19 February 2014

#2LR Too Late Review: Read or Die the TV series

Review: Read or Die the TV Series:

I'm not sure that I can come up with much of an introduction to this anime series, because what I need to say pretty much comes after the summary in order to be understandable.  For those who want to hew to SPOILER SPACE, I'll try to obfuscate as many of the spoilers as I can get to.

The story of Read or Die is not really reading per se, but the story of paper.  In the great Southern Woods... oh, actually, in Hong Kong, a famous Japanese author, Nenene Sumiregawa, found herself in a bit of trouble. She was saved by a group of women called "The Three Sisters Detective Agency".  The three women are Michelle, Maggie, and Anita.  All three of the sisters have the power to make paper bend to their will, to fold itself and stick itself together, and to move as they want it to. Michelle's power is primarily in making a bow/arrow, Maggie's power is to make animal shapes and activate them much like golems, and Anita's power is to be able to use paper in its deadliest form... to cut others.

The three sisters take Nenene back to Japan, and end up acting as her bodyguards so that Nenene can finish her latest book.  Anita is still young enough to need to go to school, so she enrolls.  One of the other students
there is a very effeminate boy, "Junior", who can walk through walls and/or floors without any problems.

To introduce the remaining characters and their backstory are Nenene's agent, the first evil conglomerate "Dokusensha", and the second evil conglomerate -- the British Library (?!)  As well, Nenene's on the search
for one of the teachers that she most learned from, Yomiko Readman (pun likely intended by the Japanese writers).

The story has quite a few twists and turns... Dokusensha, while paying off the Three Sisters to complete jobs on the side, ends up using Nenene's agent to kidnap her.  It seems that they want to use a set of artifact
books to try to rewrite Nenene's brain.  Their plan goes south when the Three Sisters realize what is happening and mount a rescue mission back to Dokusensha's main offices in Hong Kong to get her back.  As probably predicted, they are successful.  The interesting wrinkle is that they're labeled "terrorists" for causing all this damage to the building, so there is a bit of the cloak-and-dagger involved in the rest of the show.  It almost would have been interesting, but it got relegated to the memory-hole within only a couple episodes.

After those events the Three Sisters end up finding Yomiko Readman, in the halls of the Library of Japan based off of a tip from a local bookstore owner.  Yomiko's in there along with another woman, Nancy, who seems as meek and mild as a mouse.  Both turn out to be hiding from the British Library, the arch-enemy of Dokusensha, as both turned out to be agents.  Yomiko can also paper-bend, and not just to make little folded footballs during class.

And that's when the plot really ends up going off the rails.  See, the British's power from the mid-15th century through World War II was due to "Mr. Gentleman", who they managed to keep alive all those centuries.  He's dead now, and as a result the British Library hatched a plan to "bring him back", as it were, through the use of Junior's body as a vessel.  There's really very little reason for Nenene to be involved, except as we find out later... the British Library (and their aptly title leader, "Mr. Joker") need her to write the Gospel of Mr. Gentleman once he revives... as no one knew who Jesus was except through the record of the Bible.  Of course, Mr. Gentleman will bring the British back to prominence, even at the expense
of historical allies such as the U.S. of A.

Wow.  Well, in the final encounter, Joker *literally* invites all of the main characters save Nancy and an American heavy they picked up along the way to see his "moment of triumph", without really even restraining them much.  In this case, it was Nenene who managed to hide the Three Sisters' paper-based ammunition on herself, only to bring it out in order to save Junior at the end.  And it also turned out that Nancy was like Double-O Eight, though in a far-tighter (and far more revealing) catsuit than James Bond ever had.

I'm pretty much skipping the sideplot of Anita going to school, but that's because you would've cared even less than I did had you watched it yourself.

[Spoiler space OVER]

I suppose that I've been spoiled by a few series lately, even finding some good stuff out of series that would pretty much be one-note (Rosario + Vampire).  I can pretty much say that this series was watched out of sheer dedication to finishing rather than any desire to find out what happens.  I obtained the first few DVDs from the local library, and I literally had three of the discs sit on my dresser for almost four weeks before I finally watched all of the twelve episodes contained therein.

There was exactly one good moment, which was finding out which character was responsible for kick-starting the action portion of the first section of the show (the Dokusensha section).  I had to admit that the writers/animators did a good job hiding who it was, though it wasn't as if there was a huge trail of bread crumbs or anything... it was just one of those left-field surprises that catches you offguard and keeps your attention because of it.

After that though, the whole thing pretty much fell apart.  How to characterize why it fell apart may be difficult except to say that it was way too unbelievable.  I couldn't summon the suspension of disbelief needed for the second half's Macguffin to work with any sort of clarity.  I think it was because even the show was pretty unclear as to how it was supposed to work.

The segments of Anita going to school in Japan were also really... boring.  I couldn't have cared less, and it's not like there was emotion overwhelming and the sequences didn't exactly add any depth or plot or anything to the story.  Late in the series, Anita gets into a fight with Michelle, and I realized why I couldn't have cared less about these school segments... it's because the character of Anita is screechy, rather unredeemable, and there's really no character arc to her to rehabilitate any of those features.  Of course she had a tragic backstory (in these things, who doesn't?) but... well, as a character who ended up becoming a... or really, *the* main protagonist... mark me as uninterested.

Of course, that just leads me into the last "unbelievable" comment.  Even after the backstory which was way too out there to be believable, there's two situations (one involving a helicopter, and then the final encounter) where it's so patently obvious what has happened.  I find it annoying when you can see the bait-and-switch the writers are attempting to write as it is happening on the screen.  It's almost like watching a magic trick when you know the secret behind it.  I wish that at some level, they either A) went for smaller stakes / more permanent *results* in the helicopter thing and then B) had another episode or two to do a far better job of resolving the final conflict, as the ten-minute resolution really sucked.  The final assault should have been at least two episodes... dammit, there's four paper-benders and two special agents assaulting a building that had a fricking LAKE built around it and plenty of airborne and mecha defense.  Yet they find the train that goes right up to it and trick the idiot security guard, even as the evil organization's fantastical defenses make mincement out of a US carrier wing.  Screw that.

Yeah, I know, I should be warning you about the spoiler space, but this is pretty basic stuff that the writers of an anime should look into rectifying, especially if you're going to show how many books all the main characters read... yet the writer(s) go for the massive cliche instead of anything new... and that really becomes the basis of the complaint.

Feel free to watch this show for the action sequences, they're kind of cool. The interplay between Nenene and the Three Sisters is enjoyable especially in the beginning.  Other than that... it's old ground tread upon for the umpteenth time, much like watching pretty much anything on American network TV anymore.  And about the only "dying" you'd do in Read or Die is breaking your neck falling through a plothole.

Final rating: 1.4

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