The current crop of reviews for The Bourne Ultimatum describe it as one big non-stop chase scene. That’s kind of how Banya: the Explosive Deliveryman plays out, too. Take our hero (Banya, the “Postman of the Wasteland”), give him a goal, send about six thousand bad guys after him, and watch him run, run, run until he either keels over or actually accomplishes what he set out to do. Back at the end of Volume 1 Banya was high-tailing it through the blighted desert that makes up a good chunk of his world, with a package under one arm and a cadre of death merchants nipping at his heels. Not the most original setup, to be sure, but Banya makes it work by simply putting its head down and charging forward through this premise at top speed.
Banya has three approaches to any given problem, used in this order: 1) run the heck away, 2) trick your enemies into feuding amongst themselves, and 3) kill ‘em yourself. All three get used here. That oversized kitchen knife hanging from his waist is there for a reason, and right in the first pages of this volume he puts it to good use — he blinds one of his pursuers with a smoke bomb, then severs the poor sap’s hamstring. (There’s more, but it happens out of frame.) When one of his own friends’ lives also happens to be on the line — in this case, his “sister” Mei — he has all the more reason to slice someone up. But on the whole, he’d either run faster than they can, or use another time-honored tactic you can employ when you’re bracketed by different varieties of enemies: Why kill them when you can get them to kill each other? Mei, too, now a prisoner of the same gang of goons after Banya’s package, improvises wildly to stall her captors … until Banya shows up and pulls off a diversion, and lands them both in possibly even bigger trouble.
The middle story in this volume, “Motherhood,” shows a slightly more serious side to both Banya and the series as a whole, and amazingly enough it works. After almost dying of heatstroke in the middle of the desert, Banya’s rescued by an old woman who pleads with him to deliver a medallion to her errant son, now member of a criminal gang in the wilderness. Banya bends the rules just this once to pull off the whole mission without pay, and discovers the son in question is not exactly living high off the hog as a bandit king — he’s essentially a scullery maid looking for any possible way to escape. In the end, Banya winds up delivering the woman’s son back to her, but under circumstances none of them could have foreseen. I cracked a big smile during this chapter at the way this story combined pathos and comedy — e.g., whenever Banya breaks down in tears, he has to palm it off as being about something wholly mundane, even if we know what he’s really crying about. (There’s a third story, but it almost immediately lapses over into the next volume, so I’ll save discussion of it for there.)
I’ve gotten a better feel for Banya now that I’ve seen a few of its complete story arcs — it zooms forward at all times like a racecar with a cinderblock on the gas pedal, and my biggest complaint is that the pacing is so breathless, each volume feels like it’s maybe half its actual length — and at $13 a volume for around 200 pags, that’s a tough pricetag to choke down. But it’s still a fun ride.