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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Full Frame
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • 6 Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Animated menus
  • Interviews
  • Awards/Nominations

Read or Die

Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 99 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

When I was in college I didn’t really like anime stuff the way other dudes did. Sure it was prevalent too, like you can’t get away from it any more, it’s everywhere. So, perhaps in time I’ve softened my stance, or perhaps I’ve just seen enough to know I wasn’t watching the choice stuff. I mean, Pokémon - popular as it is – isn’t exactly cutting edge stuff now, is it? However, I managed to catch a night of Gunsmith Cats on SBS and had to watch it religiously for the next two weeks to see how it ended. That’s when I started keeping an eye out and that’s the kind of anime we’re talking about with Read or Die. It’s packaged as a 90-minute feature, but is a three-part mini-series of 30 minutes each (kudos to those who got to the math before I did there, well done!)

Our story involves one timid book-lover in Ms Yomiko Readman, a librarian in New York. Her love of books is certainly unequalled in this series, as car crashes and whatever don’t distract her in the slightest if she has her nose in a book (in this case Immortal Beloved). Only when it becomes apparent the person she haggled over this title with is Ms Deep who wants it for the British Library Engineers, does she relinquish it to her and finds Ms Deep her new partner. These librarians maintain positions on historical figures (the I-Jin) who have been recreated from DNA and heightened with superpowers. These super-fiends work in conjunction with an unknown foe toward world domination.

"I don’t really like my code name... it sounds like a porn star."

Ms Readman (or Agent Paper) has a unique talent in that she can make paper take on any strength or purpose she desires and it is employed from the travel case of documents she carries around with her. She certainly looks odd as a superhero and her love of books and unusual dress keep her mostly friendless until Ms Deep and she form a tender friendship from which they both learn more about being human.

There are multiple references to classic novels and themes represented that hide out among the dialogue and backgrounds at every twist and half the fun is in spotting them (happily there are hints on the chapter list for those who don’t read so much). Also included are cute tips o’ the hat to Star Wars, Thunderbirds, Independence Day, James Bond (of course) and even Indiana Jones!

It’s a nice story and well told. Part of the trouble with some anime (to me) is the bizarre nature of the stories, yet whilst this has some odd themes it is entirely followable and quite enjoyable. The action scenes are excellent and the animation is as superb as we’ve come to expect from the Manga doctrine. I really got into this and was impressed... but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna start watching Pokémon.

  Video
Contract

Called OVA, this is the stuff made direct for DVD and video and is therefore naturally in 4:3. This was actually voted best OVA at the 2002 Anime Expo and is well deserving of it. Fabulous animation and a cool story - with the bonus being in the literature for those who like the hunt - makes this look fantastic. Picture quality is clear as a bell, although that style of anime background in the mildly washed out colours and such is prevalent throughout. The colour is vibrant and rich without being over-saturated and the flesh tones are all natural. Shadows are fine, of course, as are blacks. There aren’t any artefacts I could detect, but being digitally scanned it would be unlikely anyhow.

  Audio
Contract

Two choices: English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or Japanese likewise (I went with English). Dialogue is well structured and well spoken with American accents instead of Japanese (just as the Japanese is Japanese accented). The sound effects go all over with myriad gun battles and explosions and such and sound distinct and clean. Musically the balances are nice and even with the music setting the scene or fitting the scene as required.

A last note on languages. The thoughtful folks at Madman have delivered two subtitle options. One is just for wording and signs or there’s that and language together. I went English with the signs subs which worked out just great.

  Extras
Contract

Not a lot, but there’s the original trailer which appears international in that there is no dialogue and it’s a lot like the opening titles. It’s only in 4:3, however.

Historical biographies of our adversaries within the show give some helpful back story on them and their uniqueness in our reality. These include Beethoven, Jean-Henri Fabre, Mata Hari, Gennai Hiraga, Genjo Sanzo and Otto Lillenthal, among others. Just text, but a worthwhile addition.

Then follows a director and crew interview from the aforementioned Anime Expo in 2002. There are six panel questions in text form before each response, but it isn’t real helpful answer-wise, unless you speak Japanese. There are no subtitles either, but there is a practically unintelligible translation after they speak, for all the good it does.

Finally, where would we be without our Madman propaganda trailers? Included herein are other Manga releases Kaidohmaru, Full Metal Panic, Rahxephon, Noir and the world storming Spirited Away (that last one is always worth another look).

There is actually more here than I expected, to be honest, though still not a library’s worth. The biogs were the highlight for me as I only knew around half of the historical figures and while they’re mentioned in the show, it’s only briefly.

  Overall  
Contract

This is some good clean fun with Manga. No surreptitious nudity or unnecessary sex sneaking in and plenty of cool action and animation, particularly in Agent Paper’s amazing origami (of sorts). While still garnering an M15+ rating, it’s a little unjustified when the violence isn’t too grisly and is more post-event rather than shown. However, this is dynamic stuff for fans or even people like myself who are a little tentative about fully immersing ourselves in the anime invasion. An excellent vehicle to test the water in your paper boat.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2941
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      And I quote...
    "I’ve never seen paper used quite like this before, be it in the story, or in the actual drawing. Wow!"
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Nintaus DVD-N9901
    • TV:
          Sony 51cm
    • Receiver:
          Diamond
    • Speakers:
          Diamond
    • Surrounds:
          No Name
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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