About a year ago, Sothis approached me and helpfully pointed the way to two Shounen Jump Anime Tour specials from 2008 in the hopes of persuading me to write up their entries. The first was One Piece: Romance Dawn Story, which I jumped on like a horny teenager; the second was Letter Bee: Light and Blue Night Fantasy. I almost immediately fell in love with the latter, so when I heard that it was to get a TV series, I couldn’t wait for the 2009 fall season to begin.
Set in Amberground – a land of eternal night – Letter Bee follows the tale of a young boy named Lag Seeing. After his mother was taken from him at a young age, Lag meets a man named Gauche Suede – a Letter Bee charged with the job of ‘delivering’ the white-haired lad to his Aunt. The pair strikes up a friendship, and as they part ways Lag vows to become a Bee himself. Skipping forward a few years and our adolescent protagonist is about to travel to his examination. After successfully making it to the Beehive he receives a great shock upon learning that not only is Gauche no longer working there, but he also has gone missing without a trace. Now alongside his Dingo (partner), Niche, and his new friends and colleagues, Lag is determined to become a great Letter Bee and find Gauche.
The series starts out strong by following Lag on his initial journey from meeting Gauche as a young boy to his entry into the Beehive. These opening episodes immediately grab attention by thrusting the viewer into the middle of a plot where Lag’s mother has been spirited away to the capital by mysterious men. Letter Bee then proceeds to mix slower paced sections of development in the relationships between Lag, Niche, and Gauche with moments of engaging action featuring the Gaichuu (armoured bugs).
Sadly, around episode eleven Letter Bee switches from an interesting plot-based fantasy and descends into a rather repetitive, and at times dull, episodic slice of life. While I can understand that it ingratiates the viewer into the life of a Bee, this segment of the show seems misplaced. Normally the day-to-day aspect of a series happens towards the beginning in order to set the scene while allowing for the more solid narrative to kick in later and seize the viewer’s attention. Unfortunately by reversing this, Letter Bee’s mid-section can feel arduous at times – also, those who have previously seen Light and Blue Night Fantasy will most likely experience frustration at episode seventeen, which is simply a re-hash of the half hour special. Finally eleven and a half installments later, the series returns to its storyline only for the series to end JUST as it reaches the really interesting part. While this ensures that I will spend the next six months chomping at the bit in anticipation of season two, having just waded through what are essentially a dozen filler episodes, I can’t help but feel a certain twinge of disappointment.
This irritating pacing is such a shame because Letter Bee boasts a strong narrative, particularly since Amberground itself provides an impressive backdrop. A land of eternal darkness illuminated by an artificial sun placed above the capital is appealing enough, but adding in the country’s strict class system, makes it even more engaging. The capital remains reserved purely for the elite while the farthest reaches of the country survive in complete destitution – and with stringent rules controlling passage between the land’s provinces each class stays segregated and unable to escape their circumstances. But that isn’t all, as this alien world has one more trick up its sleeve in the form of Gaichuu – massive metallic bugs that feed off of human heart and emotion. These armoured arthropods pose an ever-present danger to both Letter Bees and civilians alike and can only be slain by shooting fragments of one’s own heart into the cracks in their shells. Throwing the mystery of Gauche’s disappearance and Lag’s crusade to uncover what happened to his mother into this world and you have a winning combination. Sadly the series has neither realised nor made the best use of this potential.
Dear Studio Pierrot, thank you for restoring my faith in your ability to actually create a good-looking series. Who’d have thought that the company, which brings us a weekly dose of sub-par animation in the form of Bleach, could actually pull out all the stops and provide such stunning visuals as the likes of Letter Bee? Boasting luscious colours consisting of varying shades of dusky Persian blues through to crushing amethysts, Amberground’s perpetual state of night retains a glorious beauty. During ‘memory’ sequences, the vibrancy of the cobalts and violets make way for a more muted and nostalgic sepia pigmentation that is equally as gorgeous as the show’s normal hues.
All the series’ vistas have a softer, almost hazy quality that, when coupled with falling memory fragments, successfully relay the dreamlike nature of the show. Movement remains smooth throughout, particularly when it comes to the Gaichuu, though these armoured bugs do give rise to my only gripe when it comes to Letter Bee’s visuals. Studio Pierrot opts to use computer graphics for the giant metallic insects. While the animation is technically very impressive with exceptional motion and effective colouring, shading and texturing, this polished CG feels out of place in the otherwise subtle landscapes.
Having provided Lag’s voice for twenty-five episodes (and a special), Miyuki Sawashiro has officially nailed the ability to supply a varied array of sniffling, simpering, crying noises. In all seriousness though, Sawashiro manages to successfully convey the fear, determination and sensitive emotion of the young bee. The rest of the voice cast also performs well, particularly Naomi Nagasawa who voices Steak. You may think I’m joking, but she manages to inject his exceptionally limited vocabulary of ‘Nee’ and ‘Neeeeeeeee’ with plenty of life so that each change in inflection allows the furry foodstuff to communicate with the audience in a strangely effective way.
To use ThePatches highly appropriate and accurate terminology, Lag’s entire personality needs but two words to describe it: ‘Human Faucet’. Seriously, the guy never stops crying! Sure, he has some other personality traits – determination, compassion, loyalty, blah blah blah – but let’s put it this way, you can incorporate a drinking game into this series and have a shot every time Lag wells up and starts snivelling like a little girl – however, I wouldn’t advise it, as you’d end up in casualty with alcohol poisoning.
As with many shows, the protagonist is nowhere near the most interesting personality; in the case of Letter Bee, Lag’s two companions, Niche and Steak far outshine the blubbing crybaby. Niche’s animalistic natures make her far more intriguing as a character. Without anyone to tell her otherwise Niche will go too far in her attempts to protect Lag and would spend her life “running free” without underwear. Her lack of human interaction and comprehension leads Niche to see the world as black and white, and only her ‘master’, Lag, can enlighten her to all the variations of grey that life has to offer. This childlike naivety endears her to the audience and even provides the opportunity for humour to present itself, particularly when it comes to her lack of pants and the relationship with her live bait, Steak.
Letter Bee’s supporting cast also impresses as the series delves into the histories and motivations behind a selection of Lag’s companions. Although in the case of Zazie, the anime does tend to reiterate his back-story on more than one occasion – just in case we miss it the first time – which does annoy a little. Yes, yes, we know that’s why Zazie is so angry, now tell us a bit more about Connor instead… No? Bugger.
With some of the most sumptuous visuals ever to sweep their way across my monitor, and a compelling plot – well, when it’s on track that is – Letter Bee is well worth a watch. Despite the flaws in its story, I still eagerly anticipate the arrival of the Fall 2010 when series two is due to hit our screens, and with any luck it will actually recognise how strong the narrative is and make the most of it.
In Amberground, the land of eternal twilight, Letter Bees and their dingos – creatures trained to protect them – deliver mail to the general populace. However, unlike normal mail carriers, their job is perilous as they must traverse the country while fighting off the giant armored insects known as Gaichuu. One day, a Letter Bee named Gauche collects his latest delivery: a young boy named Lag Seeing, whose mother was taken under mysterious circumstances to the capital of Akatsuki. As the pair travels together, they strike up a friendship, but when they finally reach their destination Lag and Gauche part ways. Now, several years later, Lag is about to take the exam to become a Letter Bee himself so that he can meet with Gauche again and find out what really happened to his mother all those years ago. But before any of that, he must find himself a dingo...
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.