Read or Die Part 1: The OVA

Read or Die (RoD) is another multimedia franchise. This one started out as an anime concept, paused for a light novel, morphed into a manga, then jumped over to the screen by way of an OVA (Original Video Animation) and a 26 part TV anime series. I haven’t read much of the books/manga (enough to know that the series name stems from an early manga episode), but that doesn’t appear to matter, because only the high concept, and some of the key characters, have been consistent. The stories and backgrounds are all changed at the convenience of the creators. I don’t have much trouble with that in an anime/manga universe — it’s not like it was Lord of the Rings.

The high concept here is that there are people who have special powers, including paper masters, ones who can control paper in the same way that money controls Congress; the British Empire has not fallen, and the real power is deep in the steam-punk depths of the reading room of the British Museum. The paper masters’ skills range from using a business card as an armor-piercing shuriken, to building an origami crane capable of supporting a wingless 747. Because of their affinity with paper, they tend to be in love with books.

Yomiko buys some books

I was going to use some typographical emphasis on “in love with books”, but there aren’t enough font modifiers to get the emphasis up to the right level – even going bold/italics/all caps with interspaced asterisks isn’t enough. Even comic-sans won’t help.

The OVA opens with a mysterious man dressed in the robes of an ancient samurai, complete with wooden getas, landing on the roof of the White House, and destroying it with a strange box of electronics. The President (an old guy, who keeps peeing his pants) gets out in time to tell the samurai that it isn’t the Library of Congress say, “OK,” the samurai says “I’ll walk there”.

We then switch to Tokyo where we see protagonist and paper master Yomiko Readman waking up in her book-filled (emphasis shortfall) apartment, putting on her white overcoat, and taking her book transporter down the book-filled stairs of the book-filled building to go shopping, for books. For Yomiko, flying from store to store buying books puts big red blush spots on her cheeks, and seemingly keeps her in a constant state of low-level orgasm. In one store, her photo is on the wall as “Our best customer. If you see her, say hello”. In another building, she has the secret code that takes the elevator into the closed-to-the-general-public underground bookstore. There, she buys a book titled The Eternal Beloved, Volume 1.

Outside, reading the book, she is accosted by a swarm of bees, and a man on a giant grasshopper, who steals the book. She kills him, and his hopper, and we get our first look at her paper-wielding skills. In quick succession, she meets her boss “Mr Joker”, travels to London to meet his boss at the British Library “The Gentleman”, is told that someone is resurrecting powerful people (いじん, or i.ji.n) of the past (grasshopper man is Jean Henri Fabre, French entomologist) and it’s her job to stop them; is sent to DC to meet her team (Nancy Makuhari, AKA Miss Deep, who can slide through walls and Drake Anderson, a solid, no-nonsense Special Forces type who takes pottery classes and worries about his daughter), has the book stolen again, this time by I-Jin Otto Lilienthal (in a steam-jet-powered hawk-shaped glider), which they rescue by chasing him to New York in a paper airplane (which Drake has to hand launch) and getting him to crash into the Statue of Liberty. Got that? Good. We’re at the end of Episode 1.

Ensuing episodes have them chasing Volume 2 of the book to India in their oak-paneled Trident submarine. They encounter a number of I-Jin, including their leader, Ikkyu Soujun, a 15th Century Japanese Buddhist monk, famous for his espousal of drink and sex as sacraments. Ikkyu is voiced in Japanese by Atsushi (敦) Kondo (近藤) (AKA Konta), who manages to sound like a whiskey-voiced aging hippy. The trail finally leads to the South Pacific, where an enormous underwater laboratory/launch facility surfaces. Meanwhile, Joker finds that Deep is really a clone of Mata Hari, and is on Ikkyu’s side. She, of course, escapes to the lab/launcher, Yomiko is captured, and Drake is thrown off the multi-story launch scaffolding. We find that Ikkyu, despite his peace and love reputation, has decided that most of humanity needs to die, and has cloned Beethoven to write and perform his final Suicide Symphony, which will be transmitted from orbit.

The denouement has Yomiko fighting off the I-Jin, while long-suffering Drake has to crawl into the guts of the machine to set his explosive charges and prevent the launch — this of course fails and the rocket launches with everyone but Drake on board. Meanwhile, Nancy/Deep decides to rescue her friend Yomiko, but is attacked by her own clone (Ikkyu doesn’t trust her, despite the fact they are lovers). Nancy ends up killing both her own clone, and Ikkyu, while Yomiko kills Beethoven and stops the rocket from reaching orbital velocity. She bails out, using the paper from Beloved as a parachute. Nancy stays on board with Ikkyu after giving Yomiko a bookmark inscribed “Please take care of my little sister”.

In the postscript, we find that Nancy survived, but is brain-damaged due to lack of oxygen (supersonic reentry, hard impact, and exposure to salt water may have been contributing factors). Yomiko tells her she had an older sister, who saved the world.

Overall, I liked the OVA. Yomiko’s single-minded bookishness (‘return that book…and stop this launch’) appeals to me, as does her somewhat frumpy approach to life. She is never without her raincoat and her little foldable cart with its box of paper, even when crawling over cars after book thieves or running across ruins to escape from enraged I-Jin. I also liked the steampunk aspects of the British Library Special Operations Division — Joker uses a handset that looks like it came off an early desk phone, except that it has an antenna and is his cell phone. The art isn’t anything to speak of — better than Macross, but not as good as Kanon.

In Part II, I’ll talk about the 26-part TV series.

For more of my anime reviews, click on the Anime tag below


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12 Responses to “Read or Die Part 1: The OVA”

  1. Bookish Hobbit Says:

    I was told that Yomiko is the anime version of myself. 🙂 It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the OVA, but your review is making me want to throw the DVD in the player!

    I’m interested in your thoughts on the TV series.

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      A person after my own heart.

      I liked the OVA enough that when RightStuff came out with a sale (which may still be going on), I sprang for the $100 to buy the whole thing. That package includes the OVA, so I’ve got something I can give away as a present for Boxing Month.

      It will be a little bit before I get to Part 2. I’m not done watching the 26eps yet and school is about to start. I can say that the story turns quite a bit darker towards the end, when Yomiko puts in her appearance. I’ll give you one foreshadow — one of the protagonists in the TV series is Yomiko’s friend, Nenene Sumiregawa (菫川ねねね), remember the Post-Its?

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      PS: Like your avatar

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      I decided to get it out of the way early. Enjoy.

  2. Kurt Says:

    Our library has this (the or part of the OVA?) that I’ve put on hold. From the description there and on Amazon, it doesn’t look like part of the TV series.

    R.O.D., read or die [videorecording (DVD)] : Yomiko Readman “The paper”

  3. Kurt Says:

    Ah, the library also has the TV series (when I searched for R.O.D.), so I’ve put disc 1 on hold. Thanks for the review. “FoundOnWeb is my one-stop shop for anime reviews and recommendations.”

  4. Kurt Says:

    Watched R.O.D OVA last night with Debby. It was a lot of fun, with better pacing than a lot of adventure anime. It still has the shrieking I wish they’d weed out of anime and the English dubbing used the word “bitch” as a generic naughty name–heavy handed and didn’t work, but it was about the only irritating part. Miss Deep’s overwhelming but steadfastly strapped in bosom was a hoot and a nod.

    (Prior to that we watched Miyazaki’s Porco Russo with the kids, a house favorite.)

    We’ll get the TV series next. Thanks for the rec.

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      One of my Japanese students, older, said she didn’t like most anime because they were too ‘loudy’. That’s why I usually like the subbed versions better – there’s still the shrieking, but it’s in foreign. The dynamic of the TV series is totally different, but I think you’ll like it as well. The Paper Sisters love to read.

      I have the soundtrack to Porco. Imported. Expensive. One of the funny things is listening to the ending song, which is sung in Japanese with what I suspect is a strong French accent.

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