12 years have gone by since I last cracked open ROD The TV. Wow.
I had so much fun with the Girls with Guns Trilogy rewatch and wanted something else epic (but not tear jerking) to revisit, so the 7-volume box set of the Aniplex anime based in, around and on the READ OR DIE light novels and manga and READ OR DREAM manga series seemed like a perfect fit. And it was. (For all the anime, manga and book reviews check out the R.O.D Category here.)
Three Chinese Paper Users are hired to protect Japanese author Sumiregawa Nenene. They save her from an attempt on her life, and come to Japan to stay with her. Nenene has been in a slump since her friend and inspiration, Paper Master Yomiko Readman, has disappeared. Nenene, Maggie, Michelle and Anita are drawn into a plot that is meant to literally reshape the world, lead by Yomiko’s former boss at the British Library, Joker.
The story turned out to be atrociously timed. As the United States is slipping more quickly than we could have imagined into a not-Democracy, with the assistance of Putin who would love to recreate the Soviet Union as the world leader, watching a story about Joker remaking the world in a former age’s image was hitting way too close to home. I was not series-angry with Joker’s stupid pretension of world peace, I was actually really angry. So that wasn’t so good.
But the story hangs together in ways that I could not have expected and the lessons I came out of the whole thing clutching at were these: In the penultimate episode Yomiko says of Joker “I have to make him give up or he’ll just keep trying again.” This is a lesson for the resistance to any repressive regime. We need to make them give up. And so we will. It took 12 years and entire world to overthrow Hitler. My calendar is clear through 2028. We’ll get rid of these fascists, too.
Also, there is an important life lesson in the arc in which Joker “reveals” to the three Paper Sisters what the “truth” of their existence is. I use quotes because 1) ultimately it doesn’t matter, as they discover, that they were created and their memories seeded. Their feelings are real, even if the events are not and 2) why would anyone ever believe Joker in the first place? People who gaslight aren’t trustworthy. We’ll trust in our bonds, no matter what they say about us, that our marriages aren’t real, or our lives aren’t worthy. We’re going to tell our stories every day and not let the gaslighters get the final word.
So plot and character wise, this series hold up really well. But animation-wise? Peee-yeeww. I remember vividly when this ran on TV, fan complaints about the shitty animation and Aniplex promising that they’d do clean up for the DVD release. Well, they did, but not much and not really well. The first half is still really shitty, up to, including and past the linchpin moment when Nenene finds Yomiko in the stacks at the Diet. The animation is distractingly awful in many places. So awful that when it’s good, it’s distractingly good. “Oh! Look it’s not bad!” you exclaim and then “Oh, it’s bad again.” Over and over. This is not good for an anime series that is otherwise deep and complex and nuanced and needs your full attention to follow it all.
That said, the story is so good that, craptastic animation and all, it’s still worth watching for a definitive “history” of all the Read or Die timelines and a plot that ties them all up in a way that not only works, but provides satisfactory ends for everyone…even the bad guys, but especially the good guys.
Art – 3 Godfuckingawful
Story – 10
Characters – 10
Yuri – There’s a whole lot or none, depending on how you want to see it. I say 9
Service – 5 Boob mechanics are just the most pathetic thing ever,
Overall – 10, possibly 100
It’s still an amazing story. I just wish it had gotten the animation it deserved.