Oct 27, 2014

Anime Review: R.O.D. / Read or Die

R.O.D. title/logoAh yes, R.O.D.; it’s been a long time coming. I still remember how fantastically popular it was back when it originally came out in 2001. Footage of it appeared in countless AMVs of the time and for years after. It was praised for being refreshingly original and action-packed with some high-quality animation for its time. Alas, though, I never got around to seeing it until this year. And I’m sorry for being so late to the party because I really don’t think I can tell you all anything you probably don’t already know at this point.

Two incarnations exist, the original OVA and a follow-up TV series that aired a couple years later. The TV series is, in fact, a direct sequel of sorts (though set several years later) but it doesn’t seem like it until about halfway through.

A side-by-side screenshot; Yomiko writing on a pad while on the phone at her home; Yomiko running through a traffic-filled street dragging her suitcase as she chases a giant flying bug

The OVA is fun, action-packed, and well-paced. It follows three “agents” as they work to recover a book amidst intrigue, double-crossing, and so on. I mentioned it was refreshingly original but this can also lead to a bit of confusion since the series rarely takes time to do exposition dumps and some details about the setting and alternate history are glossed over unless you look them up (or, I guess, read the manga). In this world, the British Empire remained a superpower and is incredibly wealthy and influential. There exists some shadowy figures behind it, something akin to an Illuminati thing. Additionally, in this world, the British Library has the power, functioning less like a library and more like MI6 or the CIA, due to having superhuman agents. Our star in particular is a one Yomiko Readman who can manipulate paper to do just about anything: assume any shape as well as change its hardness such that it can pierce asphalt or block incoming bullets.

A side-by-side screenshot; Yomiko huddles in a corner clutching a book protectively; Yomiko dodges an attack from a resurected Son Goku on some old stone steps

The whole premise is ridiculous and more than a little confusing but is a lot of fun despite. It doesn’t quite ever feel campy and it definitely attempts to tell a real Bond-esque spy movie story, but it kinda knows it’s ridiculous but just goes all in with a straight-face anyway. Did I mention it was a lot of fun? It’s hard to read too deeply into things or really get much of a resolution in the end, mostly due to the short 90 minute length, but it’s certainly enjoyable nonetheless. Other than being pre-widescreen and thus old-school 4:3 aspect, it has managed to age quite well, still looking and sounding very good. Yomiko is a charming spaced-out single-track-mind (books) girl with an adorable voice by someone who has bizarrely done essentially nothing else. Miss Deep is voiced by a long-time veteran and is a delight to watch her do her crazy matter-phasing, and Joker is the lovable in-over-his-head ever-complaining military family man.

R.O.D. the TV title/logoIf the original OVA feels kind of like a throw-away spy movie, the follow-up TV series manages to improve on just about everything: it weaves a much richer more fleshed out story, it follows three new sisters with engaging personalities and some satisfying character growth, and it refines the paper powers by varying their usage and quirks between the three sisters. All of this is done with decent pacing, animation that while not quite as good as the OVA is still great for a TV series of its time, and building off of the story the OVA set up. It does take about half of the season before old characters start to show up again and things really get rolling, but even so it manages to build things up well. There’s a lot more time here to develop the three sisters and even some side characters, as well as flesh out the world and setting while also letting you piece together what’s happened in the intervening years.

A side-by-side screenshot; Michelle, Maggie, and Nenene look down the apartment hallway now flooded with books spilling out of their door; the three sisters gather at a cheap foldable table to introduce Nenene to their place and have some tea together

Like I said initially, though, I don’t think I’m making any huge revelations here by saying that R.O.D. is well worth your viewing time. Even today it holds up as excellent and delivers a solid experience throughout. Having now seen how good it is first-hand I’m even more ashamed as an anime nerd to have taken so long to watch it. If you’ve put it off like me or you’ve only seen more recent things don’t ignore this gem from the past.

A side-by-side screenshot; Anita leaps through a parting wave of books to deliver an attack; Michelle forms and prepares to fire a paper bow and arrow

As of this writing, you can watch R.O.D the TV series for free on Crunchyroll, but unfortunately and for whatever reason they don’t have the OVA as well.

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