Letter Bee (Tegami Bachi in Japanese) is a manga by Hiroyuki Asada. It is set in the world of Amberground, a land where dozens of diverse and scattered towns are connected by the Letter Bees, an elite cadre of men and women who deliver letters, packages, and occasionally even people from town to town. Based in the shining capital city of Akatsuki, the Bees tirelessly work to deliver the mail... and with it, the 'hearts' of their loved ones... to all the citizens of Amberground.
If you're an optimist, you probably think that sounds really nice.
If you're Genre Savvy, you're probably wondering why an elite cadre is needed to deliver the mail.
You see, while the above description is all technically correct, it neglects to mention that Amberground is a truly awful place to live, perpetually shrouded in darkness except for a small artificial sun over the capital and infested by gigantic, Nigh Invulnerable killer insects called Gaichuu. Gaichuu feed on the 'Hearts' of humans (not the literal organ, more like a sort of Life Force), and since a person's letters contain fragments of their 'Heart', Gaichuu are naturally drawn to large concentrations of mail. As a result, the Letter Bees have to be elite; they have the single most dangerous job in the world. To aid them, they are equipped with special weapons that allow them to harness the power of their Heart to destroy Gaichuu, and travel with partners/bodyguards called 'Dingoes' that assist them in their work, but they still don't have a terrific life expectancy.
The main story follows the adventures of Lag Seeing, a rookie Letter Bee (and former Letter) as he seeks out Gauche Suede, the Bee who saved him after his mother disappeared... and who has since disappeared himself. With his Dingo, a somewhat... unusual young lady given the name of Niche, Lag delivers letters, battles Gaichuu, hunts for the missing Gauche, and slowly but surely begins to find himself drawn into a hidden conflict that threatens to rip apart the already troubled land of Amberground.
The second season of the anime Overtook the Manga, leading to several events to play out a bit different while still telling the same story.
The manga is licensed to Viz Media and is available wherever manga is sold. The manga ran from September 2006 to November 2015 for 20 volumes, and the English translation is complete.
This series shows examples of:
- Abnormal Ammo: The Shindanjuu shoot bullets made of 'Heart', the only thing that can kill a Gaichuu.
- Accidental Misnaming: An older Bee named Moc Sullivan who doesnt think much of Lags going beyond the call of duty deliberately gets his name wrong before leaving, and doesnt listen as Lag shouts out his name again.
- A-Cup Angst: This bothers Niche to some degree - especially given how nearly every other female in this series, if she's older than 10, has a larger chest than her.
- Alliterative Name: Sylvette Suede, Largo Lloyd.
- Arc Words: Gee, I wonder if hearts are important.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Lag makes a very cute girl, and even Zazie acknowledges it.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Jiggy Pepper, Gauche Suede, Lag Seeing, Largo Lloyd, Dr. Thunderland Jr, Richard Belzaris BB Becktratus Jr., Rubemius Bregiuroa Banjorelo the Second...
- Badass Normal: Hazel Valentine. This man took on Niche after her training with her sister and had the upper hand for most of the fight. UNARMED.
- Big Brother Instinct: Gauche, toward Sylvette. He works hard to become Head Bee and heal her legs, even though she's content just to be with him.
- Birthday Buddies: Lag and Sylvette are both born on the Day of Flicker. Being born on the Day of Flicker caused Sylvette's legs to be non-functional from birth, while Lag has an eye missing. As one may guess, the Day of Flicker later turns out to have been the sign of something bigger going on.
- Bittersweet Ending: In the manga. Lag and Niche promise to be together forever and sacrifice themselves to defeat Spiritus and bring back the natural sun. Lag is reunited with his mother in the process and Noir is inspired by his actions into becoming a Letter Bee like Lag (just as Lag was inspired by Gauche).
- Bodyguard Crush: The evidence that Niche has one for Lag just keeps building over time. Even if it isn't explicitly romantic, she definitely wants to be the center of his attention and isn't happy when she isn't.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Connor cannot bring himself to tell Lag about Gauche going missing, but Zazie can, possibly because Lag never told him about knowing Gauche. Kimidori cannot tell her mistress that she is the one who is sending her the picture postcards because she believes she let her down by selling her present.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: Sylvette takes canned soup which already tastes pretty bad, and then adds "secret ingredients" which make it taste disgusting. Only Sylvette and her brother actually think it tastes good.
- Crapsack World: When the mail is always late because cockroaches the size of trucks keep eating the mailman's soul, you know your world sucks. Hell, it doesn't even have a sun!
- Crystal Dragon Jesus:
- The predominant religion in Amberground worships the Empress, who is allegedly both the wise and just leader of the country and a deity, while maintaining many of the trappings of Christianity (especially Catholicism), e.g. Statues of the Empress in churches resemble the Virgin Mary, burial markers are shaped like crosses but with extra lines to resemble a star shape.
- Volume 15 then suddenly deconstructs the trope with The Reveal. The Empress is basically just a Living Battery that controls the Amberground sun. Lag's mother was abducted because she was due to be the next Empress, but she left a letter whose text and heart revealed the truth about the title (and the Flicker) to Lag.
- Dr. Jerk: Dr. Thunderland really is a nice guy, but he does have the nasty tendency to scare the Hell out of people. Loudly announcing your desire to dissect the patient is not proper bedside manner, doctor.
- Dreadful Dragonfly: The Cabernet is a Gaichuu with the shape of a giant dragonfly. It's probably the most powerful Gaichuu featured, and taking it down takes several dozen chapters, making it the longest-standing Gaichuu threat.
- Eldritch Abomination:
- The man-made sun is alive. And it occasionally feeds on the citizens, taking away portions of both their bodies and their hearts. Yikes. Then in Volume 18 we learn this is the only way to keep it dormant because if it gets hungry and actually wakes up, the projection is that it true form will devour all life in the world in an instant.
- That Cabernet that keeps flying around chowing down on folks; it's suggested the more hearts it eats the more it will continue to become one. It even appears to be getting/have a heart.
- Eyepatch of Power: Lag's Spirit Amber eye classifies as one of the more fantasy-inspired examples, though it doesn't make him any more or less badass. It's later revealed to be the only thing that's keeping him in Amberground; it was placed into his eye as he started to vanish, shortly after he was born. To make him look more normal most of the time, the Spirit Amber is normally covered by Peek-a-Bangs.
- A Fate Worse Than Death: Having their Heart devoured by a Gaichuu causes a person to be reduced to a mindless, emotionless shell that can do nothing but sit staring into space until they starve to death.
- Form-Fitting Wardrobe: Aria Link's outfits tend to be like this, especially in the manga. In a recent chapter, Lag ends up staring at her after she dons her old Letter Bee uniform, which is a little... tight on her, and when she frets about having gained weight he reassures her that she looks sexy.
- Gratuitous English:
- The Dingo is an Australian species of wild dog. The author probably intended to invoke a dog's loyalty, but they are considered dirty, feral pests, and calling a person a dingo is very insulting. On the other hand, since these creatures (Dingos in this series can be anything) are supposed to help the Bees perform their job as bait for the Gaichuu (only the power of Heart can permanently kill a Gaichuu), your Dingo would have to be extremely crazy and fearless.
- The locations whose names are usually in English, and often nonsensical (Blue Notes Blues, Goodbye Amsterdam, Love Someone Down, Honey Waters).
- Heel Realization: Sara realizes that the lies she told in order to ensure that she and her husband would have a place to live and be respected resulted in a girl's father trying to deliver some letters himself and getting killed.
- Heroic RRoD: Overusing the Shindanjuu can leave the users highly fatigued, and those who use it too much and use up all their heart lose their identities.
- I Will Wait for You: Darwin, who waits for the return of his Bee, Elena. She died years ago, and he is eventually delivered to her grave where he is reunited with her in death.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dr. Thunderland Jr. often comes off as imposing and doesn't have or want any friends (although Gauche and later Lag understand him), but he cares for the good of those his research benefits, and even has hand-made tombstones for his specimens.
- Lawful Stupid: Lag refuses to doubt the Amberground Government even for a second, despite increasing evidence that they're extremely evil, guilty at the very least of performing horrible experiments on humans. Possibly justified by the fact that he's a naive kid with a serious case of hero worship towards the Bees, who serve said government, and that the main opposition, Reverse, is possibly just as bad or worse.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Lag called her Niche because he found her in a, well, niche. It stuck.
- Men Don't Cry: Averted. Lag cries. He cries quite a bit.
- Mood Whiplash: The story has a habit of jumping back and forth between two scenes at once, which can cause pretty heavy whiplash.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Yes, it really is a series about delivering the mail."The stars... ...twinkle. But dawn never comes... ...here in the land known as Amberground. There is a government service... ...whose agents travel to the darkest lands... ...regions where the light of the man-made sun that shines on the capital... ...never reaches... It is into their care... that the people... entrust their heart. Their job is... to deliver. To deliver... ...letters."
Special Chapter: A Bee and His Dingo
- Mundane Utility: Niche uses her sword-hair as a clothes-drying rack.
- Ontological Mystery: What the heck is Amberground? Why does it run on an artificial sun, and what happened to the real one? Where do the Gaichuu come from? The final volumes eventually put everything together:
- What is the artificial sun? A massive gaichu called Spiritus. It only glows because it's fed with heart. It also keeps it asleep, as the fear is if it gets hungry, it'll lash out and eat all the heart in Amberground in a stroke.
- Where's the sun? It suffered The Corruption and went dark. This darkness became Spiritus, the artificial sun. When Lag and Niche's spirits purified Spiritus, the original sun was restored.
- What are the gaichu? Spirit Insects (guardian spirits of this world) tainted by The Corruption. Based on what ultimately happened in the end, it can now be assumed that shooting heart into them actually restored them as Spirit Insects.
- What's so strange about Lag? He isn't human but rather a Spirit Insect (one of five) escaped from Spiritus during the Flicker and incarnated as a human. That's why he was disappearing after he was born: he was in the process of turning back into a Spirit Insect until he was anchored by the Spirit Amber (with a Spirit Insect encased inside) now lodged in his eye.
- What was the wondrous world revealed in the heart of the Five from the Flicker? The revelation Amberground really did have a sun in the past. The fact it once existed meant it could be restored.
- Overly Long Name: Richard Belzaris BB Becktratus Jr. and his dingo, Rubemius Bregiuroa Banjorelo the Second.
- Parental Abandonment: Gauche's mother dies in childbirth, Lag's is abducted, and neither of their fathers are around.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Lag gets sent to a place full of undelivered letters.
- The Reveal: Episode 19 of Reverse reveals that Lag's mother also had her heart taken by the artificial sun.
- Running Gag: Sylvette's horrible tasting soup, which everyone tries to avoid eating.
- Scenery Porn: The anime is worth watching just to see the lush backgrounds. A far cry from your typical shounen series.
- Significant Birth Date: Lag was born on the "Day of the Flicker": the day the artificial sun blinked out for just a moment. The Flicker is later revealed to be the beginning of the revelation of the Ontological Mystery. Lag learns that five were born on the Flicker, including himself. He needs to locate the other four.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Zazie/Zaji, Moc/Mock. Additionally, there's the Japanese romanizations vs. official translations: Gauche/Goos, Sylvette/Silvet, Roda/Lode, Connor Culh/Connor Kluff, Aria Link/Aria Rink, Sabrina Mary/Sabrina Merry...
- Stay in the Kitchen: Despite being sad to say goodbye to her, Lag initially thinks it's too dangerous for Niche to be his dingo as a young girl. He gets over it fairly quickly.
- Theme Naming:
- The three districts of Amberground; Akatsuki (the capital), Yuusari (the middle class district) and Yodaka (the poor section) are named after the daybreak, evening and night, respectively, based on their varying closeness to the sun.
- The Gaichuu are almost always named after liquor and cocktails.
- Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Lag's partnership with Lily. Niche even lampshades this by outlining the height difference with her Prehensile Hair.
- To Be a Master: Gauche seeks the position of Head Bee prior to his firing and FaceHeel Turn, and so do many of the other Letter Bees. Garrard has Lag transferred due to not liking his having so many ideas despite being a rookie, and because he wants to be Head Bee himself.
- Took a Level in Badass: Niche comes back to Lag with a few moves that she learned from her sister.
- Tsundere: Niche has all the signs of a type A, bitter to just about everyone, but generally very loyal to Lag (and goes into Clingy Jealous Girl mode when another female approaches him) and genuinely wants to protect both Lag and Steak.
- Unstoppable Mailman: The Letter Bees' job is to deliver mail, no matter what monster is in their way or how difficult the destination is to reach.
- Weird Sun: This world has no sun of its own so somebody made one and stuck it above the capital. It's made of various people parts (most often eyes for some reason...) and heart. Um, yeah....
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Lily Confort shows up for all of four chapters before she gets her heart eaten by the Cabernet Gaichuu.
- Wham Episode: Gauche appears before Lag and reveals that he's turned evil.
- Wham Line: "And since Gauche Suede isn't a bee anymore..."
- When All You Have Is a Hammer...: Not only are heart bullets the only way to kill Gaichuu, but Lag's also reveals the contents of people's hearts, and resolves many misunderstandings.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Lag dresses as a girl to sneak into a convent suspected of being a Reverse base. Roda is not fooled.
- Worf Had the Flu: Niche and Steak get paralyzed after drinking the honey water, leaving them unable to save Connor and forcing Lag to flee Sara and Hunt's followers.