On August 29, Amy recommended I watch “Read or Die,” otherwise known as R.O.D, which they called a beloved anime series. Earlier this month, I tweeted about how the 2001 OVA is interesting because one of the protagonists, Agent Paper, is a book nerd (bibliophile to be exact) who is “often too distracted from the task at hand by reading books,” and that libraries are bursting out of this anime. She has the power to manipulate paper, perhaps a bit like Paper Star in the Carmen Sandiego series.
Before I get further, let me summarize the plot of the OVA. Basically, this anime takes place in a world where the British Empire is a major superpower, with an intelligence agency known as the “British Library” within the actual British Library, ensuring the empire is maintained. It has a special ops division, the MI6, with the OVA following the story of “The Paper,” otherwise known as Yomiko Readman, who is an agent of the library and is part of a team working to track down rare books, keeping them from the hands of evildoers. She lives in an apartment which is filled to the brim with books, so many that she is almost sleeping on them, and is acquiring more all the time. After she is attacked by someone who tries to take her book, Yomiko teams up with a former U.S. soldier, Drake Anderson, and an agent named Nancy Makuhari, the latter who Yomiko falls for, with both expressing feelings for each other.  Nancy has the power to phase through objects but cannot control paper like Yomiko. Yomiko reports to the Library’s head, Joe Carpenter (“Mr. Joker”) while Wendy Earhart is Joker’s assistant and secretary, caring for Yomiko’s well-being. This Joker is nothing like the Joker in the Batman series, although he ends up becoming a villain. Anyway, the OVA, which was given bad marks by reviewers for Anime News Network as having an awful storyline, but positively by Robert Nelson and Dallas Marshall of T.H.E.M. Anime Reviews, ends in a huge battle. It results in the injury of Nancy as the villainous plan to broadcast the Beethoven symphony across the world by using a rocket, while Yomiko gets away with a parachute made of paper. Later, she visits Nancy, who has suffered memory loss and is living in a house with people who have a similar condition, talking about how nice her “sister” was, as a way of talking about her.
The 26-episode sequel series, known as R.O.D the TV, meant to be a catch-all term to refer to characters from the Read or Die OVA, manga, and light novels, and those from the Read or Dream manga, begins very differently than the OVA. This series happens five years after the OVA and has stronger character development, even though some criticize it for its “hokey plot and premise.” I would like to be mention Jennifer Snoek-Brown’s post about library call numbers in the film, noting that these numbers often serve as clues, props, and plot points. I am noting this because, in many of the scenes that libraries are shown, there are also library call numbers as well.
Nenene Sumiregawa is a depressed Japanese writer, with writers’ block, who has come to Hong Kong to promote her book, later lives with two sisters (the “Paper Sisters”), Michelle Cheung and Maggie Mui, who are bibliophiles, and their little sister, Anita King, in Japan. None of them are blood-related. Nenene reveals she has a friend who was “important to her” which gave her helpful reviews on her writing, and the three sisters save Nenene from two assailants. The next few episodes are about the growing friendship between Nenene and the Paper Sisters, as the latter are freeloaders who live at Nenene’s apartment. In the third episode, “Let’s Meet in Jinbocho,” we see a bookstore and Yomiko’s apartment which has become her bookshelf. We also hear the future villain mentioned, Mr. Carpenter. In the fourth episode, titled “The Seventh Grade Course,” Anita joins a book club at the local junior high school that is located in a library, with Hisami Hishishii as the only other member. That library, the first shown in the series, is shown below:
Following this, Anita barely escapes an assailant while holding a book in the library. She is saved by her sister, Michelle, barely. The assailant gets away and does not retrieve the book. This is the beginning of the three sisters, and others, handing out “some wicked papercuts with their paper master skills” as one critic puts it, which is a hilarious way to describe it. This is interesting because Anita hates books but while exhibiting symptoms of a “deeper problem,” while she, like the other sisters, have varied powers as papermasters. And yeah there is the “wastage of good paper,” as one person put it, but it’s for a good cause! That leads to the next episode, “They Shout,” where the Paper Sisters get a mission to recover one of the books which were smuggled out of the British Library during a fire four years earlier and are in a Romanian castle. They come across a professor who can manipulate sound, making the abilities of the Paper Sister moot. They figure out how to defeat him, creating a huge silencer, allowing Anita to throw a book at the professor’s head, knocking him out. Unfortunately, the professor sends out such a strong soundwave that it deafens Maggie and causes Michelle (and Anita) to fall down. While Michelle recovers, as does Anita, Maggie has lost her hearing, although she still is able to stop a bullet from hitting Anita. They all return to Nenene’s apartment and sleep in the living room together. By the next episode, “The Right Stuff”, the library is under attack again, with books strewn across the floor:
Later, Junior returns from her mission empty-handed, unable to find the book…
Then, we have another scene in the library where Anita meets Junior, who is an agent for the British Empire, trying to retrieve a book, although Anita does not know this at the time. As they talk, we find out why Anita doesn’t like books: they remind her of painful memories, like the burning of books and a shadowy figure standing nearby. At the same time, Nenene (and the audience) learns that the Paper Sisters are not sisters by blood but that they adopted each other, becoming a family unit. Hisami tries to sympathize, saying no one will be coming for her either. She tries the best she can to convince Anita to read a book for school.
The episode ends with her reading a report she wrote about Midnight Liberation Zone, one of Nenene’s books. The next episode, “In A Grove,” named after a January 1922 short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa which Akira Kurosawa used as a basis for his 1950 film, Rashōmon, features the Paper Sisters going on a mission to find a book. Everything goes horribly wrong as one of them is arrested, another is stuck in a coffin, and one more is almost killed by a person posing as one of the sisters. The episode ends with an unidentified person putting a book in what looks to be an archives.
The next episode, episode 8, “Seduced by the Night,” features Anita and other students trying to find a “poltergeist” in the library and Nenene traveling to bookstores presumably looking for her book. We also learn about the illegal human experiments by the British government (the villains in this story), on people to get them to “learn” more words. Anita and the other students end up having a “food break” in the library, ha.
Of course, Junior and Anita connect more, with people thinking that Junior is Anita’s boyfriend (he isn’t). Then, Junior later finds the book but reports to his superiors that he “can’t find it,” likely looking for an excuse to stay around Anita, which would be my guess. The next episode, “Heart of Darkness,” involves the Paper Sisters going on a mission to recover another one of the books taken from the British Library. They are not successful and are more skeptical than ever of the people they work for. In the episode that follows, “A Christmas Carol,” we learn how Maggie, Michelle, and Anita met. Part of that includes going into a dimly-lit basement library in a house they broke into, and discovering a bunch of books made to look old but are actually newer, with Maggie and Michelle thinking they have been set up. Then, they meet Anita, who begs to join them, but they reject her pleas, with all of them going their separate ways. The following day, Michelle proposes that all three of them become sisters, which Anita tearfully accepts and Maggie accepts silently, becoming M.A.M. (Michelle, Anita, and Maggie). The episode after that, “Goodbye Japan,” features Anita at the school library with Hisa. Anita later gives up a book she had been hiding, with the villains, like Mr. Carpenter, saying that all the pieces are falling into place. There are a couple more scenes in a library later in the episode as well. Anita is given a going-away party, and tearfully embraces Hisa, who says she loves Anita, as they both hug each other. They get to Hong Kong and Nenene gets straight-up kidnapped by her editor, Linho, to write the best story that’s ever been told, apparently.
In the next episode, “Twilight of the Papers, Part I,” Nenene is subjected to a mind control/hypnotism experiment after she is kidnapped. The Paper Sisters plan her rescue, while Nenene challenges Linho, who is working for Dokusensha, asking if he has been lying to her the whole time, wanting to get her to write for four years so they can conduct some experiment on her. The Paper Sisters break-in and easily move for the facility in their attempt to save Nenene, with Wong stopping them in their tracks. This continues in the next episode, “Twilight of the Papers, Part II,” where they work together to help Nenene and get her out of the building. Linho dies in the sinking of the building, as does Wong, while much of Hong Kong Island sinks as a result of the explosion. They all get out alive, and we hear the voice of Yumiko leaving a message on the answering machine of Nenene’s apartment in Tokyo. It seems the show is really heating up at this point.
Wendy Earhart, part of the British Library, is trying to resurrect all the information from the Dokusensha building which collapsed at the beginning of the following episode, “Forest of Paper Leaves (or “Paper Leaf Wood”).” We also find out that Junior is living with her at her lush apartment, presumably in Tokyo. We also learn that the British worked to find a cure for “Mr. Gentleman,” but then realized they had to transfer his memories and knowledge to another body, so they began human experimentation, and collecting genetic samples from historic figures, with some samples successfully “cultivated.” During this explanation, we see a library, presumably a branch of the British Library, at one point. Thus begins a sort of clip episode.
The story goes that the resurrection of Mr. Gentleman was put on hold when the place holding the genetic samples was attacked by an unknown force (the superpowered samurai, Gennai Hiraga, in the OVA), destroying half of the samples. Then, in 2001, the events of the OVA occurred, with a fight with the I-Jin. While they “resolved” the incident, they wondered who had been behind the attacks and why, although they suspected that Dokusensha was behind it all. The latter was described originally as serving the Chinese emperors but then tasked with guarding the imperial libraries through many dynasties, studying literature on various topics. They disappeared, then reappeared in 1994, becoming more powerful after Hong Kong was given back to China, with their goal reportedly to “control the world and destroy the British Empire.” After that, they began experimentation on people, with an operation titled “sleeping books” to transfer his knowledge to seven people. This plan was put on hold when the British Library was attacked by an unknown person, with the British later withdrawing from the EU and were expelled from the UN. After they worked with Dokusensha to continue their plan. Wendy goes on to talk about the papermasters, saying that Yomiko disappeared after the British Library was set on fire, and noting some archival footage of her abilities. We also get a profile of the three Paper Sisters which the British are trying to get information on and their missions for Dokusensha:
Wendy continues writing her report, concluding that the collapse of the Dokusensha facility gave them an advantage, then transitioning to Joker’s speech before members of the British Empire, which is well-received. Joker then tells Wendy they need to look for Yomiko…
In the next episode, “In the Gray Light of the Abyss,” the Paper Sisters and Nenene return to Tokyo but are on the run again, accused of helping in the bombing in Hong Kong. All of them work together to find Yomiko, who is in the place where you would find the most books in Japan: the National Diet Library. According to its official website, the library’s main building alone has the capacity to hold 4.5 million volumes of materials, while the annex has the capacity to hold 7.5 million volumes. The library was established in 1947 with the National Diet Library Law and opened to the public the following year. It is a bit like the Library of Congress in that it supports the Japanese parliament, known as the Diet, which is its primary role, but it also acquires information and materials to be preserved in a long-term manner, and to provide “easy access to information resources.” In the episode, the library director says they have “everything that has ever been published in Japan.” Yomiko is said to read her way through the stacks all day. The director basically gives them a bit of a tour of the library, which is pretty cool, to be honest, and something I haven’t seen in animation, showing the inner workings of the library. In the episode itself, National Diet Library appears for a total of about 11 and a half minutes, which is about half of the episode! The animators likely worked with/went to the library to put together these animations, which look pretty close to how the library functioned and what was in the stacks.
Nenene hugs Yomiko tightly and bawls her eyes out, happy to see her once again. Yomiko then takes them to a place she is living… in the stacks itself. She and Nenene talk more, while the Paper Sisters explain what happened. Yomiko expresses doubts about coming with them, then Joker appears, telling her that she should return to the British Library and be Agent Paper once again.
The next episode, “Fahrenheit 451,” which has a slightly changed opening, including Nancy reading a book in a library, and a book falling off Yomiko’s head, ha, begins with a bang. Mr. Joker is impressed by her “hiding place,” and when he tries to convince Yomiko to return to England, and cooperate, she refuses, saying, “Mr. Joker, you are an evil man.” What follows is an eight-minute scene in the library, with the Joker claiming he bought the entire library, a fight between his goons and them. Their time in the library itself ends with them flying out of the library on a paper bird, which is so cool:
After they escape, Joker, still in the library, surrounded by slips of paper, reports that the containment mission has failed, and gives orders for a new mission. Wendy tells all those listening to take new orders and begin the mission “Fahrenheit 451.” The British Library agents begin collecting all the books from the bookstores and the Jimbocho region. Little do they know, but the Paper Sisters, Nenene, Nancy, and Yomiko decide to return there, so she can say goodbye to bookstore owners and pick up some personal items. She does get back to her apartment, Junior tries to take the specific book the British Library needs. She fails, stopped by Nancy, to her chagrin. They then find out about the awful plans of the British Library to steal all the books in the area, putting them in a huge pile. The citizenry is alarmed and the books burn in a huge fire. These villains are some of the worst! Awful to burn all those good books! Yomiko tells them to stop and put out the fire, asking them how they could do such an evil thing, with Wendy telling it is a “bit like last time,” referring to the previous fire at the British Library. Anita has a flashback to the burning of books which traumatized her earlier in her life, and Wendy declares that Yomiko will “pay for” what she did.
Well, that was one depressing episode. In the episode that follows, “Sweet Home,” the fire continues, with Yomiko pleading for her to put out the fire. Wendy says they are doing this because “it’s necessary.” She is shocked that Wendy is staying with them willingly when it is clear she has changed. She continues to plead for this to stop, but what she says falls on deaf ears. Thanks to her old US army pal, Drake, they are able to escape, with a smokescreen enabling them to slip away undetected. The local booksellers also let them borrow their vehicle as well. More of the world falls under the control of the British Library/British Empire and martial law is said to be coming in Tokyo itself, as they set up shop in bookstores across the world, attempting to gain control of knowledge and ideas, rather than a simple military occupation. Joker says that bookstores and libraries are the “fundamental fabric of a nation’s collective wisdom,” with control of these the “first step” toward constructing a “new world,” that people like Joker want. When they get to the house of Yomiko’s parents, where no one has lived for years, she turns on the generator, with the paper sisters, Nenene and others impressed by the number of books she has, with books everywhere, which annoys Anita, of course. Later, as Drake sets up traps, Anita comes outside the house and talks with him, with her trauma coming back to the forefront, and she pleads with him if he knows anything about the fire at the British Library. Drake then describes Yomiko as a fool, saying that no matter how much evil someone has inside of them, she tries to reach out to them, but is unsuccessful.
In the episode that follows, “Confession,” Junior becomes temporarily allied with the heroes after he finds out that Nancy is his mother. While Michelle is accepting of him, Anita is still skeptical, as is Maggie. Nancy is still comforting Yomiko, who is in a deep funk. Anita explains to Nenene what they are running from, reminds her that they are still fugitives. Drake wakes up from his nap and is still skeptical of Junior, although he comes around, like everyone else. Yomiko reveals the truth to them all, which the audience partially knows, the origin of Junior, and how the British Library agents kidnapped him. Junior is so distraught that he phases into the book and they see the British Library Special Operations Center, for a scene that lasts for about four minutes.
It reveals that Yomiko got out of control for how they were treating Junior, and Nancy by extension, leading the library to be destroyed with paper, then unintentionally starting a fire, burning hundreds, if not thousands, of books in the British Library itself. Anita is totally freaked out when she sees the hologram, especially of herself watching the fire burn, implying she has some connection to the British Library itself! The next episode, “The Family Game,” begins with a one-minute scene of them in this holographic library, and ends with Anita stopping the fire, by using her papermaster powers. Anita runs off, completely traumatized. She keeps running until she trips, with Michelle and Maggie helping her up. Yomiko explains that the vision she saw was exactly how it happened, and she escaped to Japan afterward with Nancy. Nenene reassures Yomiko that she is not responsible for the current situation. Anita tries to figure out why she was at the British Library six years ago, while Nenene encourages Junior to help his mother. He connects more with his mom, and Anita makes peace, sort of, with her past, while Anita and Junior connect more as well. The Mirror Man comes to the house, demanding to know from Junior where the Book of the All-Seeing Eye was put. The next morning, everyone but Junior and Yomiko has been kidnapped by the British Library. The Mirror Man attacks them in the form of Nenene and gets a hold of the book, but he is easily countered by Anita and Yomiko. Despite her anger at Yomiko, she decides to work with her anyway. Therein ends the episode.
In the episode that follows, “Bonjour tristesse (French: Hello Sadness),” Anita and Yomiko work together, using their papermaster abilities to defeat the Mirror Man and fellow British Library goons. Meanwhile, the others are whisked away in a helicopter to an undisclosed location, and Joker says his dream of the world under one banner will soon be true. Yomiko pleads for Anita to help her and fly the huge paper airplane. It doesn’t work out, though. The helicopter somehow crashes and Anita, thinking of her past resentment, blames Yomiko for it happening, even though it isn’t her fault at all, but rather the actions of Junior. Anita then throws the book of the all-seeing eye into the fire, destroying it, to Yomiko’s horror. Both separate, as Yomiko slowly walks away and Anita breaks down, sobbing, assuming that Michelle, Maggie, Nancy, Nenene, and Drake were killed in the crash. A distraught Anita returns to school, visits the library for a short bit, looking for Hisa. She finds her, but Hisa doesn’t remember her, sending Anita into a further downward spiral, after the traumatic event earlier that day…
The next episode, “D.O.D -DREAM OR DIE,” has Anita re-adapting to school. It includes a short library scene, which isn’t even a minute long. Anita asks Hisa what she would like to be when she grows up, with Hisa saying she wants to be a librarian, while Anita says she doesn’t know what she is “good for.” She later goes back home to an empty apartment, trying to care for herself. It’s relatively depressing. In the meantime, some unnamed construction is going on in the city which is connected to the British Library. Yomiko is nearby and follows a cat through the alleys, then into the city’s sewer. She travels to a local bookstore, while the radio talks about the construction of permanent libraries of mankind by the British Library. The bookstore owner notes how bookstores, libraries, and publishing houses are having their books taken away by the British Library, which is building some sort of world communication system, purportedly to share knowledge with everyone equally. Anita talks to Wendy, saying her life is all twisted around, with Wendy saying her paper tricks will not be required once the library of humanity is completed. Anita thinks it over and she goes through the rest of the school day, enjoying Hisa, but realizes this is all a lie. She runs out of the classroom, and the class, like automatons, turn their heads and continue as nothing happened. She returns home to find a sobbing Yomiko, crying over Nenene. We also see that, of course, Michelle, Maggie, Nancy, Nenene, and Drake were not killed, and Junior took out his tracker, turning on the British Library. Junior coughs up blood (oh no). Later, Joker defends his actions to Anita and Yomiko as benefiting mankind, but Anita knows he is lying. They capture him and he wants their unconditional surrender, and we all know that isn’t going to happen.
In the episode after this, “Seize,” Maggie and Nenene try to find somewhere safe to hide from the British Library. They do so, but the British Library agents soon surround Anita and Yomiko, who still have Joker hostage, while Junior and Michelle run away. They hole themselves up in a house while the agents are nearby, and Wendy shows Maggie a picture of Anita to convince Nenene to turn herself in. After Michelle tells her that she should turn herself in, Nenene figures out that they have Anita. She agrees to go willingly. In the episode following, “Lie to Me”, Wendy tries to negotiate to get Joker released, and he questions Anita on her past. He says that she was manufactured or brought into existence by the British Library Special Operations Unit, with Maggie and Michelle turned into papermasters by Dokusensha. Anita freaks out at this information, while Junior tells Michelle the information simultaneously. Yomiko questions Joker about manipulating people and toying with their memories, asking him what it will achieve. They somehow escape, but Joker is able to get away thanks to the Mirror Man. He later gives his speech to the world, after Junior is captured, claiming that their plan will bring prosperity and knowledge to the world, although this is a total lie, with the world under the rule of the U.K., with Dokusensha becoming part of the U.K., with cheers from the crowd. The President of the U.S. threatens him, but then Joker says he has all sorts of dirt on him, scaring him into submission.
Then, in the episode after that, “You Know Me”, Yomiko, Nancy, Drake, and Anita are in an underground bookstore/bookshop, preparing to go to the UK to put a stop to the plans of Joker. Anita stays behind while the rest go to the UK. Anita travels around the city, aimlessly, trying to figure out where she can learn about the “truth,” and has flashbacks to good times with her sisters, even with Hisa, her good school friend. She begins crying and later returns to the apartment. Michelle is there and meets Anita, but she isn’t so keen on them being sisters anymore. Maggie tries to calm her down, but Anita keeps saying them as sisters is “all a lie.” Michelle then breaks down crying, saying that even if their memories were fake, the life they shared together was real. Tearfully, they all agree to be sisters again. They all agree, in a three sisters vote, to unleash their wrath on the British Library. They crash-land near London, finding it to be transformed into a 19th-century landscape, with Michelle realizing that the city is “living its mythology.” In the next-to-last episode, “Not A Big Problem”, the U.S. president has had enough, saying they have to take action to stop the UK from “running rampant” across the globe, but the UK decimates the U.S. forces by those that they generated from British novels. In some ways, you could say, like in the original OVA, this shows the limits of American bravado, when it comes to military conflicts. In order to find out what’s going on, they read books from the time to find any clues. In the process, they end up going to a library for a short period to learn more. The days keep ticking down, however. At the British Library headquarters, Joker wants to move ahead despite the warning that there will be no chance to reboot the system. Joker later tells Nenene about his plan, with all the thoughts of Mr. Gentleman going into Junior, with the beginning of a new era as he calls it, with all of humanity changed, with their memories and brains formatted “correctly.” He says he would like her to write an “extraordinary book” for mankind. The others later meet “Mr. Kim” and go en route to the British Library with his help on an underground train. After they arrive, they split into three teams so they can rescue Junior, Nenene, and stop Joker. Junior, in the meantime, is being prepared to be the new host of Mr. Gentleman, while the city of London is moving into the 20th century. Their plan seems to work, but Joker goes forward in the operation anyway, saying that the Paper Sisters and Nenene are no threat.
In the final episode, “From There On…”, even as Yomiko has Mr. Joker hostage, they continue the plan. She is captured and the plan seems in jeopardy, but Nancy and Drake are completing their mission. The British Library completes Operation Sleeping Books, with Phase 1 of the Gentleman re-issue plan beginning. Yomiko, in the chamber with the Paper Sisters, Nenene, and Wendy, again pleads with Joker to stop this, but he doesn’t listen. Nenene rejects his arguments, saying he is defacing the “free will of all mankind,” when the British Library thinks Mr. Gentleman is the best, allowing him to be inside everyone, changing them at whim. She later declares that people are forfeiting their identity to the project and tells them to “grow up.” The arguing continues, with Yomiko emphasizing how each of us is called upon to “bear the burdens” of our past. In a bold move, each of the members does their part, and despite Anita being injured, are able to hobble the project. Joker is gravely injured beyond repair and Junior is greeted by his mom, Nancy, who wears the revealing uniform she wore in the OVA, perhaps the only fan service in the whole series. They think Anita is dead or at least unconscious, but, of course, she recovers. We then see a flash-forward to Japan, where a radio broadcast talks about a UN investigation of the “library project,” Wendy cares for Joker on a lavish British estate, Anita adapts to school once again, Maggie talks to Michelle on the phone, and Michelle reveals, when talking to Junior, that has been a couple of months since the collapse of the British Library. Nancy pledges to be the best mother to Junior possibly, Drake comes home to his daughter, and Yomiko and Nenene are collecting books, while Hisa and Anita have a fun time together, even with Anita reading more than before. The final scene shows the initials of Maggie, Anita and Michelle carved unto the statue of the Virgin Mary in the Chapel, where they first met, showing that their memories were never fabricated and real all along! Dang.
And that’s a wrap! Sadly, libraries don’t show up directly in the last few episodes, but that doesn’t take away from the coolness of this series, with more mentions of libraries than any other anime series that I have ever seen. I’ll always remember and treasure it when watching other series going forward and I recommend others watch it as well. It might be old, by some standards, as it was broadcast from 2003 to 2004, but the animation is top-notch, the plot is interesting, and libraries are everywhere! With that, I look forward to your comments.
 As Theron Martin writes, this OVA has “a little bit of character development in the way it tries to shape the relationship between Yomiko and Nancy…[but] there is not much room to delve into things deeply.”