Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 11th 2011
R.O.D The Complete Blu-Ray
In the OVA series, Yomiko Readman is a frumpy, bumbling ultra-bibliophile who normally gets by as a substitute teacher but is actually secretly “The Paper,” an elite, super-powered agent for the British Library Special Forces unit. Her peculiar talent is the ability to manipulate paper to any purpose, whether it be increasing its tensile strength sufficiently to cut steel or block bullets, creating a chain to anchor down a fleeing opponent, or crafting a giant paper airplane or parachute. When super-powered clones of historical geniuses, called I-jin, start popping up and causing trouble over a particular book, Yomiko teams up with fellow agents Nancy (aka “Miss Deep,” with the power to phase through objects) and Drake Anderson to attempt to thwart a dastardly plot which puts the lives of most of the world's population in peril.
In the TV series, which begins five years later, three other Paper Masters have surfaced, living and working together as sisters in Hong Kong: eldest Michelle, the tall and quiet Maggie, and middle school-aged spitfire Anita. A bodyguard job brings them into contact with Nenene Sumerigawa, a young writer who has been afflicted with writer's block since her good friend – who just happens to be Yomiko – disappeared four years earlier. Though Nenene finds the sisters' presence irritating at first, they gradually grow on each other, which becomes very important when a crisis later strikes. Nenene, it seems, has certain talents highly sought-after by certain parties, while the Paper Sisters find themselves embroiled in various increasingly dangerous schemes involving the recovery of certain one-of-a-kind books. As agents from the British Library start showing up and a grand scheme starts to unfold, Nenene and the Paper Sisters are left with only one option: track down Yomiko. The truths that leads to, however, will shock most of them to the core, as does the scope of the dastardly plan that's afoot behind the scenes.
The 2001-2002 OVA series Read or Die and its 2003-2004 TV sequel were originally released in the U.S. by Manga Entertainment and Geneon, respectively. While the TV series has previously been released in a series collection, the different licensors have resulted in the entirety of the anime never before being released in a boxed set. Now Aniplex has not only done that but also given it the Blu-Ray treatment, too, all packaged in a box designed to look like an old book (naturally). This new release uses the original English dubs but dumps the Extras from the original releases in favor of an extended preview of an upcoming movie, extended Next Episode previews (classified as Trailers on the disks), and a booklet which includes an R.O.D. production timeline, character profiles, production sketches, details on the booklets that came with the original Japanese OVA and TV releases, fanciful sketches by certain production personnel, and an Illustration Gallery featuring bonus pin-up art of assorted characters in poses far sexier than is ever seen in the episode content. The five disks come in two flip cases which also feature some wonderful new bonus art. On the downside, the subtitles include some grammar errors that should have been obvious and, inexplicably, the English credits for the whole thing only appear on the first disk. The Blu-Ray treatment does make a series that already looked great look and sound even sharper, though the age of the material makes the 4:3 aspect ratio impossible to avoid.
The TV series is a direct sequel of the OVA series, but the contrast between the two in focus and tone is striking. The OVA episodes spin a high-spirited adventure yarn focused on super-powered fights and exploiting the novel and very cool ability of its star to the max, and at this they succeed very well. Their corny premise has the same degree of preposterousness commonly seen in cheesy super-hero tales aimed at kids and makes no effort to explain the hows and whys of anything, but hey, all of it is really just an excuse to give The Paper the opportunity to show off her neat abilities and the disconnect between her professional competence and personal incompetence. It has a little bit of character development in the way it tries to shape the relationship between Yomiko and Nancy, but with only roughly 95 minutes of screen time in an action-heavy tale, there is not much room to delve into things deeply. Still, the story does tell a complete arc and come to a satisfying conclusion even if it ends with the feel that it is all just a piece of a bigger picture.
The TV series, by comparison, is far more about the relationships between the main characters – at least in the first half, anyway. Yomiko is entirely absent until episode 15, so the focus stays primarily on the makeshift family formed by the Paper Sisters and, eventually, Nenene, too. (Yes, this is the same Nenene whose name is on the reminder notes in Yomiko's apartment at the beginning of the OVA series, so that lingering mystery, at least, gets solved quickly.) The bonds which have formed between the sisters, and which form between Anita and some new school friends and between the sisters and Nenene, are a delight to watch and nicely-balanced with the occasional action components, while the personalities of the core cast members also blend well together. When carry-overs from the OVA series like Joker, Wendy, and Drake start popping up, watching how they have changed over time (especially Wendy) can also be quite interesting.
The relationship elements stay strong even through the second half of the series, though by that point the plot has fully taken over and the time for low-key school interludes is over, so the relationship development must continue amidst the action scenes and drama. The “bigger picture,” which includes an explanation for what happened in the OVA series and why, starts coming together with the partial recap that is episode 14. While the overall scheme is just as preposterous as the OVAs' plot and some events happen more for story convenience than logical reasons, parts of the grand scheme evoke memories of Farenheit 451 (which is one of the episode titles) and 1984; given that this is a series centered around books, this is almost certainly not a coincidence. The resolution of the plot in the final episode happens a bit too smoothly and neatly given what occurs to that point, but the strength of the character interactions as the series spills its guts on the full truth behind past events and the identities of the Paper Sisters, as well as all of the cool new variants on paper mastery, more than make up for shortcomings elsewhere.
The OVA series was such a visual and technical marvel for its time that it could easily pass for having been made several years more recently than 2002. Age has allowed some of its inconsistencies in character rendering quality control to occasionally show through, but at its best it is a flashy, sharp-looking series characterized by smooth animation and highly distinctive character designs; Yomiko's design has virtually become an icon for a female bookworm, for instance. The TV series is not quite as glossy-looking and does not normally make quite the spectacle of its action scenes, but it does still features animation well beyond the norm for TV anime, still puts a lot of effort into doing novel things with paper, and still features plenty of appealing character designs (though Yomiko changes subtly in appearance after the OVAs and Nancy looks entirely too young) and more consistent quality control; it is one of J.C. Staff's better visual efforts. In both cases background art looks very good. Both series have some bloodshed, but the only truly intense graphic violence happens in episode 9, which also features the one bout of outright nudity in a series otherwise nearly devoid of prurient fan service.
Both series are also blessed with a strong soundtrack. Music director Taku Iwasaki, whose other credits include great efforts in Now and Then, Here and There, Gurren Lagann, and Witch Hunter Robin, helms both and reuses several musical themes from the OVA in the TV series, with techno themes and light, jazzy numbers prominently featuring vibraphones being a staple of both. The OVAs emphasize dramatic effects more and do a broader mix of regional and classical music themes, while the TV series offers more variety in light-hearted slice-of-life themes. Both series use essentially the same theme for an opener, complete with similar visual elements, but vary much more in the closers. The TV series replaces its mundane initial closer with an equally mundane one for the second half, although it has some distinct variations in the final episode.
The dub for the OVA episodes is a pretty good one, with Kimberly Yates giving a fittingly ditzy performance in the lead role and Amanda Winn Lee complementing her nicely as Nancy. New Generation Pictures used an entirely different cast for the TV series, but this may have been for the better, as the TV series dub stands as one of the best of the 2000s. Casting decisions are uniformly dead-on, characters who should have British accents do have them, kids sound like they were actually voiced by kids, and performances requiring emotional displays flawlessly hit the mark. It's all the more impressive because the overwhelming majority of the cast has limited anime dubbing experience beyond this series; Patrick Seitz and Carrie Savage are the only VAs with more than bit parts whom fans would likely recognize by name, and both were relatively early in their dubbing careers when this series originally came out in the States. The contrast between Helena Taylor's rendition of Yomiko and Ms. Yate's take is a startling one, though both performances do fit the mood of their respective series. The English script generally stays fairly tight in both.
Taken as a set, the OVA and TV series tell a complete tale that can be a lot of fun to watch. Each has its own strengths: the OVA part has more concentrated zing in it, while the TV part sparkles in its character development. The hokey plot and premise is a weakness, but if you can roll with that (and handle the fairly steep price) then this set will deliver unto you many hours of solid entertainment.
NOTE: Grades below are for the TV series. The OVA has a slightly higher art grade, a substantially lower story grade (only a C+), and slightly lower Overall grades.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Top-rate dub and good character development (TV), lots of flashy and cool action (OVA).
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