It feels like it’s been years since we took a look at Read or Die OVA. Wait, it has been two years already! Anyway, it’s nice to return to the series that features girls that have the ability to control paper, but is it a worthy follow-up? The short answer is yes.
Synopsis: Five years have passed since the occurrence of the incident known as the “Human Annihilation Mission.” In Japan, a novelist is dealing with writer’s block after her friend has gone missing. In Hong Kong, three sisters, masters in the use of paper, run their own detective agency to solve cases that involve books. When these people are brought together, a bond greater than blood is formed – a bond that will be sorely tested by the evil powers intent on taking over the world.
Join Anita, Maggie, Michelle, and Nenene as they travel the globe in order to save the world from the evil mastermind, Mr. Carpenter! Of course, that’s if they can find the time to put down the books they’re reading…
Personally, I’m a big fan of the protagonist from the OVA, Yomiko, and I would’ve preferred to have seen more of her adventures, but this isn’t so bad. Taking place five years after the events of the OVA, Read or Die TV offers a far more complex plot than its predecessor, and that comes with some advantages and some disadvantages over the OVA.
Probably the biggest advantage is simply how not much was really explained in the OVA. In the OVA, the backstory and origins of the I-jin are mostly omitted, and their motivation is simply to exterminate all of humanity. Sounds simple enough, but luckily, a lot of the gaps end up being filled over the course of this season. Unfortunately, pretty much all of this happens in one huge info dump midway through the season. I’d have preferred if this happened in a more organic way, but at least we learned more backstory, so I can’t complain too much.
But back to this season. The focus of the story has shifted from Yomiko, over to an old friend of hers, a novelist by the name of Nenene. Three sisters (who, like Yomiko, are also Paper Masters) who run a detective agency are hired to act as Nenene’s bodyguards, but through many twists and turns, the four of them get caught up in evil organizations, plots of world domination, backstabbing, political subterfuge, you know, all that typical evil stuff.
While I did kind of miss the simplicity of the OVA story, all of the plot twists and story developments are very welcome in this sequel. In the first half of the season—back when Nenene and the sisters were the sole focus—there are times that the story is slow-moving and not terribly exciting, but around the halfway mark, business really picks up. Not too long after this shift, Yomiko and Nancy are reintroduced, and from here on out, I thought that this season was easily on par with what the OVA had to offer.
Mostly thanks to the apppearance of cloned historical figures (evil Beethoven!), the OVA had a certain level of campiness that this season can’t quite match, but there are some strange goings on here as well, like dinosaurs straight out of The Lost World and fighting-machines from War of the Worlds. Of course, this wouldn’t be Read or Die without Paper Masters, and since there are now four of them, we get plenty of nice action involving all sorts of paper creations. Oh, and the American president still pees his pants on multiple occasions. I know you were just dying to know, so you’re welcome for that tidbit. 😛
Early on, this didn’t always feel like the Read or Die that I was familiar with, despite Paper Masters and a cute bespectacled protagonist. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but over the course of the season, my enjoyment of this anime continued to increase, and when all was said and done, this definitely felt like the Read or Die that I remember. Without spoiling too much, the ending is a bit convenient for my taste, and seeing how quickly the UN and other nations of the world were to condemn the actions of the British Library makes you wonder how they let things escalate that far in the first place. Anyway, the story was still pretty enjoyable, so if you liked the story of the OVA, or just stories involving special agents and shady organizations, chances are you’ll find this pretty intriguing as well.
Yomiko was/is a great character, but Nenene isn’t too shabby either. Unlike Yomiko, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and she has a feisty attitude that I really like. That attitude of hers is on full display once her bodyguards—Michelle, Maggie, and Anita of the Paper Sisters Detective Company—start living with her. Nenene couldn’t be any more different than Yomiko, but they’re still my two favorite characters in the series, and their personalities complement each other really well.
Speaking of Michelle, Maggie, and Anita, the three sisters might not be biologically related, yet they still have a very close bond, so they might as well be. Personality-wise, Michelle is a likable ditz that loves books almost as much as Yomiko does. She may be the oldest of the three, but she doesn’t always act like it, though she does occasionally have a maternal side that shines through.
On the flip side, Maggie is much more of a quiet introvert that would rather be alone in a dark place reading. Like her older sister, Maggie’s serious side comes out when it comes to protecting her sisters. I can’t say that I liked Maggie as much as Michelle, but I can say that I enjoyed both more than youngest of the three, Anita.
She’s the child of the group, but she’s even feistier than Nenene. The two of them often butt heads, and that’s usually where I found Anita to be the most entertaining. When she’s not kicking ass, I just thought that she often times seemed like a huge brat, however, I did like how she was always the first to stand up for her sisters, even if it did sometimes get her in trouble.
No disrespect to the new characters, but this isn’t Read or Die without Yomiko, and once she returns in episode fifteen, she’s every bit as adorable and awkward as she was before. Yomiko still has that naiveté that often gets her in trouble, but she’s more wary of getting involved in dangerous situations, for Nancy’s sake.
Just like the OVA, there’s only a modest level of subtext in this anime, but in addition to Yomiko x Nancy, there’s also Nenene x Yomiko. As for the former, Nancy is still suffering from the effects of what happened at the end of the OVA, but she’s been by Yomiko’s side this entire time, and they continue to take care of each other, so at least there’s that. That’s nice to see, but there are also a curveballs thrown in that dramatically changed how I viewed Yomiko and Nenene’s relationship, specifically the fact that Yomiko having had a male lover that’s still alive (she thought he was dead). Yeah, cue the “you sunk my
battleship” sound clip. But look on the bright side, that relationship took place in the past, and when the day is saved, Yomiko doesn’t go out searching for him (her and Nenene head off somewhere instead).
Since I just mentioned it, don’t forget about Nenene x Yomiko. Nenene’s always viewed Yomiko as her friend and mentor, and once Yomiko went missing, she could no longer find the motivation to continue writing. Every once in a while, she’d visit Yomiko’s place and clean up, in the hopes that Yomiko would be returning soon. At one point in the season, Nenene is visiting with some old friends, who seem to recall Nenene never having a boyfriend, but they did seem to think that Yomiko was her girlfriend. Right after this, Nenene says that she doesn’t swing that way, but let’s just overlook that part… 😀
Let’s just say that Nenene’s actions don’t always match her words, and it’s not that weird to view their relationship in a romantic light. She has a photo of Yomiko in her locket, and everyone knows that you don’t put someone’s photo in your locket unless you have romantic feelings for them. So keep telling yourself that you don’t swing that way, Nenene. At some point, you just might fool yourself into believing it. 😛
Also, the first edit of this review left out the important fact that Anita’s best friend, Hisa, confesses to a boy who confessed to her that she may be in love with Anita. Ain’t nobody here wanting to hear some boy confess his love, so I must’ve overlooked that part. My bad. But that’s the most definitive example of yuri in this anime.
For a good stretch, Anita’s school life plays a pretty big part in the story, as does her relationship with Hisa. Up until Hisa’s admission to the boy, they have the standard close friendship that you’re likely to find, but we don’t see that many scenes afterwards before Anita ends up heading off. On the bright side, after Hisa declines to attend a farewell party at school for Anita, there’s a really sweet moment where Hisa is able to muster up the courage to tell Anita goodbye and give her a proper send-off. That’s probably the most tearjerking moment of the season, and it was the best possible way to end that arc. And Anita eventually does return, so I guess you can call it a happy ending. Thanks to neneroi for pointing it out to me~
Regardless of who you ship, there’s nothing more than subtext in this show, so just don’t expect too much yuri in this one. I gave it a yuri rating of four, but I probably wouldn’t argue with you if you think that’s too high.
Some of the other characters from the OVA have made a return in the TV anime, although not all of them are like how we remember them. The most notable of these returning characters is Joker, who has gone from one of the quintessential good guys in the OVA, to the central villain in this latest installment. And by his side is Wendy, who was nearly as cute as Yomiko in the OVA, but now, she’s just a bitch. Yeah, I didn’t like how she changed so much.
Drake is also back, and the addition of Junior—another underling of Joker’s—turned out to be a pretty solid one. The combination of returning favorites and interesting newcomers lead me to think more highly of this cast of characters than that of the OVA. The yuri is comparable, so, for me, the characters turned out to be a slight upgrade.
Moving on to the visuals, the TV anime saw a change in studios. Out is the studio behind the OVA, Studio Deen, and in is J.C.Staff. For the most part, this is a fairly seamless transition, although a little more consistency would’ve been nice. One thing I really enjoyed was how the use of paper was much more inventive than in the OVA. Maggie’s flying familiar is simply much cooler than Yomiko’s giant paper airplane (which also returns), though, it felt like the battles were less memorable than they were in the OVA. The battle between Maggie and Sonny Wong was pretty awesome, but the OVA had the battles with Genjo Sanzo, Gennai Hiraga, and Otto Lilienthal, so I got to give the OVA the edge in terms of action awesomeness.
Back when I was first watching the OVA, one of the things that struck me was the music, which had a sort of James Bond-ish flair that I really enjoyed. I’m happy to say that a lot of that flair has returned, as have several familiar tracks that really help this anime feel like the Read or Die we remember. Best of all, that awesome theme is back, so I’d say that the music didn’t skip a beat, and it’s still as enjoyable as ever.
Overall, Read or Die TV is a nice follow-up that arguably turned out better than the OVA. The OVA did some good things in terms of action, but the barebones story really gets a fleshed out upgrade in the TV anime (farfetched as it may be), and the trickle down effect it had on the rest of the production helped to lift it up over its predecessor.
Whether you think the OVA is better or the TV anime is better, it’s hard to argue that this is a unique action/adventure series that’s anything but entertaining. Badass bookworm girls that can control paper? What’s not to like?