Read Or Die

Image of DVD cover (49k jpg)

Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Region: Four.
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Disc 1:

Cross James Bond with the Secret Life of Librarians, add in a dash of Eastern cultural flavouring and what do you get? Well 'Read or Die' would seem to be a darn good answer to that question. It follows the adventures of a special library agent over three tightly linked episodes, all present on the disc, as she discovers a plot to rediscover something hidden in Beethoven's writings.

Something someone has gone to an awful lot of trouble to get starting with creating clones of various historical figures and imbueing them with super-normal abilities in keeping with their area of expertise. Jean-Henri Fabre therefore has affinity with insects, Otto Lilienthal a powered glider of remarkable abilities, Gennai Hiraga a special battery system that allows him to wield considerable eletrical charge to name but a few.

Fortunately for the world as whole the British Library have a Special Forces section whose operatives wield some not inconsiderable powers themselves. Amongst them is the heroine of our piece, Yomiko Readman, who has the ability to shape and wield paper in a variety of ways allowing her to deal on equal terms with these reincarnated ljin of the past. Helping her is Ms. Deep - a codename she hates because as she says it makes her sound like a porn star. She can phase through matter making her very hard to kill. Finally Drake Anderson who has no powers per se but is a very capable firearms and demolitions man. Together they must discover what is hidden in these manuscripts and to what purpose the information contained within will be put to.

It is whimsical, silly and so flat out over the top there is absolutely no way it could be confused for real life. This is escapist fare at it's finest that takes us away to a world where books truely are the most highly prized commodity in the world and librarians are trusted keepers of them. Things proceed at a dazzling pace with the White House destroyed less than five minutes into the first episode and the US President continues to have a bad day through the remaining two episodes. It is all so tongue in cheek that you can't help but be pulled along and amused by it. It helps that Yomiko's power allows her to pull off some very imaginative tricks and it becomes easy to see why she was assigned.

Because this was an OVA release the production values are quite high with some very nifty reflection effects being used as well as a lot of nicely fluid animation. Some of the fights rank as the best seen thus far for fluidity of motion and general inventiveness in Japanese animation. Visually alone you are in for a treat even ignoring the story. About my one quibble is that Ms. Deep does have a somewhat excessive breast sway, which combined with the somewhat out of kilter proportions of the character lowers the tone of matters a little by making her too obviously pandering to adolescent males. It is a shame because Yomiko is refreshingly normal and most everyone else is too.

Audio wise we have both 5.1 English/Japanese tracks. Nothing to complain about there although my preference is for the Japanese audio track. Whilst the English track is good to my ear it still sounds very obviously like an American conception of a stiff British accent and just doesn't quite fit. The R4 release differs from the R1 in not providing a 2.0 track as well. Frankly I don't miss it, all DVD players are quite capable of downmixing the audio anyway so I'd rather have the standard settle around 5.1 then be lumbered with 2.0 tracks instead.

Rounding out the disc are nicely brief menu animations and a selection of extras. Most useful are historical biographies of ljin referenced in the series. It helps to read them after watching the episodes because you then get a lot more of the jokes and sly references being made. So what is not to like about this release? Well nothing really, it is a solid little OVA series that has a whale of time telling it's whimsical story. Any anime fan worth their salt should at least check this out if not buy a copy.

Philip R. Banks
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