Read or Die (2001)
Directed by Kouji Masunari

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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Yomiko Readman, a part time teacher and occasional secret agent with the power to control and shape paper into a variety of different objects, is assigned by a covert branch of the British Library to investigate a conspiracy involving a mysterious stolen book and a gang of cloned historical and legendary figures led by the poet Ikkyu. Accompanied by two other agents, a gruff soldier named Drake and the scantily clad and impossibly buxom Ms Deep, who is able to pass through solid objects, Yomiko journeys to New York, India, and a floating fortress in order to gather information about the objectives of this group.

Kouji Masunari's three part animated program Read or Die is a consistently quirky, occasionally bizarre, and genuinely exhilarating tale of adventure.

The series is, in fact, filled with a variety of eccentric details which are always able to keep the viewer's interest. Yomiko's superpower, for example, is wonderfully odd. Everywhere she goes she drags with her a suitcase filled with the paper she uses to create, at various times, a giant paper airplane, a parachute, a lasso, knives, a shield, or some other useful object. Her opponents are just as peculiar. One commands swarms of bees and rides, first, a giant grasshopper and, later, an enormous beetle. Another has a strange box that, apparently, drains electricity from whatever source happens to be nearby and then enables its owner to use that electricity as a weapon. Ikkyu himself, oddly, is the least interesting of the lot, although the idea of the libertine monk reborn as a supervillain is, in itself, wonderfully imaginative.

Happily, the story told in Read or Die, while not invariably well thought out, is consistently engaging and entertaining. There are a number of details which are left unexplained, and which do decrease the enjoyableness of the program, but the action sequences with which it is filled are so delightfully eccentric and so wildly exciting that they buoy Read or Die up and allow the viewer to forget about its inadequacies, at least for their duration.

The program's appeal is further enhanced by the consistently high quality of the animation used. The combination of cell animation with computer generated images is almost always well done. The character designs are attractive, and the various technological artifacts and strange creatures with which the series is filled are almost all quirky and fascinating.

Although not always perfectly realized, largely because of its rushed and unnecessarily vague narrative, Read or Die is a strange and exciting adventure.

Review by Keith Allen

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