Read or Die Part 2: The TV series

As I said in Part 1 (which you should read first), Read or Die (RoD) 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 and a 26 part TV series. If you like books, you’ll like ROD.

The TV series is much darker than the OVA. Five years have passed, and much has happened in that time. There was an attack/incident that destroyed the British Library, ending the UK’s power over the world. The Chinese, in the form of the Dokusensha company, are making their own attempt to rule the world through books. Both sides are after a series of seven books with titles like The Book of The All-Seeing Eye.

Bodyguards at work

As often happens in anime, the creators of a sequel try to flip the old series on its head. Things you thought you knew, or assumed, turn out to be wrong.

For example, back in the OVA, Yomiko’s room was not only filled with books, it was also filled with Post-It notes that said things like “Wake up up up!” or “Save this this this!” in the English subtitles. The actual Japanese words at the end of each note are ねねね, or ね is a word that means something like ‘sure’ or ‘right’, and can be a question or an emphasized ‘yes!’, and is used at the end of a statement. For example, if two Japanese girls are complaining about their boyfriends, one might say ‘boys are dumb’, and then they’d look at each other and simultaneously say ね! So the note writer is apparently saying “Wake up! Yes! Yes! Yes!”. The reason I bring this up is that in the TV series, Yomiko’s best friend, who keeps leaving notes in her apartment, is Nenene Sumiregawa (菫川ねねね), so now we find that the notes in the OVA were actually from her, or maybe that the series creators were really at a loss as to how to create a connection. UPDATE: The Yomiko/Nenene story actually appears in the manga, but the makers of the OVA subs either worked prior to that, or decided to ignore it.

Similarly, we find that “Joker’s” real name is “Joe Carpenter”. The I-Jin from the OVA were actually an accidental release of cloned subjects from an experiment he was running for the British Library. The goal of that project was to create a new body capable of containing the intellect of “Mr. Gentleman”, who turns out to be the brains behind the British Empire. He’s dead now, the British Empire has collapsed, and the British Library Special Operations Group is desperate to have him returned.

The result is a decoupling of the TV series from the OVA. Yes, if you watched the OVA you get an added dimension of complexity (and you spend a lot of time bouncing up and down crying “Where’s Yomiko?”), but if you didn’t, the differences are large enough that you don’t notice them. Yomiko and the British Library are just so much backstory, and when they are brought in to the TV series, their appearance is well within the bounds of anime logic.

We open with author Sumiregawa flying to Hong Kong for the release of a new edition of her first, and only, book (she’s had writer’s block since the disappearance of her friend Yomiko, five years earlier). Her editor has hired three sisters to assist her while she’s there — blonde, ditzy Michelle; tall, dark, and slow-spoken Maggie; and Anita, a short, red-headed book-hating brat). Paper-masters all, they save her from a deranged and jealous unpublished author, then from his equally deranged co-author brother by, among other things, building a paper dragon that carries her disabled 747 back to the airport.

We then have a pleasant interlude, where the sisters follow Nenene back to Tokyo as bodyguards, crash in her apartment, spend all their money in the bookstore district (where Yomiko used to live), and (in the case of Anita) go to school and make friends, including a somewhat mysterious boy “Junior”.The only cloud on the horizon is the fact that someone keeps trashing the school library, evidently looking for a particular book. The three sisters take a couple of book-hunting jobs from Dokusensha, and have a run-in with an older Drake Anderson, which ends tragically. All the hijinks gets Nenene’s creative juices running again, and she returns to writing.

Anime storylines like to make a right angle turn towards the end, or maybe flip to a totally new plane. ROD is no different. Nenene’s editor turns out to be a Dokusensha agent, who was waiting for her to recover her writing muse. Dokusensha kidnaps her and the three sisters and returns them to Hong Kong. There, the sisters are paid off, and Nenene disappears into the Dokusensha HQ building. About this time, Mr Joker turns up again, older, and with a cane, accompanied by his assistant, a much more grown up and competent Wendy Earhart. The sisters rescue Nenene before she can be experimented upon, and Joker and Wendy blow up the HQ building, which causes all of Hong Kong to sink into the water. Quite aside from the actual physics of it, the casual oceanic destruction of a city as a plot point isn’t something we’re likely to see again in a Japanese anime for a long time to come.

You might think that that’s the end, but we’ve got seven eps to go yet. Anime tends to be like a Beethoven symphony — you’re never sure if you are at the end. We now enter the dark final final act.

More spoilers:
The women are back in Tokyo, where they’re being hunted by the police, and the British Library Special Operations Group. They find Yomiko, who has been hiding for the last five years in the Japanese Diet Library (something like the Library of Congress, but with a better shelving system), along with Nancy (AKA Mata Hari), from the OVA. She had destroyed the British Library after finding out that those seven books encode different parts of Mr Gentleman’s intellect, and that the BL is trying to bring him back by infusing that information into the bodies of experimental subjects (Dokusensha had been trying to use Nenene in a similar experiment). Since he was such a great I-Jin, the subjects keep dying, and even if it worked, it would kill the personality of the subject. Junior is actually Nancy’s son, his father was Ikkyu (evidently oxygen starvation, supersonic reentry, even exposure to salt water didn’t impact the pregnancy), and the BL wants him as an advanced subject. As an aside, they also want to conquer the world by destroying all the books and subjecting people to a centralized information library of their choosing.

After a series of increasingly involved chases, captures, and escapes — and crises of faith — the plot comes together in London, sort of. Mr Gentleman’s intellect, which was old enough to have inspired Shakespeare, when he was a kid, is warping the reality of the city, to include pterodactyl from Lost World, and three-legged robots from War of the Worlds. The timeline advances quickly, as he prepares to be uploaded or downloaded or sucked out of the very air. Everyone but Nancy and Drake are captured, again, the sisters are deprived of all paper, and everyone is brought to the central lab, where Junior is prepared to receive the gentlemanly intellect (using devices that can best be described as intellectual applications of tentacle porn). We are in the final stages of the process, and are watching circuit breakers being thrown, enabling buttons pushed, and switches on detonators turned…wait, what?…when old reliable Drake saves the day again, blowing up part of the facility and giving Nancy (who has recovered her ability to move through walls and found that she still fits her old latex jumpsuit) the chance to break into the central lab, disrupt operations there, and give the sisters a chance to destroy the bootloader using Nenene’s bosom.

Conclusion: I liked it, but not as much as the OVA. While both of them are pitched at a more mature audiance (Love Hina or Shuffle devotees wouldn’t like them) the OVA Yomiko was a totally-over-the-top bibliophile, which added a zaney touch to all her actions. The TV series is much more like a typical anime. It’s good, very good, but it doesn’t have the Yomiko touch. I’m not sure, in fact, that it would be possible to sustain that level of goofyness for 26 episodes, so maybe the creators made the right decision. As with a large number of the anime I’ve watched recently, the underlying current is one of betrayal by authority. The extent to which this is a trope in serious anime makes me wonder if it isn’t a feature of how the Japanese see their government officials. The artwork is improved, a little (it looks like it was done in chalk), and the music fits it very well, being based on both the jazzy bits and some Beethoven chords from the OVA. The opening isn’t as James Bondish as the OVA, but it still has naked ladies with kanji tattoos.

Overall, the blue-ray combined OVA/TV series set is worth having, if you can find it on sale. As I type, it is available on Amazon for $188 new, or $381 used. Go figure. RightStuf has it for $160. I paid $100 in a prior sale. The RightStuf price is about $0.21/min, about 2/3 the issue price of Summer Wars. The price may come down next year, or it may go out of print. Who knows?

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