by Carlo Santos,

R.O.D.: Read or Die

G.novel 4

Read or Die GN 4
Armed with her love of books and special paper-manipulating powers, Yomiko Readman is "The Paper," a special agent dealing in rare and sensitive books for the Library of England. Her latest mission involves the Underground Library, a secret repository of wisdom. Her target: the Book of Truth, a volume that supposedly grants eternal life to whoever reads it. She's already tracked the Library down to a school named Manshu Academy, but now there are multiple battles to fight—students at the academy have turned against each other, fellow paper-user Ridley is also after the Book, and her commander, Joker, apparently has his own motives. Yomiko wants to protect the Book of Truth in accordance with the wishes of her former mentor, Donnie Nakajima, but saving lives and saving books is going to push the very limits of her ability.
If I had to pick the Coolest Special Powers of all time, paper manipulation would at least make the Top 5. Yomiko Readman makes a great case for this ability in the final volume of the R.O.D. manga, where almost every scene is dotted with elegant showers of flying paper. Of course, there's a fair share of bullets and explosions too—no secret agent mission would be complete without it—but the world of literature portrayed in this series is unique. This particular volume is pure battle from start to finish, constantly escalating along the way with new villains at every turn. It's a surefire formula for excitement—but not so much for strong storytelling. Nonstop action is good fun, but what if that's all there is?

To be fair, this volume doesn't start with battle. It starts with Yomiko summoning her willpower and thinking over her destiny as a Paper Master ... and THEN charging into battle. The early chapters are a chaotic mess of warfare between the Manshu Academy students, a totally forgettable arc but one that leads up to the Underground Library scenario. This is where the spirit of the series truly kicks in, with Yomiko facing off against fellow paper-user Ridley over the Book of Truth. The arrival of Joker adds another twist to the climax, albeit a predictable one—anyone familiar with how bad guys operate in action-adventure should see this coming. Through it all is the constant torrent of flying paper, deadly attacks and harsh words, anything to keep the tone at fever pitch. The only time it ever slows down for a flashback that fills in the gaps about Donnie's past.

This flashback turns out to be the most rewarding part of the volume. It tells an entire story in just a couple of chapters, and yet that story is the foundation of everything that's led up to this situation, as well as detailing Yomiko's relationship with Donnie. Not only does it add substance to the preceding events, but everything after the flashback now comes with a new sense of purpose: Yomiko is doing this for the man she loved, and for the books that are her livelihood. The finale is full of determination and sacrifice, but also a lot of unnecessary bombast, ultimately dissolving into a pat Hollywood ending. And that's the problem that keeps this from being a truly great action series—it takes a blockbuster movie approach and drowns out its own coolness with a predictable plot and too many flashy effects.

Those flashy effects come from the pen of artist Shutaro Yamada, who is only too happy to lace everything with speedlines and jagged panels. The style is very dynamic, to be sure, but also hard to follow. Many of the battle scenes, which look so captivating at first glance, need to be re-read just to figure out what actually happened. To add to the confusion, some of the transitions from flashback to present aren't entirely clear. However, Yamada still gets plus points for his confident sense of design, working with a visually memorable cast of characters and creating an imaginative paperworld for the Underground Library. If there's one way to pin down the R.O.D. look, it's loose sheets of paper constantly fluttering around—this touch of ambiance alone is what sets the series apart from all other secret-agent capers. Let's face it: half the reason paper manipulation is such a cool power is that looks a lot more unique and classy than slinging a gun. (The other half of the reason: versatility.)

With so much focus on action, most of the dialogue consists of one-liners and interjections—an easy job for the translation staff and thus handled competently. If anything, picking the right fonts for this adaptation is more important than picking the right words; there's a fair amount of yelling that happens in big letters and sound effects that have to be rendered boldly. The loud dialogue looks fine, but some of the sound effects—which completely replace the Japanese originals, as is customary for Viz—look too blocky and cartoony, even though they fit the mood of an action series. On the production side, the busy artwork is printed sharply, bringing out details and shades ranging from total black to various grays to the white of the page. Included in the back as a bonus is an interview between the manga editor and creators that's surprisingly fun and candid.

The finale of R.O.D. brings out all the strengths and weaknesses of an action series: constant thrills and a highly imaginative concept, but bogged down by its own lack of subtlety and predictable execution. For anyone who simply wants to see some wild paper-fighting action—or has been following the manga series up to this point—this will probably satisfy, but don't expect too much beyond that. There's a short, sweet interlude about Yomiko's past, but everything else is fight, fight, fight. Like the crash-bang Hollywood movies that it emulates, R.O.D. is heavy on style and attitude but light on storyline. It's good enough for a quick dose of excitement, but if you want real substance, just make like Yomiko and pick up a book.
Overall : C
Story : D
Art : B-

+ Exciting battles and a sweet little flashback that fills in some essential gaps.
Too much action (which gets hard to follow at times) and not much of a story at all.

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Production Info:
Story: Hideyuki Kurata
Art: Shutaro Yamada

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Read or Die (manga)

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