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Read or Die is a three-episode OVA about the adventures of Yomiko Readman -- eccentric (and very cute) bibliomaniac, part-time substitute teacher, and super-powered agent for the British Library's secret intelligence division. Codenamed "The Paper", Yomiko possesses what can only be called elemental paper powers. With her talent, she can do almost anything with paper -- including stopping bullets with notecards and dueling a lightsaber-wielding opponent with a sword made of $100 bills. She also has an insatiable addiction to reading, spending thousands of dollars a week on books. Yomiko is an odd combination of giggling innocent schoolgirl-ish woman (one gets the distinct impression most of the time that her mental age and, ahem, general level of life experience, are those of a twelve-year-old) and stone cold killer.
Set in an alternate late 20th-century Earth with rare and mostly hidden superhumans, Read or Die tells of Yomiko's efforts along with a pair of compatriots to oppose a mysterious group of supervillains calling themselves "I-jin" ("Geniuses"). Strangely resembling notable figures from history, the I-jin want (among other things) a book once owned by Beethoven that Yomiko has recently purchased, within which lies the key to an evil plan with world-wide consequences. The result is a globe-trotting rollercoaster ride of action, friendship, betrayal, wild plot twists and a small leavening of sly humor. Do not miss the highlight of the first episode, an aerial dogfight over the Manhattan skyline between a steam-powered glider and a giant paper airplane, punctuated by Yomiko's plaintive cries of "Please give me back my book!" There are other things not to miss, as well, but even mentioning them would be a spoiler!
Made in 2000, the first episode clearly shows the World Trade Center in New York, with one scene actually set on the roof of one of the towers; those who are excessively sensitive about the events of 9/11 may want to avoid it for that reason. Other than that, this is a must-have show. Strangely for a Japanese production, its superheroes are far more Western in concept than sentai, but the writers and producers are clearly comfortable with the idiom and make it work very well.
Read or Die was incredibly popular and was quickly followed by a 26-episode TV series simply entitled ROD the TV or simply ROD TV (or "R.O.D. the TV Series" as it is called in the West), which itself has been wildly popular. Please note that ROD the TV has a separate page; this page is for the OVA.
A new manga series has been declared, "R.O.D. Rehabilitation" set in a Darker and Edgier Alternate Universe about a different Yomiko who lives in a world where the printed word has been declared obsolete, and she is one of the few bibliophiles creating a rebel city-state.
There is a community project to translate the original novels here.
- Action Girl: Yomiko and Nancy
- Adult Child: Yomiko, who admirably retains the kindness and faith in humanity of an innocent child
- Alternate Continuity: The Read Or Die novels, the Read Or Die manga, the Read Or Dream manga and the animated adaptation (consisting of this OVA and ROD the TV) are all separate continuities, but borrow key concepts and characters from each other.
- Alternate History: Britannia still rules the waves (at least in the OVA) through the efforts of the British Library, but by the time of the TV series it has decayed and fallen even further than its real-life counterpart. In the OVA Joker has the authority to give orders to the United States military and government. In the TV series the United Kingdom has been expelled from the United Nations and is forced to infiltrate Dokusensha to regain power. Yomiko Readman is amazed to learn this from Joker.
- Anime Accent Absence: Yomiko is half-Japanese, half-British, but in the English dub of the OVA, she speaks with an American accent. This is corrected in the dub of ROD the TV, as a different voice actor provides her with an English accent. Meanwhile, her original actress is playing one of the other characters.
- Apocalypse How: The I-jin plan to use the Suicide Symphony to wipe out the human race.
- Archived Army: The I-jin.
- Art Initiates Life: Ikkyu can do this in illusion form.
- A Sinister Clue: Features quite prominently in the final episode.
- Badass Adorable: Yomiko.
- Badass Normal: Drake Anderson.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Although all of the Ijin are clones, they possess powers and abilities far beyond what the historical figures had done or accomplished. It is hard to tell who exactly the worst offender is.
- Beware the Nice Ones: If you are dumb enough get someone as sweet and kind-hearted as Yomiko-chan mad, you better damn well have your will written. Because she is going to kill you with it.
- Big Bad: Ikkyu
- Bond One-Liner: Nancy, right before clipping Otto Lilienthal's glider:
"Thanks for flying the friendly skies."
- Brown Note: Beethoven's "Death Symphony", which causes anyone hearing it to commit suicide.
- But Not Too Foreign: Yomiko is half-Japanese and half-British, while Wendy Earhart is of Indo-European descent.
- Chekhov's Gun: See Kiss of Death, below. Additionally, the single braid left in Yomiko's hair after Nancy leaves. It is more than just a visual reminder of Yomiko's trust in Nancy; the (apparently paper) hair tie holding it in place turns out to be instrumental in her escape from Ikkyu's Drowning Pit.
- Christmas Cake: Yomiko is 25 years old.
- Clothing Switch
- The Cutie: Yomiko-chan.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: Ikkyu; why not have your Doomsday Device being able to activate 1 second from when the countdown ends?
- Dark-Skinned Blond: Wendy.
- Deadpan Snarker: Nancy and Drake.
- Deliberate Injury Gambit: Nancy vs. Genjo Sanzo.
- Did Not Do the Research: Viz Comics translated the manga, but made several glaring errors. For one, they translated the British Library as the "Library of England". For another, the very first page introduces it as the Library of "Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Normally, this would be correct, but this is an Alternate History, and clearly so.
- Manga Entertainment had this problem as well, mistaking the signed name "Nenene" for a cute affectation when writing notes. "Eat it up, up, up!"
- Dojikko: Wendy
- Do Not Adjust Your Set
- Dramatic Wind
- Eagle Land: Flavor Two. Drake might be a dynamic and competent character, but the President and military-at-large never seem to accomplish much of anything (Except, impressively, wetting their pants four times in a three-episode series)
- Easy Amnesia: Averted. The amnesia comes about through massive head-trauma and prolonged asphyxiation, which realistically leads to brain damage and memory trauma. Her memory loss does seem a bit specific, but at least it comes about in a realistic fashion.
- Evil Twin
- Extraordinarily Empowered Girl: Yomiko, Nancy
- Fan Service
- Foreshadowing: There's a blink-and-you-miss-it moment early on when Mr. Joker mentions that I-Jin DNA samples were stolen. In the background one of the names shown is Mata H or as we find out Mata Hari.
- Gag Dub: There's one point where Genjo Sanzo chants a Buddhist mantra to make the ocean part in two. You can tell the English voice actor had no idea what to chant and is just muttering gibberish. He even says Klaatu Barada Nikto at one point.
- A God Am I
- Gratuitous English: "Zah...PAAAAAYPAAAAAAHHH!!!"
- Heart Is an Awesome Power: Being able to control paper sounds like the stupidest power of all time... unless you can make it hard as steel and razor sharp.
- Heel Face Turn: Nancy #1
- Homoerotic Subtext: Yomiko and Nancy form an extremely strong bond over an extremely short time, and there are hints of deeper attraction that is never given time to develop within the OVA. These themes are followed up and developed in the sequel series.
- Hot Librarian + Badass Bookworm: Yomiko. Her extreme love of books can get to be a very expensive habit (at one point, she even asks her boss for a cash advance so that she can purchase more books), but the British Library still regards her as one of the best in her field. When her voice actress was replaced for the dub, her accent suddenly became British. And yes, it made her even hotter.
- I Have the High Ground: For about two seconds in the second episode fight sequence.
- Improbable Weapon User
- Intangible Man: Nancy (a.k.a. "Miss Deep") has the ability to phase her body through just about anything: walls, doors, machinery -- even flesh and blood..
- The Jimmy Hart Version: One of the tracks in the OAV, "Those who insanely love books say, "Paper is always with us" sounds strikingly similar to a stock music track from the APM library: "Valse Aux-Champs Elysses".
- Kiss of Death: Sort of. Nancy gives a (delayed activation) Kiss Of Unconsciousness to Yomiko.
- Large Ham: Otto Lilienthal's English dub actor sounds like he's having a lot of fun. "YOU CANNOT KILL ZE VIND VIF BULLETS!"
- Latex Perfection: According to the manga, it is possible for a Paper Master to do this with paper. One did it over his entire body, fooling Yomiko into thinking he was her deceased lover and successfully seduced her.
- Lovely Angels: Yomiko and Nancy.
- Meganekko -- Yomiko Readman is widely considered the Queen of All Meganekkos.
- Nancy Makuhari in one of her disguises.
- Midair Repair: Yomiko manages to add a tail to her giant paper airplane in mid-flight. It helps that it is, you know, made of paper.
- The Messiah: Yomiko-chan again.
- The Mole: Nancy, for the I-Jin. She is a clone of the great spy Mata Hari, after all.
- Monumental Battle: The first episode of the OVA ended atop the Statue Of Liberty after already battling at the White House and World Trade Centers.
- Monumental Damage: Gennai Hiraga blows up the White House in the very first scene.
- Multinational Team: Yomiko (Japanese/British), Drake (American), and Nancy (Dutch).
- Nerd Action Hero: Yomiko.
- Nerds Are Sexy: And so is Yomiko-chan.
- Not Quite Dead: Drake and the team think they took out Genjo Sanzo with a land-based torpedo, but Genjo manages to avoid getting blown to smithereens by using Goku's staff to elevate himself into the clouds.
- The Other Darrin: The dub for the TV series recast all the characters from the OVA, which was not too jarring for the most part, except that Yomiko went from having a very American accent to having a very British accent. Plus Jason Lee had been awesome as the forever-put-upon Drake.
- Paper Master: The Trope Namer.
- The Pollyanna: Yomiko never loses her bright disposition and her love of life and books. Even though most all of the villains she faces are psychotic and do not inspire much hope for the world.
- The Power of Friendship
- Power Trio: Yomiko, Nancy and Drake. Also, the Paper Sisters in ROD the TV.
- Pre-Explosion Glow
- Prophetic Names: "Yomiko" = "reading child"; "Readman" is obvious.
- Puppy Dog Eyes
- "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: Not really as overt as with most examples. However reading (insane ammounts) gets you superpowers!
- Redemption Equals Death: Nancy repays Yomiko for her initial kindness by offing the I-Jin leader, but decides to stay in the rocket and die because she does not want him to die alone.
- Running Gag: Whenever things go bad, the American President wets his pants. Often with a close shot on his crotch, so you will know he is doing it. Word of God is that this was not intended to make fun of America, but rather to make fun of the President.
- Shout-Out: Joker does the Gendo pose in episode 3. The opening credits as a whole are an obvious tribute to the James Bond opening sequences, complete with Lalo Schriffin inspired swing-band musical score and Sexy Silhouette shots, except that unlike Sean Connery and Roger Moore, Yomiko-chan does her own silhouettes and make them look good.
- Spot of Tea: Joker will not start work without it, Gentleman is also seen drinking it.
- Steampunk: The I-Jin, especially Lilienthal, and much of the British Library in general. They appear to use 19th-century era cell phones.
- Storming the Castle
- Stripperiffic: Nancy. She even comments sarcastically on it, as well as other aspects of her secret agent persona:
Nancy: I never liked my code name anyway. "Miss Deep" sounds like a porn star.
- Stuff Blowing Up: The White House, in the opening.
- Superhero (sort of)
- Theme Music Power-Up: The main theme kicks in during particularly important battles, such as the aerial fight against Otto.
- This Is Unforgivable!: When someone as nice as Yomiko-chan says this to Gennai, you know he is pretty much fucked.
- This Means War: "As of now, we begin Operation Exterminate I-Jin Corps!"
- Trap Is the Only Option: In OAV, one clear path into the I-Jin fortress suddenly becomes apparent. Joker instructs his team to take that path, stating that while it is obviously a trap, he has a few tricks of his own to play.
- Turn the Other Cheek
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The "good" Nancy is deemed expendable by Ikkyu after she has delivered Yomiko to his clutches, and he feels that she has become too soft as well. He has the "evil" Nancy kill her and drop her into the ocean. She gets better.
- Vapor Wear: Nancy
- What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: The franchise as a whole is ... you know, an action/espionage series about books.
- You Get Me Coffee: Well, tea, actually, as Joker asks Wendy at the end of episode 2. She is glad to do so, and despite everyone else being ready to go, Joker does not start the operation until Wendy serves the tea.
- You Said You Would Let Them Go: Nancy complains to Ikkyu that he promised he would not kill Yomiko. He explains that while Yomiko does need to die, he will clone her and alter her personality to be more in tune with his goals, so From a Certain Point of View he was telling the truth.