Read Or Die: The TV – series one

voice cast: Wendy Tomson, Hunter Mackenzie Austin, Sara Lahti, and Rachel Hirschfeld

director: Kouji Masunari

120 minutes (15) 2003
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning

Nenene Sumiregawa is an author whose first book was a blockbusting bestseller several years ago. Since then, she’s been fairly unproductive, living off the royalties, so it seems. Her novel is about to be made into a movie, which has led to a round of book signings and press conferences for her. As the series starts, Nenene is off to Hong Kong for one of these publicity events. Arriving in Hong Kong, she’s met by the tour guides her publishers have set up – Michelle and Maggie Chan. Michelle is cheerful but ditzy, and Maggie is monosyllabic, monotone and hugely tall. She’s also an excellent driver. Just as the three arrive at Nenene’s hotel, though, the top floor (where she’s going to be staying) explodes.

A short trip to the police station later, it turns out that someone has been making death threats against Nenene. The police want to cancel the signing, but Nenene won’t hear of it. Michelle and Maggie offer to help out in any way they can, and Nenene now has a place to stay and some seemingly inept bodyguards. The Chans’ apartment is filled to bursting with books, and with their younger sister Anita, who’s only a child but with a very adult personality. Nenene comes to the conclusion that these three sisters are very strange, and when she learns that they moonlight as a detective agency (mostly tracking down lost pets and old books), her impressions are cemented.

At the signing the next day, our bomber strikes again, and it suddenly becomes clear that the Chan sisters are more than just strange. They’re Paper Masters: they can manipulate paper (presumably psychically, but it’s not explained) and make it do just about anything they want. Needless to say, the bomber is dealt with in short order, but then the Chans leave Nenene to explain everything to the police. She’s not pleased…

Later that night, as Nenene’s on her way home, the Chans discover that the bomber has a brother. Cut to the plane and Nenene’s being held at gunpoint by bad guy number two. Luckily, one of the things Maggie can do with paper is make it take on the shape of a bird and fly the three Chans to the plane. Anita gets aboard and disables the gunman. She also disables the plane, and Maggie’s paper bird has to take the plane the rest of the way to Japan.

It’s a lengthy but remarkably entertaining way to set up the Chans’ arrival in Japan, but once they’re there, they end up getting employed by Nenene’s publishers as bodyguards again. Over the next couple of episodes, they move in with Nenene (who is furious about it at first, but gradually comes to accept and like her new houseguests) and the start of what will surely be long-running plot threads are sown.

This disc is a fantastic introduction to a series that has taken anime fandom by storm. There is also a manga (graphic novel, for those who don’t know), a movie and a three-part miniseries. These don’t have the same story or main characters as ROD: The TV, but instead weave in and out, creating an engrossing larger story, while still remaining standalone.

In most anime, the dubbing is atrocious, and it’s always best to stick to the subtitles. Oddly, though, in ROD: The TV, the dub script is far better than the subtitled one. It’s funny, effective, touching, and the lines never feel like they’ve been squeezed to fit the animated characters’ mouth movements. The voice acting’s about the best I’ve heard on an anime, too. Unfortunately, Nenene comes across as a really annoying character. She’s always yelling, angry, irritated, rude, arrogant and so on. Rarely does she show a lighter side. The subtitled track, on the other hand, seems to tone this down a little (though as I don’t speak Japanese, I can’t tell for sure); but the script’s nowhere near as funny. Luckily, both are entertaining, and I’d recommend watching first subtitled and then dubbed (and that’s the first time I’ve ever recommended that a dub should be watched. Ever.). That way you’ll get the best out of the series.

The animation is brilliant too. Nowadays, we’re spoiled by good animation in new anime, but even so, ROD: The TV is a joy to watch. It’s also very definitely itself, rather than trying to copy another series (which happens a lot). This is one of the best anime I’ve seen recently, and hands-down the best I’ve seen this year. It’s funny, intriguing, and it pulls you in from the start of the first episode. The only bad thing I can say about this disc is that there are only four episodes on it, and I want to know what happens next!

The extras on offer are the best I’ve seen for an anime series: trailers for other series are standard at the moment, but the Japanese previews for the episodes are fantastically fun to watch. The art gallery is good too, but again, quite a standard feature. There’s also a standout commentary track, from the English language producers and the English voice-track director, and this is something I’ve never seen done better on an anime. Sound options are good too, with 5.1 English and Japanese tracks, and a 2.0 Japanese track thrown in for good measure.