Yumiko Readman (voiced by Rieko Miura) is an ardent bibliophile. The girl goes ga-ga for books. As Special Agent “Paper”, she works for a secret branch of the British Library, utilizing her arcane knowledge and telekinetic power to animate paper to retrieve rare manuscripts and protect the world from evil. But all she really wants to do is read her new book, which happens to be a long-lost manuscript written by the great composer Beethoven. Unfortunately the book is stolen by the I-Jin, a group of supervillains cloned from the DNA of famous historical figures, who believe it holds the key to unlocking Beethoven’s lost “Death Symphony.’ Anyone who hears this morbid music is compelled to commit suicide. Now the I-Jin want to broadcast it around the world. Only Yumiko and her fellow agents, Nancy Makuhari - codenamed Miss Deep (Michiko Neya) - and Drake Anderson (Masami Iwasaki) can stop them
From the creative team that went on to make the similarly batty Welcome to the Space Show (2011), Read or Die certainly runs with the whole “librarian saves the world” concept in a truly delirious manner that puts Dean Devlin’s similarly bibliophile-themed The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (2004) and its sequels in the shade. Appealingly voiced by actress Rieko Miura, geeky, bespectacled Yumiko Readman ranks among the most instantly engaging anime heroines of recent times. Watching her swoon in ecstasy over some dusty old tome proves unexpectedly amusing, though along with unfailing politeness her persistence proves an equally endearing character trait.
Koji Masunari maintains a helter skelter pace throughout, throwing insanely creative ideas and visuals with super-charged abandon whilst the animators have fun with Yumiko’s paper powers (at one point she flies a giant paper aeroplane in pursuit of a villain, and later pits a paper sword against a lightsaber) and those of sexy fellow agent Miss Deep, who has the ability to phase in and out of objects a la the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde. However, the plot is simply too rushed for all its ideas and emotional grace notes to really hit home. On a narrative level, this three-part O.A.V. sadly does not hang together with an array of glaring plot holes and character details left frustratingly vague. Perhaps it is better to think of this as a primer for the television series that followed in 2003, which is supposedly more character-centred.
There is a fairly coherent theme running throughout the anime wherein the supporting cast gradually teach Yumiko there is a world worth exploring beyond the printed page, even though the risk of being emotionally scarred is far greater. The growing bond between team members Nancy and Yumiko adds another appealing layer, so when the serial throws a surprise twist completely out of left-field, viewers truly feel the latter’s loss of innocence. Complimenting the nifty retro-Sixties visuals is the terrific soundtrack by Taku Iwasaki that combines elements of Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, Michel Legrand and John Barry into a charming whole that further energizes the serial in spite of its narrative failings. This is also a rare anime that spins its flight of fancy off of a British institution, though quite what all these Japanese people, to say nothing of a renegade Beethoven clone, are doing mixed up in this affair is anyone’s guess.