Once upon a time, I pulled out a manga from its hidey-hole on the shelf at a book shop. The artwork was absolutely gorgeous, and the use of colour was really quite striking – blue, purple, and shades of grey and white. I had heard a little bit about Letter Bee before I blindly bought the first volume (the lengths I will go to if a book has a pretty cover…), but nothing much. A friend of mine who watched the anime told me he’d stopped after the main kid had cried for ten episodes in a row. Oh, come on. Surely he must have been exaggerating. Maybe that particular arc of the story was really emotionally taxing on the poor main character. Whatever the case, I decided to form my own opinion of the manga.
It starts off with a delivery man (or ‘Letter Bee’ as they are known in this universe) named Gauche traversing a desert beneath a man-made sun, quietly delivering cargo to its destination, accompanied by his dog Roda, and a gun he must use to fight against the monstrous giant insects who live in the desert sands. However, he wasn’t expecting to find a seven year old boy called Lag on one of his trips home. The boy doesn’t remember much about how he ended up here, or his life before, but he does have an address tied around his arm. Gauche takes pity on the little lad and decides to take him to the address given. To cut a long story short, like most manga heroes, Lag is so inspired by his temporary guardian/teacher/random adult figure/whatever, that he vows to become a Letter Bee just like him.
Yeah. Did anyone else just see it as an excuse to give Lag some personality? I sure did. From the moment we meet him, all Lag does is cry. He cries and he cries and he cries. I swear that just the slightest thing can set him off bawling and snivelling. Gauche says thanks to Lag for saving his life after an insect attack. Lag cries. Gauche says Lag is a true friend. Lag cries. Gauche says goodbye to Lag after handing him over to his aunt. Lag cries.
It just goes on and on and bloody on. It’s not like I hate wimpy characters and insist every character in every piece of media should be tough as nails. I just hate reading wimpy characters because that’s not escapism. I don’t want to read about a character who cries if someone so much as says a kind word to him.
Let’s take a moment to look at Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. Ignoring Advent Children and other characterisations, in the game, he’s portrayed as a strong, cocky, and extremely apathetic. He may just be emulating the behaviour of what he thinks a SOLDIER should be like, but it’s also the reason why he becomes much more interesting once we learn just how sad his past is. Again, ignore Advent Children, where Cloud was an absolute wuss and spent most of the non-action scenes mumbling about whether or not he could forgive himself or ‘atone for his sins’. If that got a little bit confusing, well let’s just say I prefer heroes with a harsh exterior but a sad past that requires a little bit of fangirl coddling. Not Lag ‘WAAAAAHH’ Seeing.
So anyway, Lag grows up, and sets off to take the exam to become a Letter Bee. Apparently this job is extremely well sought-after, because as a government job it pays well and you’re allowed to travel between the segregated rich, poor, and average-income districts. While Lag and his friend are waiting for the train to take them to the exam, Lag comes across a piece of cargo… who happens to be a little girl. Reminiscing back to his childhood, Lag takes the fleeting decision to deliver her to the address tied around her arm… which just so happens to be a circus. Also, the girl has supernatural powers, and when Lag helps her to escape, she promises to be his ‘dingo’, the name that Letter Bees give to their partners. Gauche had a dog, and Lag now has an apparently immortal little girl called Niche with strange powers who never smiles. I would have chosen the dog, to be fair, but whatever. The volume ends around here.
Around about now I lost my patience, because Lag continues to cry at everything under the (man-made) sun. I’m not kidding. If I remember correctly, he cries when he first meets Niche, because it’s so sad she was abandoned just like he was. When they get to the circus, Lag cries because it’s so sad that the ringleaders mistreat the people who work for them. Lag cries when Niche thanks him for rescuing her. And Lag cries when Niche declares she will be his partner.
Why can’t Gauche be the main character? I’d be much more interested if the story revolved around a world-wearied man who has to fight giant insects and personal demons on his way to deliver cargo to those who need it in a steampunk, dystopian world. Not some little wannabe postman who cries at every single fortune or misfortune that befalls him. It’s one thing to cry when somebody is genuinely nice to you, but to cry all the bleeding time? No way. I’m kind enough with manga to give it a three volume litmus test, but my patience can only go so far if Lag just cries at everything.
On the other hand though, the art is absolutely gorgeous. Hiroyuki Asada clearly has artistic talent in spades… but somebody please go to Japan and tell him how to write a good main character you actually want to read about. I don’t care if Lag’s fragile emotional state is some kind of gimmick, the kind of antithesis to your stereotypical badass manga hero, but I’ve seen it done so much better. Try Katekyo Hitman Reborn if you want to read a manga with a main character who’s a wimp, but gets away with it because he actually grows as a character later on in the series. And that series also happens to have some really great comedy. This manga just tried way too hard to be all dark and serious in this futuristic dystopia.
So, points for originality, interesting premise and pretty artwork, but could you please give me a good main character next time, and something to motivate me into reading the rest, Mr. Asada? 2.5/5.