Read or Die is the example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (har har har). I originally watched its first few episodes about four years ago, and even though I liked the premise of a professional writer hiring a bunch of bibliophilic body guards who attack with paper, it didn’t do enough for me to remain interested. However, as the series goes on it definitely proves that it does have its excellent sides.
But yeah, the first half of this series does little to stand out. It consists out of a bunch of episodic stories that either deal with some sort of treasure hunt, or the school life of one of the bodyguards (Anita, who’s just a little kid). These stories however are just too disconnected from each other, and too random to really care about them, and as standalone stories they’re just too formulaic, dull and uninteresting. It’s only when the second half comes and connects the pieces of the puzzle that you can see the merits that this series has.
Because the back-story of this series has tons of creative and original ideas stuffed in. Suddenly from out of nowhere we’re dealt to a multi-layered plot that has to do with books, brilliant minds, political intrigue, and pterodactyls. At the same time, the characters who previously weren’t that interesting suddenly come together as well and gain their share of depth. Especially Nenene was a delight to watch whenever she appeared on the screen, but the rest of the cast also has its merits.
As much as I liked it though, the second half does have its flaws as well. For the back-story to be so creative, sacrifices had to be made unfortunately; in this case, these sacrifices come in the form of plot-holes, and lots of ’em. While some things are explained quite well, others require a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief to buy, especially the way in which the seemingly random events of the first half somehow magically all turn out to be relevant to the plot.
My biggest beef with this series however is that it tried to go a little too epic in the end. It’s a common mistake of anime (or just about any storytelling medium, really) that the fate of the world is a little too often put at stake as the big climax of the story, but Read or Die really takes it a step too far in the way that the bad guys at one point use politics in order to take control over the entire world: there are no protesters whatsoever, nobody aside from our lead characters finds it strange that suddenly every nation is being united out of the blue, especially considering the rather questionable things that lie in the past of the villains. This series definitely fails in making its setting come alive, because the world feels more like populated by a bunch of sheep rather than human beings.
Nevertheless, Read or Die is a great series with a select number of wonderfully animated action scenes. It’s not among the classics of anime due to its rather boring first half and the other flaws mentioned above, but nevertheless it really does make for a nice watch for anyone looking for something new and creative. And for me, that’s more important than having a plot without plotholes.