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Animefringe Coverage:
Read or Die
By En Hong

Cue the snazzy jazz music, cut to the angled shots of skyscrapers, and bring on the naked silhouettes of busty girls. No, it's not time for another James Bond flick, this is the opening sequence to Read or Die, a new high budget OVA series based on Kurata Hideyuki's manga series from the magazine Ultra Jump.

Unleashed in Japan early this year via three whopping half-hour DVDs, Read or Die is a gem in the shrinking market of straight to video short series. There has yet to be any exact info on the US release, but it is in the works. Manga Entertainment holds the rights and hopefully will be giving the series the royal DVD treatment when it's finally released.

Start with a slow pan over a city at night with an illuminated Washington Memorial in the background, now quick cut to a giant electrical current flowing across a building. Shot of an illuminated White House that immediately looses power. Focus on a piece of lawn that mechanically swings open to allow several secret agents to pop out, escorting the President of the United States... in his pajamas. One of the agents aims his gun to a figure standing on top of the darkened mansion. Close up shot to the figure, which we can see is a man with what looks to be a giant capacitor strapped to his back. Electricity sparks to and fro around him as he slams his hands together and arcs a wide greenish current between them. The agents open fire on the figure. He catches the bullets in the current between his hands then proceeds to demolish the White House in a frenzy of neon green power, which puts the aliens in Independence Day to shame. This obvious expression of pent-up anger by Japanese animators is the first few seconds of Read or Die and serves not just to introduce us to the gleeful destruction of government property, but also establishes that while this world may look just like ours on the surface, it's the little differences (like people with incredible super-powers) that really sets it apart.

Despite the distinctly anti-American (or maybe just anti-G.W. Bush) vibes from the intro, Read or Die actually centers around a group of superheroes, British ones no less. Featuring paper controlling Yomiko Readman; phase through walls Kitty-Pryde-without-qualms "Miss Deep"; heavy weapons Drake Anderson; and Joker, the decidedly un-gimp and un-bald leader as members of the Royal British Library's Division of Special Operations. Think... the X-men meets MI-6 (without tights) and you've got a bunch of hip, out of bubblegum, ass-kickers out to give evil a run for its money.

Oh, but what big, bad men evil has working for it! In addition to the aforementioned capacitor enhanced electro-man, there's also a badass ijin(as the evil folk with powers are called) with a steam-powered personal glider; a giant grasshopper; and a monk who's got the powers, expanding staff, and nimbus cloud of the great Japanese and Chinese monkey legend Goku (no, I'm not making this up). They're led by a mysterious shrunken shaman with a pointy stick. I don't want to give too much away, but the ijin's master plot is so unbelievably evil that it centers on Beethoven. Yeah, that old, deaf (and very much dead) Viennese dude who wrote some of the greatest piano sonatas ever is currently the greatest threat the human race has ever seen.

There's none of that sissy 'we're genetic deviants and that's why we've got powers' stuff here, folks. These guys do things just because they can. It's what Read or Die is all about; cramming as much super-hero jaw-dropping action possible into three bite-sized installments. The massive amount of yen poured into this production is evident; the animation is beautiful, the music serves to augment each scene perfectly, and the voice acting is top-notch (though there are a few moments of Engrish). Read or Die is a fun-filled excursion in the genre of action-anime, but don't expect to see any deep or involved themes. Who cares for a deep and underlying meaning anyway? Sometimes, it's all about the action!

Images Copyright Manga Entertainment. All rights reserved.

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