Years ago Raymond Chandler recalibrated librarians in my adolescent psyche. Gone were the motherly figures of primary school replaced with formidable intellectuals with a simmering sexuality. The first R.O.D. (Read Or Die) in many ways was just the logical anime action extension of this. Librarian, Yomiko ‘The Paper’ Readman, whose paper manipulation powers put my feeble attempts to make an origami swan to shame, is called on by the British Library to battle super-powered historical figures and save the world. Let me just read that again — yep, yep — that’s right. With great action, some tragedy and yes, that set-up, R.O.D. was a thoroughly entertaining diversion.
In R.O.D. the TV, Yomiko Readman is M.I.A. Her friend Nenene is suffering debilitating writer’s block. An encounter with the eccentric Chan sisters: Michelle, Maggie and Anita (bonus points to the person who can name their Hong Kong inspiration) inject an element of drama into her life. While later episodes add a covert operation to obtain a volume subplot, the focus is squarely on establishing the lanky, introverted tomboy Maggie and the ditzy blonde Michelle’s obsession with books along with the perky Anita’s equally passionate dislike of them. Caught in the middle is author Nenene who is ambivalent at the sisters’ presence, one moment admonishing them for replacing her furniture with books the next reveling in the drama they have brought to her life.
For those expecting a repeat of the OAV, R.O.D. the TV takes a very different route. The story is that is far less action orientated than the original. The paper warping powers make a stunning debut in the first episode but then pretty much take leave without pay. As if complimenting this subdued tone, the vibrant colors of the original have been replaced with a pastel palette.
The comedy in R.O.D. the TV is also disappointingly muted. Nenene’s name appears to be a stuttering run-on of Nene and there is only minor enjoyment to be had at the sisters blissed out response to Jinbo, Tokyo’s bookshop district and the domestic disharmony. To my mind, R.O.D. is at its best when it meshes the incongruous themes of writing and action. There is something amusing about introverted writer types being thrust into the role of action hero. R.O.D. the TV’s high point uses this incongruity as Nenene debates some disgruntled writer/terrorists over creativity, mediocrity and writing’s ability to transcend national borders, all while balancing a delicately poised bomb detonator.
While initially showing some of the spark that made the original so refreshing, R.O.D. the TV fails to ignite. Its reliance on damp domestic sitcom seems a waste with so much excellent material just lying around just waiting to catch fire.