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"Read or Die" TV: Read, Please

Read or Die is quite an interesting series. The original OVA had giant grasshoppers, ten-foot-long paper airplanes and Beethoven as a villain. Not only that, but the main character, Yomiko Readman — also known as Agent Paper — used paper as her weapon, and as everything else. Whether it was a bulletproof shield, a sword, or a whip, watching Agent Paper work the old papyrus was half the fun. Riding off the success of that OVA, the creative staff decided to invent three new heroes (called the Paper Sisters) with the same powers as Agent Paper for the TV series. And with more time to work with, that meant showing off some more cool paper attacks. The story may be messed up, but the paper battles are well worth watching.

Episodes on this disc:
Episode #13: “Twilight of the Papers II”
Episode #14: “Paper Leaf Wood”
Episode #15: “In the Gray Light of the Abyss”
Episode #16: “Fahrenheit 451″

Five years have passed since the original OVA. The British Library is gone, Joker and Wendy have joined Dokusensha (the bad guys from the OVA) in order to retrieve seven mysterious books, Nenene Sumireigawa (Yomiko’s best friend from the original manga) has been kidnapped, and Yomiko and Nancy have dropped off the face of the Earth. Luckily, Nenene is friends with the Paper Sisters, Maggie, Michelle, and Anita, who are also Paper Masters, and they know where she is. Unfortunately, a big, bulky guy wearing cool shades is standing in their way. To add to the danger, he’s also a Paper Master! Unfortunately, the result of this rescue mission leaves our heroes labeled as terrorists, so they have nowhere to go. The Paper Sisters must find their predecessor, Yomiko, in order to learn what exactly happened five years ago. However, Joker is on their tail and he’s not too happy.

My feelings about this show vary wildly from episode to episode. The first episode on this disc is by far the highlight, featuring some awesome uses of paper that are much more creative than anything in the OVA. These include armored suits, giant snakes, lances, bows and arrows, and even a chimera-like creature. The choreography is amazing, making these battles really fun to watch. Unfortunately, that’s the bulk of the action on the disc right there, which made me wish for more. Oh, and a major character dies.

After that, there’s a clip show in the form of Wendy making her report. She details the events that led up to the OVA (which fills in a lot of gaps) as well as what happened to make the situation grow worse. Unlike clip shows on other series, this one doesn’t feel padded or unnecessary. It actually adds a lot of information to clue the audience in to what’s going on. Junior (a young boy whom Wendy is taking care of and who also has the same density-changing power Nancy has) also gets some development, as he cooks dinner for Wendy, even making her a birthday cake (even though her birthday is two weeks away).

The episodes go downhill after that. The Paper Sisters and Nenene run around Japan, trying to decide what to do next, while Joker makes his next move. The gang gets a tip about where Yomiko is: the biggest library in Japan, which seems painfully obvious when you think about it. I mean, you’d think they’d have looked there first. However, when the gang arrives, Yomiko seems reluctant to join their group and fight Dokusensha. She doesn’t have much of a choice, though, when Joker arrives for the last book of Gentlemen’s memories. The Paper Sisters barely escape with their lives, and Joker leaves empty-handed.

That means the group is on the run yet again. Yomiko suggests they get together at her parents’ house, which isn’t far and should be safe from Joker for a while, and Maggie and Anita scope out Japan to make sure everything’s safe. Junior sets out to retrieve the book from Yomiko while Joker performs one of the most disturbing acts I’ve seen in an anime, especially one set in present time: book burning. Joker gathers every single book in town and sets every single one ablaze in the middle of the city. Apparently, Joker has a real stranglehold on Japan because I know he wouldn’t be able to get away with that in the U.S. Then again, this is a series where certain people can make a paper sheet stop a bullet, which is never explained, so I guess you kind of have to suspend disbelief.

One of the things I greatly enjoyed about the original was Yomiko herself. She was happy, cheery, and just plain fun. The way she would fawn over the latest book one minute while flinging a paper whip to capture a giant grasshopper the next was just great to watch. Unfortunately, that Yomiko is gone. The Yomiko in the TV series is depressed and angsty, and as such, not nearly as enjoyable to watch. It’s been a long-standing anime tradition to take a character that is fun and enjoyable and make her life a living hell, and done correctly, it works. However, this is not one of those times. Here, Yomiko’s transition is awkward, especially since we don’t know exactly why Yomiko did what she did. As if that wasn’t enough, they turned Joker from a suave male-version of M (from James Bond) into the villain of the series (even apparently killing Nancy’s baby!) and Wendy from a clumsy secretary to a professional businesswoman. These characters have become little more than clichés now. Though they have the same names and designs (roughly) as the ones in the OVA, they are not the characters I knew and loved.

The English voice cast doesn’t help much. I’m not too sure why, but Geneon didn’t get any of the voice actors/actresses from the original to return for the series. Joker’s voice is decent, but Wendy’s just doesn’t feel right to me, especially after her voice was so perfect in the OVA. Then again, it does fit this new interpretation of the character. Yomiko is probably the worst transition, as her fun-loving, childish, innocent-sounding voice is replaced by a pale imitation (except this one has a British accent, whereas the original didn’t). I utterly hate Yomiko’s new voice, as it doesn’t fit the character at all (though a friend of mine who watched this without seeing the OVA liked her voice). The new characters are voiced pretty well, though Maggie, Michelle, and Anita’s voices can’t seem to express any emotion whatsoever. Even when the characters are supposed to be silly, their acting is still wooden, even from Michelle, who’s supposed to be the ditziest of the group.

The animation is pretty good, even though there isn’t much to show it off with. The only money shots outside of episode thirteen are near the end of episode sixteen, during the giant book fire. Everything else is either shots of sitting and talking or taken from earlier episodes and the OVA. Transfer is well done, which shouldn’t surprise many people in this day and age. The music is very Bond-ish, especially the opening theme, which fits the show just right. Unfortunately, the ending themes clash with everything else in the show and threw me off-kilter. The fact that they are really loud doesn’t help matters.

Extras are actually decent. There’s a commentary on episode thirteen with the voice director and a few of the voice actors, and though they go off on way too many tangents it’s still an enjoyable commentary. One interesting tidbit is that one of the actors, who played a British character in Hellsing, was often ridiculed by fans for putting on a bad accent, when he, in fact, has a real British accent. The remaining extras, an art gallery, credit-less endings, and a bunch of trailers (most notably is Appleseed), are par for the course. The case says there are promos, but I can’t find them. By far the best “extra,” however, is the next episode previews. Here, the three Paper Sisters (with the mindset of young, energetic teenage girls instead of their TV personalities) discuss random facts about the episode, such as what “Fahrenheit 451″ means and what button stew tastes like. So the previews don’t say much about the actual episode and they can drag a lot, but they’re still interesting. Certainly more entertaining than most episode previews in anime, that’s for sure. Included with the case are a double-sided pencil board and a two-page insert written by the Japanese staff discussing how Nenene translated from the original manga to the series.

It’s hard to judge this disc. Those who haven’t seen the OVA may get more out of it, but those who greatly enjoyed the original Read or Die will be put off by how much has changed.

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