And so at last we come to the fifth and final volume of Banya: The Explosive Deliveryman — although at this point we might as well call the series Banya: The Explosive Berserker. We’d started with a character who was instantly likeable and interesting — Banya, the Mailman of the Wasteland — and traded up him up for a character who was far less intrinsically interesting, a Berserker with a Tragic Past. There’s just enough of Banya as we remember him here to justify keeping the name, but really, I was against this whole detour to begin with. I was more interested in Banya when he was actually outsmarting the bad guys, not just slicing them into Salisbury steak.
It’s doubly annoying since most of the climactic plot shenanigans involve a bunch of stuff that could have been phoned in from any fantasy series, really. Most of them revolve around the (re)appearance of Kamutu, the man who was once Banya’s master, now missing an eye and thirsting after the kind of ultimate power that can only be awakened through a little girl. I also groused about the Mysterious Lone Swordsman character, Soah, stirred into the mix as of last volume. All of these things just felt like distractions from the series’ original and most inventive premise: how does Mister DHL-Of-The-Desert deal with getting his delivery to the destination this time? There’s only the faintest hint of that whole idea left in this volume; Banya’s cleverness and wit has mostly been traded up for the sight of him going Rambo on the bad guys.
Still, if you've made it this far into the series, you’re probably not going to mind as much — especially if you've already grooved plenty on the sight of Banya whipping up (or running from) mayhem in the earlier volumes. There’s no question this stuff is fun to watch, whether it’s in the form of Benign Banya running from yet another one of the various nasty desert monsters that eyes him like he’s an hors d’oeuvre, or Berserk Banya, seizing Soah’s soul-eating sword and flinging it at a dragon easily a dozen times his size. And as before there’s the same mixture of headlong action and dark humor — for one, I doubt I’ll see another series where a sword that feasts on the souls of its enemies gets sick and throws up after one particular battle. That’s inspired, even if a lot of other things here aren’t. (And speaking of Soah, there’s a nice little twist involving his actual identity, and why he’s so hard to kill … a surprise very much worth saving up for the book itself.)
As with another series that didn’t end the way I’d hoped (Kurogane), the ending we get with Banya isn’t what it could be — but a) it could have been a lot worse, and b) there’s enough head-down-and-rush-forward action throughout this series, from first book to last, to keep the vast majority of folks happy. I’m looking forward to whatever Kim Young-Oh comes up with next — I just hope whatever it is, there’s a little more to the story to keep someone like me happy, too.