Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tegami Bachi Reverse - Series Review

I'd say it takes a pretty cynical person not to feel at least a little something for "Letter Bee". One of the things that's appealed to me about this show from Day One is that it's quite different from the overwhelming majority of anime. In short, the emotional palette of the series is distinctly un-Japanese, and that's been apparent from the initial episode of the first series when Lag told his Aunt that he loved her. Yes, Lag's constant crying has been the subject of much ridicule - but that's who he is, and it's who this series is. It's unabashedly sentimental and revels in it, and while I wouldn't want every series I watch to be that way it makes a refreshing change of pace.

I suppose it would be natural enough to consider where "Reverse" ranks alongside the original Tegami Bachi series. I don't think it would be wrong to think of them as one 50-episode series, because in general the show has been thematically consistent, but I see enough between the two shows besides a year in time to call them a distinct entity. On balance, this series was grittier and more violent than the first one. It also used broad humor a little more than the first show did - often to very good effect, since it wasn't used all that often. Most importantly, I think "Reverse" was less episodic and has a much more consistent pacing from start to finish. While both series veered off towards anime-original material out of necessity, there's no question in my mind that this one did a better job of it than the original series did. For that reason alone I'd be prepared to call this the better of the two.

For "Letter Bee", of course,it starts and ends with Lag Seeing. I totally buy Lag as a character, again, because he's quite different than much of what we see in anime. Lag is simply, unabashedly good - no matter what else he may be (ask The Maka for a better answer) he's a pure-hearted, kind and gentle soul who wants to be with those he loves and spread heart throughout the dark world he lives in. Yes he's a crybaby boy, and that got old at times - but you know, that's just Lag. He feels everything deeply and cares way too much. And while he was never a super-powered hero until the finale, he wasn't a weakling either - his courage and persistence made him formidable enough, especially as he was never too proud to rely on his friends for help.

There was a pretty strong stable of characters here - starting with the dingo, Niche. Absurdly cute and yet a bit of a badass - especially after her power-up training from Onee-san - Niche was a lot of fun and often the source of the best humor on the show with her mangled language. The rest of Lag's posse got a chance to step out of the shadows much more this year, especially Zazie and Conor. Conor was a comic relief character for too long, but became quite a tragic figure with the Sunny arc. Tsundere Zazie was always a delight, but his act was toned down a bit this season and he was a more sympathetic figure. Sylvette too had a much more prominent role, given the importance of Gauche/Noir this season. Lots of new characters were introduced - The Maka, Lawrence, Garrard and Valentine, etc. - and many old ones returned, and the result was a crowded cast that didn't always leave much spotlight time for most of them.

Of course, the crucial secondary character this season was Gauche/Noir. He was always the most important person in Lag's life - the one whose ghost he chased from his hometown all the way to Central, the reason he became a Bee, the one whose heart he longed to feel again. Noir's arc was very effective - his appearance as a marauder, the feint and uncertainty about his identity, his slow evolution from a cold, distant figure to yet another who was touched by Lag's warmth and simple, honest love. The most emotionally intense moments of the season took place between those two, and that's as it should be. I was happy there wasn't a sell-out return to Gauche in the end - Noir is who this young man is, now. But that's not a bad thing - Noir is capable of kindness and unfailingly brave, and as Lag's feeling slowly warms him we come to see that there was a lot of Gauche in Noir all along.

Of course, one of the elements that made this season so interesting is the entire Reverse storyline. It added an element of moral ambiguity and complexity that the first season could not match. Thus, it was the major disappointment of the season for me that these difficult questions were basically punted on in the finale. Reverse's means were unquestionably wrong - that became even more clear when Lawrence's plan to use the hearts of Those Who Could Not Become Spirit to strengthen The Cabernet was revealed. But it seemed to me that their ends might not be wrong at all. If indeed the government has performed the terrible experiments that led to the poor half-human hybrids we met, if they used TWCNBS and tossed them away when they were no longer needed, if they fed their sun with stolen hears and powered it with sadness - and I see nothing in the finale to make me thing they didn't do those things - then Reverse was right to oppose them and they have a lot to answer for. They didn't in the series - that topic was given only slight attention in the finale, and that's too bad. It will apparently be up to the manga to resolve that moral dilemma but if the series had managed to do so successfully - or even tried and met with noble failure - that would have given it the stamp of greatness in my eyes. The lack of an effort to resolve that moral dilemma goes down as it's biggest failing..

On the whole though, while this series wasn't always easy to blog it was almost always easy to watch. I appreciated its emotional directness and unapologetic sentimentality. I appreciated as well its unique and gorgeous look, so faithful to the manga and yet transcending it. In terms of creating a distinctive and instantly recognizable world few series can match Letter Bee. It's beautiful twilight landscapes and bizarre Engrish names could belong to no other show. it had a fairy-tale quality to it, and that made it a real escape every week. I'll miss that escape and I'll miss these characters as well. All the best, Lag - keep on smiling and delivering those little bits of people's hearts. After all, that's what a Letter Bee does.

4 comments:

  1. Hello! I've just recently started reading your blog and I'm amazed at the breadth of anime you've been watching recently. This question may not be appropriate for this exact post, however as this is my most recently finished anime I'd like to ask you (someone with some expertise) which anime I should consider watching next.

    I have just recently finished Tegami Bachi, and I am a person who is easily engrossed when it comes to fascinating settings. I enjoyed the social structure of Tegami Bachi immensely, especially the mysteries of the artificial sun and Akatsuki (How I hate that they weren't explained, just like you are!).

    However, the plot of the animes I watch is also very important. The main animes which have remained in my heart are very few, and this series is certainly one of them (despite the loose ends). I loved Rurouni Kenshin as well, along with Death Note, Code Geass, D-Gray Man, Kuroshitsuji, School Days and Spiral (SD and Spiral are much lower than the previous ones, though). The story of an anime is I'd say the thing that truly captivates me and makes me compelled to watch non-stop until it's over.

    In addition, exceptional cast is also essential. In Letter Bee my favorite character is Gauche/Noir, and it is his return that I was longing for until the end of season 1. In Kuroshitsuji (I'm not sure if you've watched it) Sebastian is that character, and in Rurouni Kenshin Kenshin acts as that man. Moreover, I highly enjoy characters who've had a dark past, such as the ones written above (as well as Lag).

    Essentially, I want a series which leaves an immpression on me and really makes me feel nostalgic and 'warm'. I want to be able to remember the opening soundtracks and the music scores for months/years to come, and I want to feel like I am one with the characters in the story.

    Could you please express some suggestions? I am looking for a new anime to watch which potentially encompasses those traits mentioned above.

    Best Regards,
    Sutekidane

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry - I just saw this! I'm in Japan for a few more days - let me think on your question and come up with a few suggestions. And thanks for the kind comments!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey! I hope you had a great time in Japan. I know you just got back, but have you thought of any anime recommendations? No offence whatsoever, but it's been a few days...

    Best Regards,
    Sutekidane

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi again. Here are a few recommendations:

    - Seirei no Moribito. Balsa (female lead) has a troubled past, and the anime is unparalleled for plot, character development and animation. Spectacular in every way.
    - Ghost Hound. Very cerebral but also involving. Lots of mystery elements, with some psychology and occult stuff and amazing sound.
    - Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Much more boisterous and action-oriented than the above, but also intricately plotted and emotionally intense.
    - Noein. Beautifully constructed and intricate sci-fi story with winning characters.

    ReplyDelete