Manga Video // 2003 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // May 21st, 2003
Those overdue book fines can kill you...
A deadly electric samurai blows up the White House by mistake. Oops, he was actually looking for the library.
Meanwhile, Miss Yomiko Readman cannot get out from her mountain of paperwork. She writes constant notes to try and keep organized, but all she can focus on is collecting rare manuscripts. In spite of this, she still has time to fight evil as The Paper, elite secret agent for the British Library Special Engineer Force. Her latest mission: recover 600 manuscripts stolen from the Library of Congress by a sinister army of cloned historic luminaries, including Mata Hari and Buddhist master Genjo (the basis for Goku the Monkey King).
No, you cannot take Read or Die seriously. This is silly stuff, James Bond with a liberal arts degree. But it is damn funny stuff too. It is pretty trendy right now to suit up literary scholarship as comic adventure (Jasper Fforde's wonderful novel "The Eyre Affair" and Cartoon Network's quirky Time Squad, for example). ROD is actually funnier the more you know about cultural history. After all, how many shows feature a mousy book nerd as a superhero, pursuing a clone of German aeronaut Otto Lilienthal through the skyscrapers of New York City in a giant paper airplane?
What can I say? I enjoyed Read or Die. The action sequences are endlessly inventive, reminding me a lot of the brilliant superhero parody Giant Robo, where you never knew what masterpiece of hyperbole would pop up next. And I am a sucker for the villains' steampunk technology. Fortunately, the script, by writer Hideyuki Kurata (also responsible for the incomprehensibly popular Excel Saga, which sank under the weight of its own silliness) is fairly coherent, pacing the comic scenes with adequate gravity during battles. Director Koji Masunari gives the action a frenetic pace (although Manga Entertainment's indifferent transfer is too bright and tends to blur the action a bit).
It probably helps a lot that ROD only runs three episodes, which allows the creative team to go full tilt at all times. The momentum covers up the fact that really, beneath all the flash, ROD is pretty empty stuff. Sure, it is wildly entertaining, but even the creators admit (in a pretty amateurish interview included on this disc) that there is no real depth or thematic content to their show. They just wanted to make something to entertain the audience. In that, they have succeeded.
So, think of Read or Die as a tasty dessert, devoid of nutrition (even if it looks healthy, with all its historical references) but still...sometimes you just have to enjoy life, right?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Manga Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Q&A with the Filmmakers
* Historical Biographies of the Villains
* Stills Gallery