I wasn’t too sure how exactly I wanted to review the Read or Die (R.O.D.) series, considering it’s made up of a two different manga (Read or Dream and Read or Die), three OVA episodes (also called Read or Die), and then finally a 26-episode anime (Read or Die: The TV) (PLUS the light novels that they’re all originally based on!). I watched the anime series first (which occurs chronologically last), and since it has the most substance compared to the other series, I decided it should be my main focus for this review, although I will briefly mention the others.
What’s it about?
In an alternative future, the British Empire remains a world power due to influence the British Library, its external intelligence agency, has on the rest of the world. At the beginning of the series, famous Japanese author Nenene Sumiregawa is suffering from writer’s block after her friend Yomiko Readman goes missing. When she is bought to Hong Kong for a book-signing event, the three sisters Michelle, Maggie, and Anita are assigned as her bodyguards. When Nenene is threatened, the sisters reveal their powers; they are Paper Masters, having a unique ability to manipulate and control paper. Nenene is hopeful the three know Yomiko, also a Paper Master, and she brings them back to Japan with her. In Japan, the three sisters start doing odd-jobs for Dokusensha, a Chinese organisation that rivals the British Library, but the group soon find themselves in conflict with latter.
Something that holds for all mediums of R.O.D. is the fact is that there are some super interesting concepts in this series. To begin with, Paper Masters are just so freaking cool. I never thought I would want a super-power that involves manipulating paper, but after watching the anime, it’s right up there at the top of my list! The Paper Masters of the series literally stop bullets with just a piece of paper! I like that within the are of paper-manipulation, there are different variations; Maggie makes familiars out of paper, Michelle uses ranged weapons, Anita is basically a ninja who uses paper as her weapons, and Yomiko does everything plus more. If you want to see some of this paper-manipulation in action watch this video (from the first episode of the anime)… It’s so cool!
Other interesting concepts in this series stem from the focus on books and literature. The fact that the British Library is an important organisation for worldwide politics is a good indication that this is a series in which books play an important role. In fact, a lot of the Paper Sisters’ early missions involve the retrieval of important books from the hands of others. As an avid reader myself, I really like the emphasis on the importance of books and the way certain books are central to the plot of the story. In this world, books are key for survival, dominance, and manipulation. We see throughout the series books (or at least texts) being “forced” into others, used to resurrect the dead, and even controlling the flow of information and power.
Finally, I really liked that this series is pretty much dominated by female leads. I also like that we get different types of female leads; while Michelle is incredibly feminine and confident in herself, Maggie is almost androgynous and quiet and reserved. Anita is stubborn and bratty, while Nenene is outspoken and proud. And that’s only the female characters you are initially introduced to, there’s more that follows! This series also features a lot of strong female-female friendships and bonds, almost to the point where one could argue that this title can be classified as yuri. There’s no overt romantic actions (or words for that matter), but, in particular, Nenene and Yomiko’s bond can be interpreted that way. However, I’m not a yuri expert, so I’m not too sure. Regardless of the classification, the positive portrayal of the strong friendships and bonds is done very well in the anime, and throughout R.O.D as a whole.
The main issue I had with this anime is that the series just doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. You have all of these awesome ideas and interesting conflicts floating around, but the series just doesn’t pull them into a steady story-line. The story fluctuates between three strains; a sort of detective-agency set up, an almost slice-of-life story, and then, for the latter half, saving the world from a big, bad secret organisation. To help with the inconsistency, there aren’t enough explanations as to what’s going on. I get that the anime is just one of many parts of the R.O.D series, but the writers’ assumption that the audience already knows the background to a lot of the events doesn’t help the audience in anyway. The mess of all of this makes the audience feel that there is too much complication packed in to the 26 episodes. At the same time, however, the inconsistent pacing also makes certain episodes drag on forever, with the well-executed action scenes too few and too far between. For a large part, R.O.D: The TV is a lot of ominous talking about world affairs and a lot of confusion. That’s about it.
Anything else I should consider?
Probably the correct order of consuming this series would be R.O.D. manga, Read or Dream manga, R.O.D. OVA, and then R.O.D: The TV. However, if you only want a taste of it, I’d recommend watching the R.O.D OVA first, followed by R.O.D: The TV if you liked what you saw. The manga is only worth checking out if you’re really dedicated. Here’s a quick summary of all of these bits and pieces;
R.O.D (OVA): Three episodes, set before the TV series, and following the meeting of Yomiko and Nancy, and their work together for the British Library.
Read or Dream (manga): Four volumes, following side-stories of Michelle, Maggie, and Anita. Very cutesy with not much substance, but enjoyable if you like the characters.
Read or Die (manga): Four volumes, focuses on Yomiko and her work for the British Library. Also contains her first meeting and early friendship with Nenene. Very, very confusing.
Art: 6.5/10: This series was created in 2003, and the older art style reflects this. However, I still found the art to be neat and quite fluid, which becomes very obvious in the action scenes.
Story: 5.5/10: I really admire all of the unique concepts in this anime (and R.O.D as a whole). But you can’t enjoy these ideas to their full potential because they’re wasted in a messy, hard to follow plot.
Characters: 7/10: I really liked the diversity of the female leads and the strength of the friendships between them. However, I feel that the series falls short on meaningful character development.
There’s a lot to like in the R.O.D series. It boasts some of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen in an anime yet, and the strong female leads are a nice change. However, the chaotic mess of the (sometimes incredibly slow) story ruins a lot of the good things about this anime. If you’re willing to wade through the confusion, you will probably come out enjoying a lot of the aspects of this series, but lamenting the wasted potential. Not everyone has the patience or care to do this, and so, overall, I give R.O.D: The TV a 5.5/10.