Review: Read or Die (2001)

Directed by:
Cast: , ,

Distributed in Australia by:

Just goes to show, never judge a book by its cover.

I’m looking at the cover of Read or Die and I’m thinking “Oh God. Cute girl. Big eyes. There’s gonna be panties in this isn’t there.” I’m not thinking this DVD is going to be a quality piece of work, with a strong cast who don’t need their integrity compromised by overly-gratuitous exposure of their smalls in order to maintain interest. I’m similarly not thinking this is going to be intelligent, touching and downright honest-to-goodness fun either.

Cases like this, I love being wrong.

Currently, there’ll be news in the anime circles about the upcoming Read or Die series, entitled Read or Dream. If you’ve been wondering, this isn’t it. This is a three episode OAV (Original Animated Video) based on a four-volume manga that focuses on bibliophile Yomiko Readman (funnily enough, ‘yomi’ is a derivative of the word ‘yomu’, to read), otherwise known as The Paper for reasons that become quickly obvious. She’s a charming, eccentric and surprisingly well-rounded character for all that she is completely one-tracked and it’s her presence and strengths that carry this surprisingly good story to its conclusion.

I say good because this movie is simple and straightforward in what it is trying to achieve, and as a result is focused and economical in its narrative. It reads (no pun intended) like some of the most enjoyable James Bonds-esque action films ever made. From the dramatic opening credits to the megalomanic villains with crazy abilities and the weird, retro and oddly British technology, there’s little reason to question anything and every reason to just accept and enjoy. The story is interesting, the principal characters are solid and believable and clever use has been made of numerous historical figures (the appearance of Genjo Sanzo from Monkey/Saiyuki was an amusing highlight for me!). The action doesn’t fail to deliver either, particularly with the fabulous Miss Deep, who might have one of those gravity defying outfits, but her ability to pass through solid matter makes for some truly cool landings (not to mention entrances).

And I say surprising because for all its what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach, it has some subtle, emotional moments, most of them arising from the main character Yomiko’s obsession with books and her quirky awkwardness with real life. The creators of Read or Die even go so far as to carry her arguably odd personality into her manner of speech, which is unfortunately lost somewhat in the rather ordinary English dub. She occasionally exhibits an abruptness in speech that most Japanese would be horrified by, but somehow she still manages to come across as sweet. Later, when her attachment to books over people is challenged, she seems to redirect that somewhat unquestioning regard to the person who challenged it in the first place, and some of the best moments in the story are her defining moments of choice. People or things? It might seem like an easy question, but is it?

Overall Read or Die might be a bit of a no brainer, with a common formula well suited to blockbuster action movies, but who the hell cares? Race the Clock, Fight the Bad Guys, Save the Girl (and the world). Been there done that? Not quite like this you haven’t. Our hero may be eccentric and obsessive, and she might not be Pierce Brosnan with a machine gun in hand, but she gets the job done by being just that little bit smarter and in the end, just that little bit simpler than everyone else. Just don’t get in between her and her reading…

7 Bookworms over X-men Any Day of the Week out of 10.
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