READ OR DIE (2001, 2002)

 

Format: 3-episode OVA series on one DVD, approx. 100 min. total

 

Rating: PG-13 (AL, V)

 

American Production: Manga Entertainment/Gaijin Productions

 

Japanese Production: Studio ORPHEE/Aniplex

 

Grading

 

Premise:

B-

Story:

C

Writing:

C+

Character Design:

A-

Animation:

A-

Artistic Merits:

A

English Dub:

A-

Musical Score:

B

Opener:

B-

Closer:

C

 

 

Humor Content:

C

Action Content:

A-

Drama Content:

B-

 

 

DVD Presentation:

B+

DVD Extras:

B

 

 

OVERALL:

B

 

Synopsis

Yomiko Readman, aka The Paper, is an unassuming young bibliophile who serves as one of the top super-powered agents for Section A of the British Library Special Operations, a covert group specializing in the recovery of, and crimes involving, rare books and manuscripts. (Her special ability? She has a seemingly magical aptitude for manipulating paper, hence her code name.) When super-powered clones of several extraordinary historical figures create havoc while attempting to recover a rare Beethoven manuscript that Yomiko herself has found, she is teamed up with another agent - Miss Deep, a woman capable of passing through solid objects - on a quest to stop whatever nefarious plot is going on that will ultimately threaten the entire world.

 

The Long View

Read or Die is clearly intended to be a parody of James Bond stories; if interpreted any other way, the utter absurdity of it all would be overwhelming. As with Bond or any other spy movie, the boss characters arenít given proper names; the man directing the LSO operations is never referred to by any name other than Joker, and the old man behind the scenes who apparently formed the whole operation is never called anything other than ďThe Gentleman,Ē although he is apparently well-connected on a very high level. The main character, Yomiko, is the polar opposite of Bond. Suave, sophisticated, and brassy she is not (she even wears glasses!), nor is anything about her physical stature impressive. She gets into some very Bond-like situations of derring-do, however, because her obsessiveness over books leads her to act heedless of her own safety in situations where recovering a book taken from her is involved. And although she seems like a harmless pushover, her ability to manipulate paper is nothing to laugh at. She can give paper cards enough tensile strength to stop bullets at point-blank range, create a chain tough as steel from loose sheets of paper, manipulate a hair ribbon to cut through a steel chain, hurl index cards as deadly weapons, or even fashion a giant two-person paper glider right on the spot. Her resourcefulness is very Bond-like, although she uses paper instead of all the fancy gadgets.

The villains are just as fanciful as anything from a Bond film, although these are all based on historical characters such as 19th century French entomologist Jean-Henri Farbre or early German glider master Otto Lilienthal. (In a wise move, brief profiles of all the main villains are included in the Extras, since some of the names would be obscure to the average person.) In each case the specialty of this historical figure is advanced to extremes even beyond early 21st century technology, and apparently their personalities were given a radical make-over, too. And of course thereís the secret ocean base and the devious plot that will use a pair of books by Beethoven to kill off most of the worldís population, and so forth. The series does get points for coming up with a unique way to do it, although itís no less absurd than the rest of the series or the way the great powers of the world respond to it. The main storyline is wrapped up nice and neat by the end of the third episode - and I really liked the way the last scene was handled - but there are a lot of important questions left not only unanswered but unaddressed. Even in a farce thatís going a bit too far, which is why I did not give the series a higher rating than I did on the Writing and Story.

The humor value from Read or Die comes from its farcical nature rather than a deliberate effort to go after jokes (although there is the obligatory character thatís always tripping over things). There is some serious drama and real character development afoot in parts of the second and throughout the third episode, but neither is the focus of the story. This is a series more about stylish action and poking fun at spy thrillers. One warning: the seriesí portrayal of the generic, unnamed U.S. President is very less than flattering. I would even call it offensive, though not everyone will take it that way. The series in general does not reflect a high opinion of Americans, although thatís also been the norm for Bond films, too.

The technical merits of Read or Die are as much its highlight as its really cool style. Its (CG) artistry is sharp, its animation crisp, and the voice work in both English and Japanese is quite good. The musical score, while I wouldnít rate it among the best, is suitable. The one complaint I would make on the technical merits is to ask why the translations for the writing in the intro and in several places throughout the first episode are only included with the subtitling and not the English dub. Read or Die isnít the only series that has this problem, but it is very annoying.

††††† ††††† One final note: A Read or Die TV series is due out soon in Japan (if it isnít out already by the time of this posting). Although Yomiko Readman supposedly does not appear in this series, there are three sisters with similar powers. Look for it to come to the U.S. sometime late next year or early 2005 if it is successful.

 

DVD Extras

The DVD set-up is very stylish and distinctive, but itís too clever for its own good as it is not the easiest to navigate. Extras include:

  Original Trailer

  Photo Gallery (strictly scenes from the animation)

  Brief director and crew interviews

  Biographies on the historical characters used (the most important feature)

  Limited company previews

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Yomiko Readman (The Paper)

Kimberly Yates

Nancy Makuhari (Miss Deep)

Amanda Winn Lee*

Drake Anderson

Jaxon (Jason?) Lee**

Joker

Crispin Freeman

Mr. Gentleman,

Jean-Henri Farbre

Douglas Rye

Gennai Hiraga

Dean Hagland

Wendy

Tricia Dickson

Otto Lilienthal

Hal Lublin

Genjo

Chad Fifer

Ikkyu

Daniel Raymont

President of U.S.

Dave Herbelin

 

* - Also co-producer and director

** - Also co-producer

 

 

 

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