Assistant Director Aria comes to visit Lag. She takes him to Prayer Hill, the closest point to the man-made sun and the closest point to the Empress, there, she tells him that she and Gauche used to go there every morning to pray, and that she saw the day that Gauche lost part of his heart, the day his mother died, and the light of the sun flickered. And somehow, Gauche Suede lost all the memories of his mother when the Sun flickered and died and the Government Airship crashed. It was as if he didn't even remember her at all. Conflicting stories came about why the sun flickered and the airship crashed, but no one knows what really happened, except maybe the government, and they aren't talking.

Since he didn't remember his mother, Gauche put everything into making sure his sister was happy. So when he disappeared... The two of them are interrupted by Connor, who tells Lag and the Director that Zazie needs help with some Gaichuu. Lag goes to help, but before he leaves, he tells Aria that he was born on the same day as the Flicker, and the same day as Sylvette Suede, and from her words that she still cares for Gauche, and that he's happy she still cares for and loves him. Then he goes off to help Zazie.

Soon, Lag is given his first package to deliver. The Director, Largo, asks him to deliver a package and two amulets to a woman named Elena and her brother Bran. But the Bees want him to take a guide on named Darwin, because the path is so dangerous. Darwin, however, turns out to be an old, decrepit dog, practically on his last legs. And Lag discovers that the woman he is supposed to deliver the letter to died ten years ago. Darwin was her Dingo, and he's old and senile now, but Largo wants to reunite the two while there is still time. But when Lag and Niche come across a huge Gaichuu, can they save Darwin from becoming just another statistic? Or will Lag and Niche join Elena in the grave?

I found this series both moving and heart-wrenching. The letter bees are something like the Pony Express and something like doctors, bringing both love, hope and memories to the world they inhabit. Unlike many other manga I have read, some of the stories in this book made me cry at the end, like the story of Darwin, which was so sad, and yet so beautiful at the same time.

The character desgins are unique, and so is the world, composed of some parts medieval/renaissance, and some parts industrial revolution, and while a character tearing up rarely causes me to cry, even when a story is sad, this series really touches your heart with a mix of poeticism, outright emotion and beauty. The stories really get you feeling something, even if its a dim warmth deep in your heart. The last story felt like myth, and like poetry, and it was just beautiful. This is one you are going to want to read for yourself.

Needless to say, I find stories like this very hard to find. I'm not generally a weepy or overly emotional person, so when I find that rare story that does touch me, I value it very highly indeed. There are many interesting stories to come that I can see, and I want to find out more about Niche and Lag and the rest of the letter bees, and to read some more of this pretty amazing world. It's an adventure story almost as pure as can be found, and touching as well. Highly recommended.

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