R.O.D The Complete Blu-ray Box Review
R.O.D The Complete Blu-ray Box is a love letter to fans of the Read or Die franchise. It offers an upscaled HD version of the OVA Read or Die and the anime series R.O.D The TV, together with a comprehensive booklet in one deluxe box. Should this package make you visit (or revisit) the world of R.O.D after all those years?
The answer is a resounding and joyful yes.
Read or Die OVA
The first part of this box is the 3 episodes long Read or Die OVA. The OVA centers on Yomiko Readman – a carefree and messy bibliomaniac in her late 20s who has the peculiar power to manipulate paper. It may not sound like it but the ability to manipulate paper into pretty much anything she sees fit makes Yomiko one of the most dangerous and able persons around. When genetic clones of dead genius figures from the past are created and threaten Great Britain, the British Library Special Operations Section enlists Yomiko as an agent to help defend the country and capture the clones. Each of the clones, which refer to themselves as “great man” (or I-jin in Japanese) not only has the wisdom of his former persona but has also gained supernatural powers related to the inventions/discoveries he made in the past. The Read or Die OVA is fast paced and full of action. Watching Yomiko (codename: The Paper) use her paper techniques is sheer delight. She is joined by Nancy Makuhari (codename Miss Deep) with the ability to penetrate and pass through solid obstacles and Drake, a hard-boiled military man. You get very little breaks between the missions Yomiko and her team undertake, but the entire story moves along so smoothly and skillfully that you never get tired of it. The creators of the OVA wanted to give it a James Bond feel, and for the most part they succeed. The James Bond-esque opening theme sets the tone for the entire OVA, promising action, secrets and betrayals. Although Yomiko and her fellow agents are always on the tracks of the great man the circumstances always dictate a different objective and a different plan, which means the OVA constantly throws something new into the fray.
R.O.D The TV
Taking place five years after the conclusion of the OVA the TV series focuses on three “paper sisters” called Michelle, Maggie and Anita. All three have the power to manipulate paper (although on a much basic level compared to Yomiko) and are hired to act as bodyguards of the famous writer Sumiregawa Nenene. Briefly mentioned in the beginning of the OVA Nenene is a close friend of Yomiko. As it turns out Yomiko has been missing for the past four years, a fact that has been causing Nenene much grief. While Nenene is busy searching for Yomiko and desperately trying to write a new novel the paper sisters take odd jobs on the side from the shady company Dokusensha. These missions are always life-threatening affairs but the girls have no choice: either they risk their lives and earn a decent living or stay away from danger but live in poverty. It doesn’t help that both Michelle and Maggie are bibliomaniacs who spend more than they have on acquiring new books. The three paper sisters are interesting and quirky characters, but it is Sumiregawa Nenene – the normal human writer – who really you grow attached to. Nenene is that strong willed person you have to respect and admire. You cannot help but do just that as you watch her searching for Yomiko or assisting the paper sisters.
Unlike the OVA the TV series is more laid back and relaxed. The series is called R.O.D because it is in fact a mix of the Read or Die novels, the Read or Die manga and the Read or Dream manga. The plot cleverly mixes action filled episodes with episodes of relaxation, in which the paper sisters usually loaf around in Nenene’s apartment. The former episodes are where the fast-paced action take place, while the later episodes are the ones that introduce us to the characters at ease. After a ten of so episodes the series switch gears and become much darker. Suddenly a twist in the plot shuffles all the cards and the focus turns completely to the action. New discoveries are made, the British Library raises its ugly head and clues to Yomiko’s fate begin to trickle. An excellent summary episode tells the untold story of what happened before the OVA, and then shows the OVA in an entirely new light and firmly connects it to events of the TV series. Everything feels extremely well planned as the pieces of the puzzle fall in place, resulting in a well-made execution and several memorable moments.
One piece of the puzzle that doesn’t connect very well is the music in the TV series. The OVA has some very fitting tracks, but since most of the time is filled with action you don’t pay a lot of attention to them. The TV series on the other hand is long and relies on the music for atmosphere. But the TV series has only one type of music – melancholic music that makes you feel sad. Of course, the series was meant to be dark and sad, but having sad music play during the entire show makes it unnecessarily depressing.
Another subtle annoyance revolves around a very late stage in the show, in which a cat and mouse game between the good guys and the villains stretch out for more than five episodes. The series slows down considerably for a few episodes near the end, and plot-wise pushes itself a bit away from the science fiction genre and into the fantasy genre. Such a slow down and a noticable change in direction at such a late stage seems like a really uncalled for move on behalf of the director.
Setting an example for all that came after it
R.O.D takes place in a fictional world where Great Britain (England) never lost its political position as world leader, and as a result while science has advanced to our current level some electronics still have semi-Victorian features (such as phones or typewriting machines). Dokusensha, a Chinese company who has de-facto took control of China, let’s hundreds of millions of citizens (“Dokusensha Members”) vote in real time on the companies’ decisions, big and small. Dokusensha’s China present a postmodern communist country – one that has successfuly achieved the communist ideals our China could not. These are just two example of how the R.O.D world merges the real with the surreal. This world is so different from the one we know, and yet plausible to a degree you can’t help but feel a little uneasiness while watching it.
Both Read or Die OVA and R.O.D The TV have something extraordinary about them. The amount of attention to detail in them is insane. Every street is full of signs, people, cars and plants. The world of R.O.D imitates the real world as close as possible. Even hard to notice things like the texture of walls, water, stairs and paper are crafted to look realistic. If you see a sign or a small pamphlet in view most chances are you can read it and it will say something coherent. The production company went as far as creating real book covers with fabricated summaries on their back for all the books that play a prominent role in this series (such as Midnight Liberation Zone and Story of a Giraffe with Shrunken Neck). This level of detail was there when the series was released on VHS and DVD, years before HD came around. On Blu-ray, and after receiving a boost in sharpness and color, the OVA and TV series look even better. It amazes me to admit this but I dare say that even today no other series, HD or not, has been able to hold a candle to R.O.D in terms of attention to details. It just goes to show the tremendous amount of work and love the production company poured into this project.
Packaging and specs
R.O.D The Complete Blu ray Box comes with two digipaks that contain the 3 episode OVA and 26 episodes TV series across 5 Blu-ray discs, and a 47 page booklet. These are conveniently placed within a sturdy thick box that resembles a book and is covered with a colorful dust cover. The box, the digipaks and the booklet are made of high quality materials and feel very good to the touch. The digipaks can be unfolded to create a little library with all the characters from the series inside it.
As I’ve hinted before the Blu-ray version is an upscale with minor color and sharpness adjustments. The video plays at a 4×3 aspect ratio and looks very good. As for the audio, this set has a not so flattering Linear PCM/Stereo for the Japanese track and Dolby Digital 2.0 for the English track. This is a bit baffling, since the original DVD of the OVA had 5.0 surround sound for both the English and Japanese tracks and the original DVDs or the TV series had 5.0 surround sound for the English track. In this box set the English track is inferior to the Japanese track in both quality of audio and quality of voice acting. The English audio track is low and not as crispy as the Japanese one. The English voice actors/actresses are quite good but don’t reach the level of their Japanese counterparts. Yomiko Readman and Sumiregawa Nenene in particular sound bad in the English version compared to the Japanese. I did like the fact that the British have a British accent in the English version though. Sadly the Blu-ray automatically plays the English dub and you need to stop the playback if you wish to switch to the Japanese track.
The subtitles for this set are also very good. The OVA’s subtitles still have the unfriendly word I-Jin written instead of the more appropriate “great man”, which is a pity because the TV series corrected this issue. Those Europeans among you who have an American/Japanese Blu-ray player and intend to buy this set would be glad to hear that all the mistranslations from the Manga Entertainment version of the OVA have been fixed (mainly the notes Nenene wrote to Yomiko, which were all mistranslated in the Manga Entertainment version).
The Blu-ray discs come devoid of any essential extras. The biggest and most contributing extra in this box is the booklet – 47 color pages filled with illustrations, time tables and interesting information. The Blu-ray discs have a trailer to the Welcome to the Space Show movie, a picture gallery and the Twilight of the Papers Directors Edition (which is just episodes 12 and 13 joined together with no additional content). What you won’t find in this box set is the commentary tracks from the Japanese DVDs, textless opening and ending themes, and the information on each of the great man found on the European Manga Entertainment DVD version of the OVA. Overall you lose most of the old extras but gain some new ones.
R.O.D The Complete Blu ray Box offers a great collection for those who wish to sink their teeth in a good story, excellent visuals and satisfying action. The series’ emphasis on reading and writing books will genuinely make you want to pick up a good book yourself. The faults in R.O.D are neglectable and the extras, while different from previous releases, add to the viewing experience. Among the grey pages of the past R.O.D remains a vivid and attractive title that you would, and should, pick up and examine in detail.
- Extraordinary attention to details.
- A deep and intriguing story.
- Yomiko Readman.
- The TV series music falls a bit short.
- 5.0 surround sound English audio options were not included.
- The plot falters a bit in the later episodes.
Final Score: 9/10
Product Information: Read or Die (R.O.D.) The Complete Blu-Ray Box. Published by Aniplex of America. Release Date: January 18, 2011.
Review Equipment: Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PS3 using an HDMI cable.