Read or Die -

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Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 15 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Manga UK
  • MSRP: £19.99
  • 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 Dani Moure     January 01, 2004
Release Date: August 18, 2003

Read or Die
© Manga UK

What They Say
The Library of Congress Never Planned for This!

A sinister plot is afoot and only one schoolteacher, a special agent with an affinity for literature, can stop it. She is Ms. Yomiko Readman - better known to her colleagues in Section A of Library Special Operations as "Agent Paper". Someone is bent upon procuring several rare lost Beethoven manuscripts and has somehow enlisted a few of history's most extraordinary personalities, through stolen DNA, to aid in the endeavour. Readman and her fellow super-powered operatives must tangle with the likes of Tokugawa-era scientist Gennai Hiraga, aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal and 19th century entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre in a desperate race to find the books and save the World! Action and adventure abound in this thrilling anime series created by top-rate animation director Kouji Masunari. Contains the complete R.O.D series - three stunning 30-minute episodes!

The Review!
One of the most eagerly anticipated OVA series of the past few years hits DVD, and it's one of the best UK releases of the year.

As is often the case with Manga, for this release they've acquired the Japanese 5.1 mix as well as your standard stereo mix, and for the dub they've also provided both flavours. I listened to the Japanese stereo mix during playback and noticed no dropouts or distortions. The dub is a good one, following the literal translation closely while still sounding smooth, but my biggest complaint would be that Kimberly Yates didn't quite fit as Yomiko; she just sounded a little too "old" for me, when compared to the cuter sounding Yomiko on the Japanese track.

The video on Read or Die is simply gorgeous. With the show being released between 2001 and 2002, Manga have managed to produce a stunning transfer which is free from any noticeable glitches during normal playback. There's no artefacting to speak of, even during high action sequences, and aliasing is extremely minimal. Colours are vibrant, and the disc just oozes a quality look.

With the credits for the show being done artistically as part of the background frames, it would seem there is no clean version of the opening available. As such, Manga took the option of using soft subtitles for translating the credits, which works extremely well and is far more preferable to some options that they have used in the past, as it maintains the gorgeous artwork.

The packaging on the UK release is where it really excels, and what makes it, in my view, the best of the English-language releases. The keepcase is surrounded by a slipcase, as is quickly becoming standard on all new Manga releases. The artwork features Yomiko in her pose as though she's about to throw paper. It's essentially the same artwork on volume 1 of the Japanese release, as well as the cover of the US and Australian releases, but instead removes the "R" in the background and looks all the cleaner for it. The background image is a montage of screenshots from the episodes. The back of the slipcase, and the cover, have your usual synopsis of the show along with production credits. Special features and language options are clearly identified. I was extremely pleased to see that, unlike some other releases, the artwork on the cover of the keepcase was different to that of the slipcover. This features the image of Nancy falling beside another Yomiko pose, as seen on the final cover of the Japanese release. Again it's shrunk slightly to fit in the various logos, but nonetheless this is a gorgeous package.

The insert contains the slipcase cover art (with the filter over the montage removed), and also contains the chapter information. It folds out into a nice poster which replicates the keepcase cover art, but amusingly dubs Yomiko as "The Player".

The menus are simple and provide easy access, done up in an archival style. The only gripe I have with it is that the chapter list is rather unclear, though it tries to keep with the style of the show.

There are a few good extras here, but sadly, what would've been my favourite is marred with problems. That is the interview with the creators – Koji Masunari (Director), Hideyuki Kurata (Screenwriter) and Masashi Ishihama (Character Designer). The interview runs just over 17 minutes, and actually has some good material tucked away there, but the sound on the interview is unfortunately rather low and muffled, leaving some parts very difficult to make out. This becomes a problem because it's entirely lacking in subtitles. Which leads into the other problem – editing, or lack thereof. Because it's an American interviewing the three together at what appears to be a convention, there's an interpreter involved. This means that the interviewer asks the question in English, it's translated to the creators, they answer, and their answer is then translated back to English. This alone makes the interview a bit of a chore to listen to. Honestly, Manga would've been better off just cutting it down to the creators answering the questions, and subtitling the video with the question and then their answers. You see a lot of interviews on anime discs done in this way now, and it works much better than here. Having said that, again, the interview is pretty good if you stick with it, and I'd rather it was here than not.

Another extra is a nice text-based section of "Historical Bibliographies", which give a brief page on the people who are referenced throughout the OVA. This works well, since the historical references add a little to the show itself, and I had no idea who a few of the people even were. This is complimented by a "Photo Essay", which is basically a superfluous collection of screenshots which tell the story of the OVA. The extras are rounded out with Manga's short trailer for the disc itself, and a selection of other Manga trailers.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
There is always a problem with trying to tell a deeply characterised story in a total of around 90 minutes, so it's not really a surprise that Read Or Die focuses more on the action and takes a slightly more subtle approach to the character development. Indeed, the action will be the selling point for a lot of people, and with good reason, since each sequence is pulled off with style and a bit of panache. But Read Or Die is a fun show that anyone can enjoy, with a fun cast, endearing lead and pretty good plot, that make it worthwhile even for those looking for a bit more.

The show starts in spectacular fashion, with a man standing atop the White House and leaving it in flames, as the President is dragged to safety through an escape tunnel. His reason for the destruction? He was looking for the library. He then identifies himself as an "I-Jin".

The show then swiftly switches focus to the apartment of one Yomiko Readman. Clearly a bookworm, she soon takes a walk into town to buy even more books, before coming across a German edition of "Immortal Beloved". She quickly grabs it off the shelf, despite objections from a blue-haired beauty who was after the same copy. Outside, she stands reading her book not even noticing the panic that has stricken the rest of the onlookers, and is then attacked by a man atop a giant grasshopper who is only after her book. She soon manages to regain her copy and get rid of the man by making creative use of nearby paper.

It's then that Joker is introduced, and Yomiko's codename of "The Paper" is revealed. She works for the British agency "Library of Special Operations", and it's soon told that a year before, stem-cell samples of I-Jin (the "great persons of history") were stolen, and it's believed that these samples are being used to clone the I-Jin and give them super-human abilities. They think that someone is using the I-Jin to steal numerous books for some master plan, so a new mission begins to thwart it at all costs.

The team assembled for the mission includes Yomiko, an American agent called Drake Anderson and Nancy, more commonly known as "Miss Deep", who is the aforementioned blue-haired lady that Yomiko encountered in the bookstore. Miss Deep is somewhat cold and distant towards Yomiko when they formally meet, but she does eventually warm to Yomiko as they battle together.

The first episode closes with a huge aerial action sequence, featuring yet more spectacular paper usage, and is a great introduction to the characters and premise, through a nice mix of action and character introductions. The subsequent episodes see more I-Jin attacks and the overall plot become more and more clear. There's plenty of room for some nasty cliffhangers, too, particularly at the end of the second episode which sees a surprise twist from one of the characters.

The story holds up surprisingly well throughout the three episodes, and although it's a relatively straightforward plot, it's executed as well as could be hoped for. But part of the appeal of Read Or Die is the style and quality that ooze out of every frame. The three episodes were released between 2001 and 2002, and as a pretty high-budget OVA, the animation quality is at times stunning, and the show just has that "new" look that holds throughout. The action sequences, as mentioned, are suitably awesome, and extremely satisfying in context.

Another huge part of the appeal of the show is Yomiko herself. She's a great lead, who is both endearing and intriguing, and has an innocent quality and naiveté about her that comes across well, particularly in her interaction with Nancy throughout the course of the episodes. It helps that, despite not being a totally conventional lead, with her paper manipulating abilities, Yomiko also looks extremely cool and since she doesn't seem to know it (as she's always lost in her books), it makes watching her all the more appealing, if only to see what paper tricks will be pulled out next.

Despite the limitations inherent in the running time, the relationship between Yomiko and Nancy progresses nicely throughout and is totally believable. Yomiko is immediately trusting while Miss Deep takes a while to come round, but their eventual friendship is a believable bond, and only drew me in further as the story continued to twist and turn, and had me caring about what happened to the characters right up to the end.

The supporting cast is interesting too, from the stereotypical Joker to the other agent on the mission, Drake. The I-Jin serve as formidable foes, and each is sufficiently different, with their unique abilities, to stop the action from seeming to be rehashed and keeping the scenes exciting and fresh. Ikkyuu, the villain of the piece, is mostly straightforward and comes off as reprehensible, but works in this role as there's little need for any vulnerabilities with him only being on screen for a short time; the most important thing is to see how his presence affects the main characters, and there are plenty of repercussions from his appearances.

In Summary:
Read Or Die is one of the best OVA series I've seen in some time. It isn't a great epic story in most senses, but nor does it try to be. It's full of fantastic action sequences and a great cast of characters. With this one disc, you get a nicely resolved story with a conclusive and satisfying ending, making it a great stand-alone one-shot story. When you consider that the presentation from Manga gives us one of the best discs to grace UK shores in 2003, you have a winner. In fact, in terms of presentation we have what is quite possibly the best English language release of the show. There really is little to fault here, making Read Or Die a great buy for someone looking for a fun, action packed show.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Original Trailer,Historical Biographies,Photo Gallery,Director & Crew Interviews

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.


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