A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 288 – Read or Die (OVA)

Read or Die (OVA) – December 13th, 2010

I first saw this movie for work. A few years back we ran a regular anime night at work, showing episodes of shows and some movies and OVAs. We did a few episodes of Witch Hunter Robin and Here is Greenwood and to be honest I’ve forgotten a lot of what else we did. There was one incident where one of the regulars, who’d been trying to get me to show Naruto for months (no, kid, I can’t show your fansubs), stormed out when he realized that the version I’d finally gotten legal rights to show didn’t have as much skin as he wanted. It was an interesting experiment as programs go, and it got us in the paper, but eventually we discontinued it. We started it, however, with this. It seemed fitting, what with it being about librarians and books.

Oh, if only I could work for the British Library Special Ops division. According to the movie, the British Library has a Special Ops taskforce for the protection and retrieval of rare books all over the world. And in case you were wondering, yes, that is fucking awesome. When the Library of Congress is attacked and 400 manuscripts stolen from it the LoC calls in the British Library Special Ops folks for help. Bizarre attacks all over the place have resulted in missing manuscripts and books, all of which is totally horrific to Yomiko Readman, an agent also known as The Paper. She’s a voracious reader and bibliomaniac who also has an instinctual power over paper. She can mold it, throw it, make it sharp, make it hard, stick pieces together through force of will, etc. Sort of like Magneto, but with paper. Eventually it’s revealed that there was also an attack on a bank of genetic samples and the people responsible for the attacks are all clones of significant historical figures. And at the center of it all is an old copy of Immortal Beloved with some musical notations on the endpapers.

Right, so it’s bizarre. I mean, it’s got Jean Henri Fabre riding in on a giant mechanical grasshopper at one point, and the plot revolves around a plan to kill off the human race using a symphony that makes people commit suicide. Let’s just face up to the fact that it’s more than a little weird. It’s totally not a big deal, because it’s also fantastic. Yomiko is a great character, really, and while there’s a good backup cast full of her teammates, she herself is undoubtedly my favorite part of this movie.

Yomiko collects books with a passion. When faced with new reading material she goes into a sort of book-induced trance of bliss. So while she’s pretty bad-assed with her paper skills, tossing sharpened cards at people and using a suitcase full of paper to quickly make shields, gliders and grappling hooks, it’s all in pursuit of a good book. The initial fight scene has her take down the mechanical grasshopper and Fabre not because they’re causing destruction all over the city and are obviously Up To No Good, but because Fabre took her book and she’d like it back, please. I won’t say she’d make a good library patron, since she’s more likely to be the type who can’t bear to bring the books back. But she is certainly my kind of gal with her neverending love of books and desire to always have more. And that’s why she makes a good library employee. It’s a perk of the job that there are always more books.

I do admit to being slightly confused by the choices in historical figures. I can’t argue with Gennai Hiraga, Genjo Sanzo or Ikkyu Soujun, because while I’m not familiar with them, I’m also not familiar with the historical periods and areas they’re from. The others, on the other hand, seem uneven. After all, there’s Fabre, who was an etymologist but not really a big name outside the field, and same for Otto Lillenthal and Stephen Wilcox. But then there’s Ludwig van Beethoven and Mata Hari. So the names seem to vary wildly in terms of renown. I guess it’s Fabre and Ikkyu who confuse me the most. Fabre because… Really? Out of all the historical figures they could have picked they go with an etymologist and give him a giant grasshopper? And Ikkyu Soujun, from what I can tell from a quick bit of reading, seems an odd choice for an antagonist. They even say so in the movie and he responds by saying that once he came back in modern time he realized he could use his mind for world domination and most humans are too stupid to live or something like that. It’s always seemed a bit arbitrary to me, like the writers threw darts at encyclopedias until they hit names.

Confusion over the specific people involved aside, I do enjoy this. Mostly I love it for Yomiko and for the British Library Special Ops division. It’s got this great ultra-new technology combined with a semi-steampunk Victorian vibe that I adore. Oldfashioned phones but super high tech cameras. Perfect for a group tasked with protecting rare books the world over. Respect for the old but also embracing the new. I really need to get the series that followed this and watch it through. I’m told it picks up a few years after this plot, which could be very cool. And I’d just love to see more of The Paper.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Read or Die (OVA)

December 13, 2010

Read Or Die (OVA)

This movie is dense. There’s a lot crammed into a quick ninety minutes (three thirty minute television episodes.) I suspect that this is because it is adapted from a long running manga series, and so there’s a lot of plot to fit into relatively little space. I’m not saying that I was left feeling overwhelmed, or that it seemed like large parts of the plot were missing (I’m looking at you here, Escaflowne the Movie and X/1999.) Instead it just feels action packed, with hardly a moment between epic supernatural confrontations to catch your breath.

I hadn’t seen this movie in a couple years, and I had forgotten how much I loved it. Mostly for its unusual heroine – the book-obsessed substitute teacher Yomiko Readerman. We are first introduced to her as she is awoken by a phone call in her tiny apartment which is entirely awash in books. They are stacked in giant piles on every surface. They tower to the ceiling. Her bed is almost completely obscured by manga, hardcovers, softcovers, every conceivable type of book. The first five minutes that she is on screen are a montage of her joyously diving from bookstore to bookstore, collecting so many books in her rolling suitcase that she can hardly close it, and many bags besides, dumping them in her apartment and going back out for more. (In some ways it reminds me of the vast DVD collection that even now threatens to bury us here.)

Eventually Yomiko comes across a rare volume entitled Immortal Beloved, snatching it from under the disapproving gaze of a stern looking woman who also wanted the same book. No sooner has she started to read it than things begin to get weird. A mysterious madman on a giant grasshopper assaults Yomiko with a swarm of insects that are under his control in an attempt to steal her book. It is at this point that it is revealed that Yomiko Readerman is actually “The Paper” a superpowered agent of the secret British Library Special Operations Division. She can manipulate any paper she touches, transforming it into any shape and making it hard enough to stop bullets or cut steel. A mysterious evildoer has resurrected a group of extraordinary historical figures using their stolen DNA and is using them to steal rare books for some nefarious purpose. He has already stolen a bunch of rare volumes from the Library of Congress in America, and now his next goal is to get the very book that Yomiko has just purchased.

What I love about Yomiko’s character is that she’s so simple and open. She wants to make friends and she wants to read books. Not necessarily in that order. Throughout the ensuing adventure, even as the very fate of the entire human race is in the balance, it is her desire to get back her stolen book so she can finish reading it that drives her. That and her friendship with they mysterious woman from the bookshop who wanted the volume at the start. It turns out that this woman is Nancy Makuhari – aka Ms Deep – another library agent with the ability to phase through matter at will ala Kitty Pride. Nancy is a hard, lonely woman who can’t help falling for Yomiko’s wide-eyed trusting charm. Their friendship is largely the basis of the entire third act as everything starts to get dark and dire.

I just can’t get over how cool the concept of a librarian super hero is. Yomiko’s total obliviousness when reading and the way she glows dreamily when in the presence of large collections of old books is utterly irresistible. In addition there’s her very cool super powers and the fact that nobody in the British Library Special Operations Division ever doubts that she is entirely capable of overcoming any odds. She’s probably one of my favorite super heroes ever.

I find everything about this anime to be infectious fun. It has a wonderful jazzy soundtrack that perfectly sets the mood for the action. The i-jin (the resurrected bad guys) are a cool collection of historical and mythical figures. The end-of-the-world stakes at the end are well conceived and well played out. The characters are fun and the twists as the ending nears are cool. The sort of steampunkish technology used by Joker and Mr. Gentleman – the heads of British Library Special Operations Division is cool as well. I would heartily recommend this to anybody who is a fan of anime and of books.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment