Review for Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Reverse Collection 2
Tegami Bachi might have been something of a slow developer in its first season, but when the second season began, it really picked up the pace, developing the story in intriguing directions. It’s a show that thrives on building its rich and intricate fantasy world, and if you’re into the imagination aspect of storytelling, you don’t get much more imaginative than Tegami Bachi. However, it is one of those long running stories, running to multiple volumes of manga. That’s obviously not going to be adapted in an anime that was made years before the manga ended, and especially not in an anime that so leisurely told its story. The question then becomes if Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Reverse has an ending that is satisfying to the viewer, without departing too significantly from the canon material.
Tegami Bachi tells the story of Lag Seeing, who as a little boy was abandoned in the furthest rim of Yodaka, his mother forcibly taken to Akatsuki, and he left next to the ruins of his home, with a postage label attached to his arm. The Letter Bee who found him, Gauche Suede, accepted him as his ‘parcel’ and undertook a perilous journey to deliver him to his aunt in Cambel Litus. He made such an impression on Lag that he developed an ambition to become a Letter Bee just like Gauche. Five years later after passing the preliminary exams, Lag makes the difficult journey to Yuusari to finally become a Bee, and on the way he encounters a strange blonde girl who has been left as a lost package in a railway station. He dubs her Niche, and she decides that she will be Lag’s Dingo. But the life of a Letter Bee turns out to be quite different from what Lag imagined. At the end of the first series, Lag had finally been reunited with Gauche Suede, but it turned out to be hardly the reunion he was hoping for, with Gauche having no memory of his life as a Letter Bee; instead working as a Marauder named Noir for an anti-government group called Reverse.
The final twelve episodes of Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Reverse are presented across three discs from Sentai Filmworks.
14. The Day of Flicker
15. Welcome Home
16. Roda Wanders
17. Truth & Lies
18. The Lost Shindan
19. Neither Malice, Nor Hatred
20. Smile of Hope
21. Lawrence’s Ambitions
22. A Place to Return To
23. In Akatsuki
24. Battle in Yuusari Central
25. Heart’s Light
Tegami Bachi gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer. It’s clear and sharp, with adequate detail, and no significant signs of compression. It is however prone to jerkiness in pans and scrolls, something that actually seems worse with progressive playback. However there is no tearing or combing, leading me to believe this is a progressive encode, just not a very good one. Tegami Bachi is an interesting anime, a story set in a twilight world, which in this case demands a lot of blues and purples in its palette. The world design is fairly impressive, offering a historical European vibe for its towns and villages, although one of the more fantastic elements in the story, the giant, insect-like Gaichuu, are rendered with the computer generated plasticity of elements that refuse to blend into the 2D animation. It’s a small niggle in an otherwise impressively put together show, and the more simplistic character designs allow for more fluid animation.
This is a subtitle only release, with just the Japanese DD 2.0 audio track to appreciate. It’s a fine track, the actors are cast suitably for the characters, while the show gets some great theme songs, and even better incidental music, which can be ethereal and choral at times. The subtitles are timed accurately, but unfortunately aren’t free of a handful of typos. This definitely could have used some proof-reading, but as it was one of Sentai Filmworks’ earlier releases, back when quantity counted over quality, you can understand the lower quality control on this release. We can only be grateful that it wasn’t dubbed back then.
You get three discs in an Amaray case, two on a central hinged panel. The discs boot to static menus with jacket pictures, and each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for The Anime Network, and there are further trailers for Another, Tari Tari, Special A, Kill Me Baby, Natsuyuki Rendezvous, and Okamikakushi – Masque of the Wolf.
You get 4 Letter Bee Reversed Side shorts on this disc, running to a total of 12:48. These are little comedy skits with SD versions of the characters this time taken outside of the school setting, hardly the most original of post-credit spin-offs.
Disc 2 offers the final set of textless credits, and 4 more Letter Bee Reversed Side shorts running to 12:48.
Disc 3 has 4 more Letter Bee Reversed Side shorts again running to 12:48.
In the end, Tegami Bachi does indeed go its own way, departing from the manga storyline and fashioning an ending of its own. What’s surprising is that the departure happens pretty early on in Letter Bee Reverse, actually back in the previous collection of episodes around episode 8. Once the story gets to Niche’s origins and back-story, things take a different tack, with the Reverse organisation’s resurrection of the massive Cabernet gaichuu and the subsequent plot all an anime original storyline. All of what we get in this collection is that way, but the surprising thing is that it’s actually pretty good in comparison to the usual anime original storylines. It all adds on to the manga storyline seamlessly, keeping the tone and the style of the storytelling, the characters and the narrative feeling like one. There’s no disjointed sense of filler material here, at least not until the final two episodes.
The show certainly doesn’t hold back with plot revelations, revealing as much of the story as it can during these episodes without closing off the chance for another potential season down the line. We get to learn about Reverse, the reasons why they fight, we learn about Niche and the Maka, we learn about Lag and what happened to his mother, we learn about what happened to Gauche and his dingo Roda, and we learn much about the government, and the nature of the artificial sun that sheds its light on Amberground. It’s an entertaining ride right up to the end, mixing drama, schmaltz and comedy in the same inimitable way that Tegami Bachi has managed throughout its run.
In this collection of episodes however, the Reverse group’s plot against the government is properly revealed and begins to take shape. Once the nature of the artificial sun becomes apparent, the motive behind Reverse’s action, however monstrous begins to make sense. They’ve resurrected the Cabernet gaichuu, a flying monstrosity whose appetite for ‘hearts’ is an order of magnitude greater than any other gaichuu, and for that reason, it is actually drawn to the artificial sun, to devour it and leave Amberground in eternal darkness. To get it heading in the right direction, Reverse needs bait to draw it, heart in other words, and it’s here that their methods get nasty, nasty enough for some of Reverse’s adherents to have second thoughts, and nasty enough for the Letter Bees to fight a last ditch battle to stop it.
It’s here that the weakness in Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Reverse becomes apparent. For the grand, epic battle in Yuusari Central, the anime resorts to the usual shonen trope of serial one-upmanship, with the villains levelling up to knock our heroes back, our heroes pulling out a surprise secret weapon to wrong-foot the villains, the villains making a surprise move to shock the heroes, the heroes sacrificing dearly to hold on for one more round... It’s like a tennis rally that goes on so long that it gets laughable, and then it gets boring. And that means that Tegami Bachi is one more promising anime series whose swansong episodes let the side down, and stop it from becoming memorable, let alone a classic show.