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Read or Die OVA

By Shamus
on Tuesday May 16, 2006
Filed under:


This show looked really interesting in the preview, but failed to deliver once I sat down and watched it. I like bond-esque spy stories, and I even like send-ups of those sorts of stories, and the preview made this seem that way. It wasn’t. On the upside, the series is only four episodes and fits on a single disk, so at least it was over quickly.

Read Or… something else. Don’t be fooled by the opening. This is not a fan service vehicle.

There were just too many ill-fitting elements in here. The main character is a secret agent (agent Paper) who is obsessed with books. She has a gift for manipulating paper in combat. For example, she can take a piece of looseleaf and use it like an edged weapon. She can even throw it and stick it into solid wood. This was an interesting ability, but they took it too far.

Just imagine what she could do if someone introduced her to corrugated cardboard.

She goes on to make paper weapons that can cut metal in half, stop bullets, shield against explosions, and do any number of implausible things. I was even willing to accept that for the sake of the story, but they didn’t stop there. At one point she runs around in a swirl of paper and crafts a gigantic paper airplane. Another agent throws it off the roof to get it going, and from there it is able to keep up with a jet and even engage in a bit of dogfighting.

I’m sorry but I am not buying this.


The enemies are strange as well. They are clones of inventors or leaders from hundreds or thousands of years ago, and they have been “given super powers”. They are called the I-Jin. This seems like a lot of trouble for the villian. His plan seems to be:

  1. Steal DNA of famous people who are now dead
  2. Clone them
  3. Convince them to join in his crazy destroy-the-world doomsday plan
  4. Teach them to fight
  5. Imbue them with super powers and super weapons
  6. Send them to fight the good guys
  7. Steal some rare books.

It seems like you could skip the first four steps by just using some of your henchmen instead of cloning famous people. What’s the point?

For the most part the I-Jin ride around in ridiculous ways. They have tons of technology, but still they choose to travel using giant insects and other absurd things

Note to evil masterminds: When acquiring rare books, the lunatic-on-a-giant-friggin-grasshopper method isn’t as effective as you’d think.

The bad guy sends his army of goofy clones to collect books which should be more or less easily available. The most important one is actually for sale in an old bookstore. He could have just bought it, but instead he sends some goofball riding a giant grasshopper to steal it. The resulting battle tips his hand to the good guys. He didin’t even need that army of warriors – all he really needed was a library card and a photocopier.

In the opening moments of the show, an I-Jin gets on top of the white house, blows the crap out of it and sets it on fire, and then asks the President of hte United States, “You there! Is this the library?”

So his plan was to blow up a building and then find out if it was the library? Doesn’t that seem to go against the stated goal of acquiring books from said library? Are we to believe the bad guy took the time to clone and train this I-Jin but never bothered to give him a map of Washington DC? If your supersoldiers are wandering around asking for directions to famous locations, you are doing something wrong.

Of course, no evil plan is complete without a gigantic and heretofore secret floating fortress, and this isn’t the sort of villian to forget a detail like that. His base is many times larger than the largest aircraft carrier ever built. It has massive moving platforms and endless catwalks which are perfect for all the final showdowns that need to take place. We learn that the base is really just a launchpad for an orbital rocket. Apparently he’s also completed his own space program in secret, and plans to launch a rocket that will…

Oh, who cares? It’s gibberish.

How could he afford such a thing? Must have used non-union labor. I’ll bet it doesn’t follow OSHA standards, either.

This show had a lot of style, the characters were interesting, and the artwork was great. But all of that wasn’t enough to carry a story full of holes and contrivances, and filled with implausibe things. There is only so much stuff you can put into one story. A movie about vampires is cool. A movie about space aliens is cool. But a movie where the Predator and the Cylons team up to fight Vampire Superman, a clone of Hercules, and Mecha Abe Lincoln is just goofy, and that’s the sort of mess we have here. Too much unrelated and ridiculous stuff to swallow.

Another note is that the writers are not fans of America, or of George Bush in particular. The Americans march into combat time and again only to be slaughered en masse. (As far as I can tell, they are the only ones who die at the hands of the bad guy. A lot of them die. Thousands. Sometimes this seems to be almost played for laughs.) The U.S. president in the show is an obvious parody of Bush. He has a Texan accent and even mispronounces “nuclear”. He’s also a bumbling fool who pisses his pants not once, but three different times during the show. The series is only four episodes, so they devoted a lot of time to presidential pants-wetting. Nobody is going to accuse this show of being overly subtle.

In the end, the whole thing is a waste of time. It’s worse than a waste of time. It’s contrived and clumsy, preposterous and ill-conceived. The climax is predictable and the ending is lame. This show makes me think that an anime-themed MST3k would be a good idea.

One further note is that this show is different from the 7-disc TV series. Steven watched that and his review suggests that the TV version has many of the same issues.

Comments (21)

  1. I did eventually buy and watch the entire 26-episode series, and it doesn’t get any better. Not one of my favorites, by any stretch.

  2. HC says:

    It’s mindless fun, if you like watching pretty lights and stuff going boom – and some of the time, that’s just what I’m looking for. Emphasis on the mindless.

    In fairness, though – they *did* send someone to buy the book. Grasshopper guy was the back-up plan.

  3. Shamus says:

    Dang. Evil Otto left a comment on this post after I’d copied the DB over. Thus, it isn’t here at the new site.

    Sorry Otto.

  4. Alex says:

    Actually, I really liked it … and it was actually a fan favourite, winning some sort of “best OVA” award back when it was released. Of course, being a fan favourite doesn’t mean anything, but I had a lot of fun watching it.
    Part of my enjoyment was based on the fact that I think anti-American sentiments in anime are hilarious, but only a very small part. In a show like this, I don’t have to believe anything, I just have to care: from memory, I really liked Nancy and Yomiko and was almost, you know, touched by the ending.

    Caveat: this was more than 100 titles ago, so my opinion might change if I watch it now. My stance probably won’t change from “slick”, though.

  5. Evil Otto says:

    Censorship! Censorship! You’re oppressing my rights!

    You just don’t want to answer my difficult question about Vampire Superman. I guess the cover-up continues.

  6. Shamus says:

    Part of my enjoyment was based on the fact that I think anti-American sentiments in anime are hilarious, but only a very small part.

    I’m glad you were able to enjoy it. I am curious as to why the anti-american sentiments seem funny, though? It seemed so mean-spirited to me. Perhaps it came off differently for you, or you are seeing some aspect of it I’m missing?

  7. Dan says:

    HC says “In fairness, though – they *did* send someone to buy the book. Grasshopper guy was the back-up plan.” How the hell did the buy the book plan go wrong. What did he walk in and say “I need to buy this book for world domination” and the lady then refused to sell it to him or did you need ID to buy the book and he left his wallet at home.

  8. Shamus says:

    How the hell did the buy the book plan go wrong.

    Just by random (highly contrived) chance the main character got there and bought the book first. Both her and the villian reached for the book, but she grabbed it first.

    She got it, not because it was critical to the safety of the world, but because she was looking for something to read.

    I still think if the bad guy hadn’t wasted all those months brewing clones he might have reached the bookstore a bit sooner.

  9. Ubu Roi says:

    To me, it’s the less blatant anti-Americanism that I find irksome. How many anime have I seen in which the dominant world military belongs to the UN? I’ve lost track. Strangely, it’s always manned by people that look and act like Americans.

    Then there was Full Metal Panic, in which Mithril pretended to be the UN going in for the rescue… but when the real U.S. military is shown later, the officers are either Queeg (rolling ball bearings in his hand no less), trigger happy, incapable, or put personal likes/dislikes ahead of mission objectives. I really like FMP, but when Kalinin said the line “We’re the only military in the world that can pull this mission off,” I had to snort and reply, “You wish!”

  10. jdhays says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t like it but, I think you’re being a little unfair. It is a story about super-powered operatives for the British Library fighting super-powered clones of famous thinkers. It’s supposed to be over the top. The end of the world plot is just there to hang the action pieces on. It could have been a heist picture or a murder mystery, and you’d still have a fight between Yomiko and the bugman. I’m not trying to change your mind or claim that ROD is better than you think it is. It’s not. Just, that it’s a victim of its milieu.

    Giant man-shaped robots are probably not the best space weapon but, if you have “Gundam” in the title, you have to have them. Why doesn’t James Bond kidnap the bad guy, rather than trade quips over martinis at the bad guy’s shindig? He’s got a license to kill but not a license to smack around? It’s because, he has to. He’s James Bond. He _has_ to go to the bad guy’s shindig.

    ROD is campy. More camp than you expected. But it not Austin Power’s campy. I think you were expecting “The Hunt for Red October” but got “Moonraker.” I just think it’s a little unfair to call it “Spy Hard.”

  11. HC says:

    Japan has a really weird relationship with America. Understandable, given everything.

    One of the more interesting (though I haven’t seen it all yet) takes on the relationship is Zipang – the basic premise is that a Japanese AEGIS cruiser is on its way to exercise with the US Pacific Fleet, and is zapped back in time to just before the Battle of Midway. You have all the usual time travel issues (“can we change the past?”), as well as the fact that, as it turns out, the Japanese of that era are in many ways very foreign to our heroes. Add in the usual Japanese issues around pacificism, and you have the mix.

    Anyway – at some point, they take on a Japanese prisoner. He’s not stupid, and recognizes that this ship cannot be from his era, and that it is entirely manned by Japanese. This is grounds for hope about the war…

    And, in passing, his captors give him a Coke to drink.

  12. There was an American film like that. USS Nimitz was transported back to just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was called “The Final Countdown” and boy was it crummy. (Not even Kirk Douglas could save it.)

  13. Alex says:

    As an Australian, I don’t really feel like a part of the US. There’s that detachment, but there’s also the fact that R.O.D. doesn’t feature a scathing indictment of the US administration, it’s just a silly president played for laughs. I thought that the incontinence – which you have to pay attention to see – was great. It’s satire so distanced from reality that it’s more of a farce: if you were offended every time anime grossly misrepresented a culture, your brain would explode. It’s far more innocent than Hollywood’s attacks on Russia and North Korea, in movies as recent as the blatantly fear mongering Stealth.
    Anyway, most of the time anti-American sentiment in anime is either so far removed from reality that you can’t help but smile. I don’t think anyone’s really getting hurt, because after all … they were made to hit in America.

    As for the accent, that’s obviously a dub thing. I’ll sound like I’m being elitist if I say that you can’t really get everything out of anime if you watch it dubbed, but I guess I am: in this case, it most certainly influenced your chain of thought.

    Bonus round of total undermining: I didn’t hate Gasaraki.

  14. Alex says:

    (I meant undermining myself).

  15. Shamus says:

    Alex: Thanks for the perspective.

  16. Pixy Misa says:

    In Kamichu, it’s the Japanese government and military who are the bad guys. They want to capture the cute martian; the Americans just want their space probe back.

    But when anime looks at WWII, the results can be very odd. Russia & Germany = bad guys. America & Japan = good guys. That’s how it was, right? Right?

  17. […] Most interesting is that I was reading an opinion about the representation of World War II in anime: that America and Japan are frequently seen as the good guy, with Germany and Russia as the unquestionably evil. This episode wants to tie in the idea of Japan, and so the Nazi ship was charged with the mission of delivering a Japanese officer to Batavia. While the Japanese officer is ultimately inconsequential to the story at hand, it is nice to see a tacit acceptance of the fact that Japan and the Nazis were in league. […]

  18. kellandros says:

    The reason that the bad guy used clones of famous dead people is that he wanted to clear the world of those he considered worthless(practically everybody). So who do you repopulate with? How about the best and brightest from recorded history?

  19. Nespin says:

    Heh – you raise some very good points about ROD. It is over the top, and it does get silly. Thats the whole point though, really. This isn’t meant to be taken seriously, it is meant to be out and out ridiculous. So its really no surprise that someone who loves the more thought-provoking animes (EG: Haibane Renmei) didn’t like it so much.

    But there is one thing that this review gets completely, 100% wrong. One very, incredibly basic thing.

    It was only /three/ episodes.


  20. anon says:

    For: Suggesting to a critic that he, “Keep your opinions to yourself”. Silly Fanboy. – Shamus

  21. Lizzy says:

    I agree with you. It’s silly, it’s weird, overall not a very well put together anime. but I just love the charachter Yomiko Readman. She’s a superpowered librarian secret agent for goodness sakes. That’s so nerdy it’s cool again!

One Trackback

  1. By Anime Pilgrimage D/R » Black Lagoon - episode 4 on Sunday May 21, 2006 at 8:28 am

    […] Most interesting is that I was reading an opinion about the representation of World War II in anime: that America and Japan are frequently seen as the good guy, with Germany and Russia as the unquestionably evil. This episode wants to tie in the idea of Japan, and so the Nazi ship was charged with the mission of delivering a Japanese officer to Batavia. While the Japanese officer is ultimately inconsequential to the story at hand, it is nice to see a tacit acceptance of the fact that Japan and the Nazis were in league. […]

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