Something I’ve found is that strong characters can make up for a weak story. Having a good story and good characters is ideal, of course, but if I had to pick one to prioritize, it would be good characters. Even if the story is just okay, characters that are fun to watch or interesting to look into can still make a good show. Read or Die is one such case.
Yomiko Readman is a bibliophile who works as a substitute teacher most of the time, but is secretly an agent for the British Library Special Operations Division codenamed “The Paper” for her ability to manipulate paper and use it as a weapon. When a group of cloned historical figures appear and start causing havoc, Yomiko is teamed up with Nancy Makuhari AKA “Miss Deep” to stop them, although Yomiko seems more concerned with the book they’re trying to steal from her.
If this sounds pretty simple, that’s because it is. The OVA is only three episodes, so there isn’t much time devoted to explaining the plot. It usually keeps up enough momentum to cover that up, but there are times where it stumbles. It never explains much about the organization Yomiko works for, and the question of who was behind cloning the various historical figures who show up is never even addressed. Holes like that crop up occasionally, and the OVA just doesn’t have enough time to explain things. Still, it’s never boring and the characters and action more than make up for the lackluster story.
The chemistry between the main characters is where ROD really shines. Yomiko herself comes off as pretty clueless most of the time and is completely obsessed with books. She’s generally upbeat and friendly, which contrasts with Nancy’s more businesslike nature. Nancy starts out pretty cold and focused, but gradually warms up to Yomiko over time, and the two become friends over the course of the OVA. Every interaction between them is fun to watch, and the OVA really gives the sense that there’s a bond growing between them. It also gives off a very confident feel during the conversations, like the creators knew exactly what the wanted to do with their characters and were comfortable doing it. Yomiko is especially easy to like. There’s just something inherently charming about a clueless bookworm like her.
The action in ROD is also highly entertaining. Yomiko has her paper manipulation abilities, and all of the cloned historical figures have special powers of their own to use against her. Paper manipulation doesn’t seem like a very impressive ability, but Yomiko uses it in clever ways. She binds opponents in paper, flies on giant paper airplanes and even blocks bullets with paper. The action scenes are just consistently fun.
The animation was done by Studio DEEN but, contrary to their current reputation, it’s quite good, especially for something that came out in 2002. The fights all look smooth, the characters move well and it’s generally high quality. The art occasionally looks rough, but not frequently and not enough to really detract from it overall. The music is mostly done in the style of American spy movies and fits the tone of the series well. The dub is also solidly acted across the board, even though the two leads have been in relatively little anime.
Overall, Read or Die is a perfect example of why good characters can make up for a weak story. The story is very meh in quality, but the characters have really good chemistry and the action is well done. It would be nice if the plot could match the character writing in quality, but I’m still satisfied.
Read or Die was available from Aniplex of America but is now out of print isn’t available for legal streaming anywhere.
Final Score: 8.9/10