Read or Die - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: N/A
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Manga Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 90
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Read Or Die / R.O.D.

Read or Die

By Chris Beveridge     April 12, 2003
Release Date: May 27, 2003


Read or Die
© Manga Entertainment


What They Say
Join teacher/secret agent Yomiko Readman and the crack squad of bookhunters from the Royal British Library’s Division of Special Operations in their mission to save literature for posterity!

The Review!
One of the more anticipated OVA releases of this year, Read or Die is just one of those very short series that hits just about every mark right.

Audio:
If there’s one thing Manga likes, it’s audio selections. In addition to the original stereo Japanese track, we get both a stereo and 5.1 remix for the English track and a Japanese 5.1 remix as well. For this review, we listened to the Japanese 5.1 remix while skimming the other mixes at various places. For the most part, the 5.1 adds a bit more clarity to the track but doesn’t provide anything noticeable going to the rear speakers. Music and dialogue definitely sounds sharper, but overall it’s not a really immersive mix. Throughout the tracks, we didn’t find any dropouts or other distortions.

Video:
Released in 2001 and with OVA quality animation, the transfer here is very attractive. Fluid animation combined with some really vibrant colors and choreography brings out a very active visuals that look fantastic here. Colors are nice and solid, blacks and grays hold up wonderfully and cross coloration is pretty much non-existent. There’s a bit of aliasing in a few areas, mostly during pans in some of the very busy rooms, but that’s pretty negligible in the end.

Packaging:
There is no packaging due to this being a checkdisc.

Menu:
The main menu is a rather nice piece set to the opening music where you get the feeling of a really nice book with the drawings along the edges and the animation playing through the center as they use the opening sequence to great effect. Submenus are solid and access times are nice and fast.

Extras:
There are some good extras included here, though your mileage may vary. The first is a nearly twenty minute Q&A session with the creative force behind the show from a convention, but unfortunately it’s done in such a way that if you have any hearing issues at all, it’s going to be near useless. The questions are asked to them in English, and then translated to them in Japanese, they respond in Japanese, and then it’s translated verbally into English. All of this to what’s likely a camcorder without the greatest of clarity. With my hearing being somewhat off, I couldn’t understand most of the English, so the extra turns out to be fairly useless to me.

The historical biographies section is a great piece that highlights the real people behind the various characters that show up in the episodes and the photo essay section is essentially a series of high quality stills from the show. The original trailer is a really nice stylish piece that will get most anyone in the mood to watch the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Read or Die has been one of the more anticipated releases in region one since it was first acquired and for good reason. Though things get compressed and do feel a bit rushed due to it only being three episodes, it provides a very solid action adventure piece with enough things to make it stand apart while still adhering to the formula that it pleases just about everyone.

The series is focused around Yomiko Readman, a young woman whose passion is most definitely books. When we meet her, her entire room is made up of books from floor to ceiling. As we expand through her home, a five-story building in the middle of the city, we find it completely filled with books all over. And like any true reader, she’s never done getting more as we follow her through her jaunts to acquire more and more. And much like a real reader, she’s somewhat disconnected from the real world as she has notes all over reminding her to do things from cleaning up to eating her meals.

Her obliviousness takes on a new height not long afterwards once she comes into possession of a rare German language version of Immortal Beloved. As she reads through its pages while waiting for the traffic light to change, a rash of insects starts swarming down the street and causes all sorts of chaos. Yomiko doesn’t realize this until the very end when the insects are about to hit her. It’s this instance where we really realize she’s something more as she takes the scattered pages around her and casually turns them into a barrier around her. And then when a man on a giant grasshopper bounces in and demands that she give him the book, we know that something far more insane is coming up.

As it turns out, Yomiko is one of many agents that’s employed by the British Library’s Special Engineer forces that deals with just such odd things that come up. This particular incident isn’t the first of a chain that started up recently, as the series opens with Gennai Hiraga, a figure of the Edo era, arriving at the White House in Washington and promptly destroying it, mistaking it for the Library of Congress. With this rash of incidents, as Gennai has stolen some six hundred manuscripts and other documents, Yomiko is brought in to team up with a few others to track down those who are actually behind all of this. An elderly man simply named Gentleman leads the Library, but he lets the day-to-day affairs and operations be handled by The Joker, a blonde mix of suave and stuffy British. For this mission, he brings Yomiko into play with Miss. Deep and Drake Anderson.

Both of these characters bring a certain charm to the series and add an angle that gets exploited as the show progresses. Miss Deep is the alluring and curvaceous woman with the ability to morph through objects, but she’s also quite dexterous and quite good with handguns. Combined with Drake, an almost resigned-feeling American, the two flesh out the team nicely. The main thing that gets explored throughout all of it though is the relationship between Yomiko and Deep, as each of them try to impart their own views of life and living to each other, since each sees the other missing something key to really living.

Read or Die, while having an enjoyable although compressed plot, leaves its main attraction to the action sequences. These are lushly animated and quite often visually unique. When chasing a flying enemy throughout New York City, Yomiko uses her abilities as The Paper to turn all of her paperwork into one huge paper airplane and then has Drake lift it and her and toss it off the building. But she can also use them to violent designs as well, such as whipping sheets at people that cut them deep or covers their mouth completely. And the villains make out well, such as this visualized persona of Genjo Sanzo, who uses his staff to literally whack a giant submarine into submission after parting the sea and revealing some ancient ruins. All of these scenes and the others are just lovingly animated and provide some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in some time.

With the disc itself, the main presentation of the three OVA’s is just about perfect. Each OVA is presented separately (which in my mind preserves the original composition of each episode, as you were supposed to be left hanging and wanting more at the end of each, which I think would be lost if it was all spliced together into a “film”) and the end credits sequence is just the translated credits. The original end credits were the exact same thing, just in Japanese, so there’s nothing really missing there. There are however a couple of minor disc issues that are worth noting. On the three main decks that I use for playback, none of them retained the settings selected from the menu (audio or subtitles) when the show itself began. I tried a variety of patterns to see if it was something in particular, but nothing kept at all.

The other issue, which is one of aesthetics more than anything else, is with the subtitles. While the 99.9% of them are spot on, the ones that are going to cause trouble are the signs translations. As there are no hardsubs on this, the signs translations are done alongside the regular subs on the same track (there is no signs only subtitle track for dub viewers, sorry). The problem? They’re black with black shadow. They only really show up in the first episode and even then really just during the first five minutes through Yomiko’s house as they list her notes. With her house being dark gray and generally obscured, it’s even more difficult to read.

This OVA series was a lot of fun to take in once it gets going and reveals where it’s planning to go. The action is fast, the pacing is spot on and the characters are a lot of fun to watch. It’s a bit mindless in some ways, but it belies that with a subtext that really hints at a much larger picture to be explored. This is definitely good for multiple viewings and for getting the average non-anime fan interested in anime. Definitely recommended.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Q&A with the Filmmakers,Original Trailer,Character Bibliographies

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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