Read or Die
I've been writing a lot of somewhat negative reviews recently. Which is partly as a result of being forced to explore a lot of fringe or archaic anime. The reason to keep going is stuff like this anime, that keeps you spell-bound until it's time to rewind the tape and watch it again. It's really rather good stuff.
Note: Spoiler Warning I can't provide a synopsis without ruining the really nice opening of this show (to some extent). If you have access, and any faith in my taste, then feel very free to skip this section. This sort of applies to all synopsis though.
The essence of the story is that a young female book-worm is having a problem with some literary figures. And I don't mean that she's doing some tough research, I mean that they're trying to kill her. While she seems mostly normal, albeit almost completely obsessed with books and not that well connected with the real world, she also leads a life as "the paper", an agent for a powerful but secretive organization. An agency that is currently having a problem that needs her help. Then again, someone tried to steal a book she found, so she actually managed to get herself involved.
More specifically some enemy force has begun hunting down certain books for an unknown purpose. They're completely ruthless and extremely powerful. Their power coming from the fact that they can `manufacture' powerful individuals from history and give them the `power' they dreamed of. Thus historical figures, their powers amplified and their dreams forged into reality, form the opposition. "The paper", and two other agents, must not only try to stay alive, but also recover the books and find out the ambitions of the enemy. And, given the amount of power they have, it seems clear that something serious is being prepared.
The nice thing is that even if I do spoil the opening a little bit there's still lots more fun to be had. And that is because this anime has multiple strong elements and they all combine very, very nicely. The first being the characters, who are wonderful. As soon as Yomiko Readman wakes up in her impossibly book dominated building we start to get clues as to her character. A cloud of dust as a pile of books tumbles, lots of notes to herself, and getting to watch as she goes book-shopping. It's cool, it's unusual, and it's very well done. And the other members of the team, the leaders of the organization and even the enemy have similar depth. There's an awesome confidence and skill in the character work.
The second major part being the sense of design and environment. There's a huge amount of detail on display here. Much of it being the real world, such as fighting it out on the streets of India or Japan. There's a real feel of `place' that makes the story so much richer. The technology is excellent as well with weaponry and tools, both modern and invented, being very convincingly depicted. The profusion of planes and tech toys, and the sheer delight in such powerful toys as attack submarines, is impressive without being over-bearing. And, finally, the social environment is just as well depicted. The leadership of the organization, and of the enemy, providing a solid and believable frame to the story.
However the major part of this show is some of the best action I've seen in quite a while. It's well set up, well animated and extremely imaginative. There's no boring `power' blasts between foes, rather an ongoing sequence of moves while the two sides duel for position. Powers, technology and the peculiarities of the environment all being called upon to determine who will win. And, since both sides are plenty tough, the action tends to be serious. It's beautifully handled, impressive, exciting and well supported by the other elements I mentioned. It's also, needless to say, got a pretty cool sense of style to make the ride even more enjoyable.
However there's also another, less obvious, element. The degree with which these elements are mixed, the attention to detail and the sheer liveliness of the production are awfully impressive. There's a sense of humor lurking in the background, a sense of cheerful excessiveness in some of the interaction and a wonderful balancing of action and calm. And, when it wants to do action, the pace is fast and maintained. With all the flash it's easy to overlook the skill in this piece, or write it off as a piece of empty action, but in fact it's very neatly and tightly put together. The fact it still manages to have so much personality and charm, and be so satisfying in such a low episode count, simply confirming this. It also draws from all sorts of spy/action movies but doesn't feel derivative.
That said the animation is a little weird at times. The character designs are somewhat low detail, tending to only use detailed anatomy or coloring when they want to do a `pose' shot. As such the degree of complexity in the artwork varies a little. I suspect this is related to either computer assistance in the artwork and/or being able to animate all the yummy action. However since the backgrounds are so detailed, although often quite dark, you sometimes notice the difference. Still, this doesn't stop it from being some of the nicest animation I've seen in a while. It's convincing, smooth and very interesting to watch. The voices are excellent, I love the leads sometimes `weak' mumble, and the music is impressively good. Nice deep stuff with a lot of energy that echoes the more exciting sounds amongst the `bond' films.
Yomiko readman, AKA "the paper", has to be one of the most unlikely super-heroes the world has ever depended upon. But they do, someone's been cloning magnified versions of historical figures as part of some grand plot. Along the way there'll be interesting places, very interesting chraracters and exceptionally juicy action as they attempt to stop one another. Great production values and rich style making this a very classy ride.