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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Manga Review: Tegami Bachi GN 16

Tegami Bachi volume 16
Author: Hiroyuki Asada
Viz Manga/Shonen Jump
200 pages
After years of searching, Zazie is on the trail of the Gaichuu that devoured his parents' hearts. But the hunt will force him to learn more about himselfand his pastthan he ever imagined. And Emil, the kindly blind girl who runs the nearby inn, has a terrible secret... (Source: Viz)
Spoiler alert: Spoilers for the 16th volume of Letter Bee/Tegami Bachi are within this post.
Reading how other fans reacted to this volume, I feel a little cruel saying that my reaction to the latest volume of Tegami Bachi was not pure, unadulterated affection. And to be truthful, this sixteenth book did nothing wrong per se. But something about the pacing of it and the way it crams two major plot points together to make them relevant to each other took a toll on my enjoyment of it all.

This newest volume of Letter Bee opens with Zazie and Connor coming across signs of Laphroaig, the Gaichuu that ate Zazie's parents' hearts years ago. Zazie being Zazie, he goes off on his own to finally enact his vengeance against the monster. It leads him to take up temporary post at a remote inn called Wuthering Heights, kept by blind girl Emil who is naturally more than she seems. Way, way more than she seems, in fact.
It is nice to see a volume of Tegami Bachi not wholly dominated by Lag and Niche. The series has an ensemble cast, and it's a show of how strong the cast has become that Zazie and his story can carry the volume's action mostly on his shoulders. And yes, Lag and his dingo eventually pop up, but it is very much Zazie's story—the story of his youth, of his parents, and how his grudge against the Laphroaig came into being.
Emil seems like she could have been an interesting character, especially after the great reveal of who actually runs the Wuthering Heights Inn, but she's held back by her own tragic tale. She is mostly another sad, beautiful disabled young woman in Tegami Bachi's history who exists to further push ahead another main character's story, like Sylvette and Gauche. The power of the Gaichuu gives her sight, but it's an evil power and corrupts her body, turning her into a monster bent on eating hearts without pause.
She also happens to be a child born on the Day of the Flicker, which makes more sense of Lag's presence during the Gaichuu fight. But it's a revelation that is casually thrown into a long flashback sequence about Emil's past, and not given the attention it deserves. And, at the end of the volume, it's no longer the focus; that has shifted ultimately to Zazie's own story.
I found that the most compelling part of this book was Zazie's back story. It was tragic but not in a cloying way, and it brought depth to a supporting character who hasn't had much of a spotlight recently. Having Zazie read the letter, and then letting Lag shoot it with his special Shinganjuu, was the emotional climax of the entire volume. I feel like now I finally understand Zazie and where he comes from. It's too bad it took so long to reveal his true self, although considering how button lipped Zazie can be, that's really no surprise.
Don't get me wrong. This is a good book. But it's fast—the first chapter seems poorly paced and in a hurry to reveal Emil as someone less than perfect, and then the other chapters linger on the Gaichuu battle for too long. Then the volume dovetailed Emil's character with the ongoing plot centered around the Day of the Flicker but didn't do anything with it. The next volume logically should deal with Emil's birth and further the search for the other children, but in the greater scheme of this volume, it didn't lead to much except to temporarily scandalize Lag.
Then again, I'm sure Lag was plenty scandalized by Niche's plan on fighting the Gaichuu!Emil, which involved getting naked. That was... something. I dunno, watching Niche run around without clothes skeeved me out. I think she's supposed to be older than she looks? But when Niche looks like a barely prepubescent girl who needs to drink more milk, I don't want to see her without her clothes on.

Having said all that, I'm looking forward to the seventeenth book of Tegami Bachi. The story took a quick detour to explore Zazie's back story, but now it has returned to the main track and should, in turn, return to form. And may all our main cast remain fully clothed this time.