It may sound like a movement created by P. Diddy that’s aimed at getting young people to read, but Read or Die is actually a series of light novels that were adapted into a three-episode OVA that eventually spawned a full-length anime season. What happens when you mix espionage, cloning, and two sexy female secret agents that each have a unique superpower? Let’s find out~
Known as “The Paper”, Yomiko Readman is a bibliophilic substitute teacher that also moonlights as an agent of the British Library Special Operations Division. After attacks in Washington D.C. that result in the destruction of the White House and several hundred manuscripts being stolen from the US Library of Congress (as well as its destruction), Yomiko is called upon to help capture the perpetrator and return the missing manuscripts. But the appearance of historical figures that have long since been dead, which might be tied to a prior case of stolen DNA samples, mean that Yomiko and her partner, “Miss Deep”, have a bizarre mission to get to the bottom of.
What Read or Die OVA‘s story lacks in nuance and backstory, it certainly makes up for in originality. And considering how short this OVA is—only three episodes—the pacing had to be fast and furious in order to get everything across, and I’d say that it didn’t feel too rushed, so I think it was a job well done. Story-wise, you could say there was a lot of meat left on the bone, so I would have liked to have seen this as a full season, just so we could get even more cloned real-life characters. How about a murderous Gandhi? Mother Teresa and an army of killer nuns? Or since BioShock Infinite had a robot George Washington, this could’ve added its own evil Abe Lincoln. The possibilities are endless! Seriously though, I really would have liked more episodes. Maybe I’ll eventually get around to watching the twenty-six episode sequel someday….
There was quite a bit crammed into these three episodes, including a couple of nice twists in the story that were very interesting (and which I’ll get to later on). To me, the uniqueness of the story was a major positive, no matter how absurd it may be. Also, there’s practically no filler, so only scenes that are somewhat relevant make the cut. Of course, this didn’t win any awards for storytellling, but for something so short, it’s surprising how well-executed this is. At the end of the day, the story was entertaining and different and there was never a dull moment, so I enjoyed it a lot.
Yomiko seems an unlikely hero, seeing as she’s probably the last person you’d expect to be a secret agent, but surprisingly, she’s quite the badass! Her ability to manipulate paper into any form makes her sustainable in nearly any situation, and for a bookworm, she’s surprisingly adept at defending herself. That’s great and all, but for me, it’s all about how cute Yomiko is, not just in appearance (those glasses!), but in personality as well. She’s innocent and naive, yet that only adds to her charm, and it’s also nice that she wasn’t overly sexified and that she appears very normal and dowdy. Yomiko’s love of books is well-documented, but I think she still has a ways to go to match our very own Lena’s love of yuri. 😛
Speaking of being overly sexified…. Sporting an ample bosom, Nancy aka Miss Deep, would be right at home as a sexy Bond girl. She wasn’t quite as interesting to me as Yomiko was, though her ability to pass through objects—which explains her nickname—is even more awesome than Yomiko’s ability. Once she gets to know Yomiko, she warms up to her a bit, even though it seemingly lasts for only a minute. Based on their interactions as partners, it’s pretty easy to ship the two of them, and things are helped along by Yomiko, who’s especially caring and overly friendly towards a mostly frigid Nancy. So the differences between the two of them are obvious, though the tension keep things lively and helps to spice things up. Nancy’s not as straightforward a character as Yomiko is, but generally, she’s fairly likable, and the two of them do make a nice team.
Even though I didn’t necessarily think that the story felt rushed, it sucks that there wasn’t time to develop the characters more. That pertains to not only the likes of Yomiko and Nancy, but the bad guys as well. It’s not a really huge deal, since the show is still pretty entertaining as it is, though things definitely could’ve been better had their been more time to properly delve into these characters. Someone who doesn’t get much much love is Wendy, but she’s one of the ones I wanted to see get more attention, mostly because she’s every bit as cute as Yomiko. The villains were interesting, mainly because of the whole cloning thing, yet the main antagonist’s motivation seemed a little too contrived for me to really take him seriously as a great villain. All in all, the limitations of the three-episode format played a major role in limiting the impact of the characters, but Yomiko and Nancy were enough to warrant a more than respectable score from me.
Now then, it’s spoiler time. Once again, just highlight the white area below to see all the spoilerrific discussion.
I think the ending is sure to rub some people the wrong way. I mean, Nancy choosing to stay behind on the rocket and let herself die just felt so… wrong, even moreso, considering how Ikkyuu was such a horrible person. Yeah, I know love is blind, but she still had Yomiko, and that friendship is something worth living for, isn’t it? In my eyes, that just really hurts the yuri appeal of the OVA and went a long way in undoing what had happened up until that point, or at least it’s that way to me. Even after Nancy’s betrayal, Yomiko still believed in her, that’s the kind of devotion that helps blur the lines between them only being partners and a just little more. Well, as nice as that all sounds, Nancy was still undoubtedly in love with Ikkyuu, so however much she may have cared for Yomiko, that applies tenfold for him…. At least Yomiko only loves books and not someone else, so since I’m being negative, I’ll end this sentence on a positive, no matter how trivial it may be.
On a brighter note, the final scene at the medical facility was very bittersweet and helped to avoid ending things on such a low note. It was a bit cliche, but that’s still a much better way of ending things, compared to how things were a couple of minutes prior. I like to think that Nancy was granted clemency, regained her memories, and helped Yomiko open her own library (where she and Yomiko would work together). I know, they totally should’ve hired me to write the ending…. 😛
So even though their character development was truncated due to the length limitations, the cast was another positive aspect of this anime. I doubt they’re anyone’s favorite cast of characters, but nevertheless, they were solid.
Studio Deen was at the helm of this, and I have to say, they did a really nice job. Originally released in over the course of 2001 and 2002, it’s pretty impressive what Studio Deen was able to do. If I had seen this without knowing of the release date, I wouldn’t have thought it was as old as it is. The action scenes were entertaining affairs that were well choreographed—not to mention fluid in movement—so overall, this was quite easy on the eyes. There were a few times where the art was rather simplistic and not so detailed, but for the most part, those were aberrations. So keeping in mind the age, this has to be one of the better-looking OVAs that I’ve seen.
Continuing the trend of excellent production values, the music was nearly good enough that it could’ve passed for a James Bond flick. Okay, so that’s a bit much, but they definitely nailed the suave secret agent vibe. And that OP just screams “secret agent”, doesn’t it? As far as voice acting goes, this was the only role that Yomiko’s seiyuu has ever done, and it’s a shame that she didn’t continue her voice acting career, since her voice made Yomiko even more adorable. In an anime about covert secret agents, the audio definitely sounds the part, and coupled with the visuals, this OVA turned out to be a very nice surprise on the audiovisual front.
When I first picked up this OVA a while back, I wasn’t expecting that much, but I think this turned out to be one of the more entertaining OVAs that I’ve seen. Yeah, the story is ridiculous, but it’s also very entertaining. This was a unique experience that may not be great in any way, but it’s still pretty good across the board. In a world where there’s grown to be a lot of staleness in anime, Read or Die OVA was a breath of fresh air that not only delivered some yuri subtext, but backed it up with an interesting story, nice action, and some quality production values.