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Letter Bee Collection 1 Anime DVD Review

11 min read

One young boy finds his way in an intriguing world by delivering the mail that carries the hearts of its writers.

What They Say:
In a dark land of near-perpetual night, only a single artificial sun illuminates a single city, and communication between the rest of the world is made possible only by the Letter Bees – elite couriers who must fight against monsters known as Gaichuu to make their deliveries. Having been saved by a Letter Bee when his mother was kidnapped years ago, Lag Seeing has finally gained employment at the Bee Hive, but he’s quickly learning that the dangerous job has become even more lethal, with renegade humans now targeting the Letter Bees as well.

Fortunately, Lag’s been blessed with the ability to see into the memories of others, and every Bee is also supposed to find a “Dingo,” a partner to watch their back. However, when Lag finally finds his Dingo, she’s not at all what he expected. In fact, she may end up being the girl who kicks over the entire hornet’s nest! But no matter what the stings of fate, Lag isn’t going to let anything clip his wings!

Contains episodes 1-13.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this series is straightforward in that we get the original Japanese language only in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The show has a good blend of styles to it overall as there are some decent action scenes where the weapons and creatures have a good presence to them but there’s also the softer moments that let the wonder of the world seep in quite well. The show tends to focus more on that and the dialogue by its very nature, but it doesn’t skimp when it comes to the action,t hoguh it’s also not one that really overdoes it either. The softer scenes with the instrumental music and just the way it draws you into the visuals works quite well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing from 2009 to 2010, the transfer for this thirteen episode series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is spread across three discs in a four/four/five format since it also includes four to five Tegami Bachi Academy episodes on each volume as well. Animated by Studio Pierrot, the show has a very appealing look to it with its world design and the transfer handles it pretty well considering it’s full of darks, both blacks, blues and purples, without being a completely noise-fest. The colors generally hold up well though there are areas where background noise is more pronounced, but not in a way that’s strong or problematic during regular playback. A lot of the still scenes in particular look great as the colors have a certain pop to them when it comes to the skylines. When the show shifts to the action, it’s better off overall as it has a higher bit rate and the animation picks it up a few notches as well.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is a straightforward single sized keepcase with a hinge inside to hold all three discs. The front cover is definitely representative of the show as it’s fillde with purples and other dark night time colors to set the background while the foreground has the varied cast spread around it. The designs look great with plenty of detail to them that blends well with the color and gives it a rich feeling. The logo is simple along the bottom, spread out a lot for the English language version, but it also includes the original series name as well. The back cover works some darker colors into it with an almost ghostlike feeling to it. Though it may be dark, it’s effective with what it does here. The summary is fairly easy to read and it covers the basics well. The disc and episode count are clearly listed as are the extras. Production credits are a bit small here but still readable and he technical grid lists everything clearly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is simple but pretty nicely done as it works with the same colors as the cover. The design is the same overall for each volume though it changes out the artwork. The left side dominates with about two thirds of the layout showing off artwork of various characters and settings that has the earthy and purple toned feeling that definitely sets the mood right. The right side gives us the episode navigation which provides numbers and titles which are set against a black portion of the background that definitely makes it easier to read and navigate. Being a single language release, the only extra navigation we get are the special features which are very easy to move about it.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty good as we get the first thirteen Tegami Bachi Academy episodes spread across each volume tied to the main episodes themselves. They run about three minutes each so it’s an additional half episode or so per volume, giving you just a bit more content. They’re generally silly pieces with simpler and more colorful animation that lets the cast be silly and more comedy oriented. The second disc also includes the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Hiroyuki Asada that began in 2006 in Monthly Shonen Jump, Tegami Bachi (aka Letter Bee) is a twenty-five episode TV series from Studio Pierrot. This set gives us the first thirteen episodes of the first season (a second season, Tegami Bachi Reverse, is currently unlicensed) and the show works a good story format overall with its run by generally doing two episode stories. The original manga continues to be released in Japan and is up to fourteen volumes so far, so there’s some material to work with to be sure, but not a huge amount either, which makes sense in doing the two episode stories. They’re not really dragged out, which is a plus, since sometimes shows can go the wrong direction like this. If they were condensed down to one, they’d feel pretty rushed.

The series takes place in some otheworldly setting that’s really strong with its visuals. It’s a per-industrial world where there are various cities within kingdoms, but it’s not a fantasy format in a sense. The world is a very dark one where there is no sun, other than an artificial one over the capitol of one kingdom that’s connected to that city. But even that doesn’t really provide sunlight. The world is one filled with dark purple and blue skies with the stars plainly visible. And much of it takes place along the places between the cities where it’s just barren and earthy, giving it an almost cold yet romantic feeling. It’s here that we’re introduced to Gauch, a young man who works as a Letter Bee, a government operative that delivers letters (which are expensive to send) wherever they need to be taken. Gauche has a certain romanticism to his job and he takes it very seriously.

What we get from Gauche is that he does have a larger goal, to become the Head Bee in order to get enough points on his record to bring his younger sister Sylvette with him into the capitol city so they can have a good life together. And the job he’s on now is an important one to deliver, though not what he expected. The letter is actually a young boy named Lag Seeing who has been chained to a post and has the appropriate postage on him. He’s to be delivered to a port city where his aunt lives as his mother is gone and little is said about his father. The journey between the two allows us to understand more of the world and to see just how good Gauche is, from his delivery job itself to the way he deals with the creatures (giant insects really) along the way.

While the first two episodes do a good job of this, it shifts gears in the third as the series isn’t about Gauche but rather Lag, which is somewhat disappointing. With Gauche being over eighteen and an accomplished Letter Bee, you would have a different series. After he delivers Lag, we get a five year time skip so that Lag is now in his early teens and has dreamed of becoming a Letter Bee ever since he was delivered. He’s on his journey to the Bee Hive where he’s going to undergo testing to see if he can get into full training and actual jobs. Lag isn’t a bad character, but by shifting to someone younger in this way you get a very different show than you might expect at first.

Lag’s journey has him dealing with one problem that he has that other trainees don’t in that he doesn’t have a dingo animal to work with. Naturally, that has to get squared away and he gets a curious one when he delivers a package just like he was for Gauche, a nameless girl who is definitely different. Originally delivered as a part of a freak show carnival, Lag takes to her as she does to him since he treats her like a girl and not the sort of animal that she is. Circumstances bring them together as a pair over a couple of episodes and the girl, who becomes named Niche, turns into quite the attack and guard dog for Lag. She’s got skills and some literally killer hair but she also brings some cuteness as she ends up with her own pet along the way, a little white thing named Steak that’s just comical to look at and is like a Bag of Holding.

The first half of this set covers these areas fairly well and gets Lag and his new little group off to the big city so he can take his test. Which in turn of course introduces us to more characters, from a proctor who works with him through his main test to a woman named Aria, a sub-master of the Bee Hive, who was very close to Gauche. The story of Gauche may have been the first two episodes, but it comes back into play as Lag is excited to see him but learns that he’s been gone for years, having gone off the deep end a bit six months after delivering Lag. Lag knew something of Gauche’s past from the way they were able to communicate through their weapons, something that exposes the truth of the Bee’s hearts, and he knew of his harder past with his sister. That lets Lag make a connection with Sylvette in the present, which also hints at a much stronger (and sadly all too obvious) connection that will be explored in later episodes.

It’s pretty obvious that Lag gets to become a Letter Bee, though he proves himself a little too well skilled here, but again it makes sense in the larger context. But by getting past that, we get into other areas, which has Lag doing his first jobs, getting to know some of the other Bees and the general makeup of the world at large. While he comes from a remote city, there’s a difference in how things are elsewhere. The jobs aren’t bad, but he has the same kind of sense of intensity and purpose that Gauche does and it helps to explore how the heart connects to the letters and what it means. Some of the Bees are a lot colder and more straightforward in that it’s just a job, but you can see how they over-humanize Lag in order to make it work. This set of episodes overall does what it needs to in order to introduce us to the cast as a whole, the connections that they share and the larger concept of the world. It does all of this pretty well and while it’s slim when you get down to it, it’s appealing if only because of the visual design of it and the relaxed nature for a lto of it. A world with no sunlight is definitely curious and while it’s not something that makes sense in this context, the visual representation of it is just hugely appealing.

In Summary:
Tegami Bachi has been that curious show in that it doesn’t have a ton of manga to work with but it also has two series so far that bring it up to fifty episodes. Taking in the first thirteen episodes here, you can see where certain parts of it are going to go and how they’re going to structure it so that it doesn’t feel cramped but also not drawn out too much. Visually, Studio Pierrot does a very good job here. I love the look of the world with all the star filled backgrounds and the use of the darker colors with certain vibrancy to drive home the other worldly nature of it all. Tegami Bachi brings a good mix of character and action to the show while playing with some familiar gags as well, though it’s not really playing up the humor which allows it to flow naturally. This is the kind of series that you definitely need to be in a sort of relaxed mood for to just let it envelop you and it has plenty of room to grow and do things, leaving me curious as to how the next set (and hopefully beyond) will go.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Tegami Bachi Academy Episodes

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 11th, 2012
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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