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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Note that Connects Dreams: Tegami Bachi and the power of letters


It's been snowy and winter is officially here and everyone is probably sick of the cold by now, so clearly this is a fantastic time to talk about a series that seems permanently stuck in winter mode: TegamiBachi/Letter Bee. Yes! It's a surprisingly sincere and engaging series, considering it's based around a kid who works for the postal service.
For those who haven't read this series yet, a brief primer: the story is set in the world of Amberground, where night is perpetual and artificial light only reaches so far, leaving much of the outer world in permanent darkness. Lag Seeing is a Letter Bee who delivers packages on a regular basis with his partner/Dingo, the strange girl Niche. 
Lag became a Letter Bee because his life was saved by one, a mysterious man named Gauche who ended up having disappeared by the time Lag made it to Amberground's capital. The series main story revolves around investigating a mysterious organization called Reverse, the search for Gauche, and the issue of Lag and Niche's collective pasts.

The core of Tegami Bachi lies in the system of the Letter Bee, the traveling postman who braves harsh terrain to deliver their parcels to remote locations. They are often required to travel with their Dingo, who operates as their physical back-up in case they are attacked en route. It is certainly not a job for the faint of heart, so it makes sense that our brave hero Lag has loads of heart to spare from the barrel of his trusty Shinganjuu ("heart bullet gun").
One of the tenets of Tegami Bachi that really can't be stressed enough is the idea that our words, written on scraps of paper, hold a piece of our heart. This is idealized through the power of Lag's Shinganjuu, for when fired it can reveal the 'heart' of a particular letter's writer. To use this power, it taps into the amber found in Lag's eye, spending a fragment of the boy's heart as well. Like the alchemy in Full Metal Alchemist, it's all about equivalent exchange: you need to spend heart in order to reveal heart.
In the world of Tegami Bachi, few things are as powerful - or as important - as words. Look at the great power the capital post office wields; it is pretty much an arm of government. Look at the great risks Letter Bees take in order to deliver their letters. As many stories in this series have shown, a letter has the power to change someone's fate or save a life or end it. 
People are willing to put their lives on the line to see that their letter has been delivered. In today's society, you don't really see that very often, at least not between people. Well, once you consider the fact that electronic communication as we have it doesn't exist in Amberground, it becomes apparent why letters are as valuable as gold there.
But it's also in the 'heart' that their writers put into their words that give letters their value, and this is why Lag's ability is so special and so necessary. Sometimes we try to put our feelings - our true feelings - into words on the page for our intended, but words seem inadequate. 
Lag's Shinganjuu reveals the true heart of our written words and breaks down the barriers of communication that lead to so many misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Lag can tap into the great emotion that comes from writing a letter from one person to another, a greatly intimate form of communication, and turn said emotion into unmistakable visuals in ways words cannot do alone.
I think Lag and his colleagues in Amberground would find solace in the world of Library Wars and the Library Defense Force, especially people like Iku and Dojo. After all, they both lay down their lives to protect the written word, whether in book or letter form. Both series realize the power of the written word and hold it up without overly romanticizing it. As a bibliophile, I love these series for loving the same things I do and I appreciate them for highlighting the ability of words to literally move people.
Question: In order to reach the heart of his old friend Gauche, Lag Seeing prepares a letter bullet - a Shinganjuu attack that holds the words he wishes to express to Gauche, those that have his true feelings. If you were to create a 'letter bullet', what would it say? Who would you send it to? Also, feel free to discuss your own favorite aspects of Tegami Bachi in the comments!
You can watch streaming subbed episodes of Tegami Bachi at Crunchyroll. The manga is available via English through Viz Manga.