R.O.D. (READ OR DIE) is quite an imaginative and delightful three-episode Japanese OAV (Original Animated Video) series that deftly mixes sci-fi, adventure, comedy, history and a love of rare books. Made in 2000, it's set against a marvelously detailed background of urban settings like Tokyo, Washington DC, and New York, along with the massive Victorian-style (but secretly high-tech) British Library headquarters, as well as a diverse fleet of retro-style aircraft and seacraft. Overall, it offers the kind of fresh, unpredictable and literate entertainment that caters to the restless tastes of the more discriminating anime fans in America.
The heroine is a 20-something woman named Yomiko Readman, a shy, self-effacing bookworm who is a teacher and obsessive collector of rare books. She traipses about in a long skirt and overcoat, lugging a large briefcase behind her on a wheeled cart everywhere she goes, even when chasing super-villains. She's also a secret agent known as "The Paper" who has the extraordinary power of turning any kind of paper product into a lethal weapon or protective barrier. One of the special thrills of this series is the way this talent is used so often to ingenious effect in the course of the three episodes. When the Library of Congress is attacked and robbed by a famous Japanese inventor cloned back to life, Yomiko is assigned by the British Library to retrieve the stolen books. The enemy is soon revealed to be much wider in scope and encompasses a host of other historical figures brought back to life, including a certain famed composer. World domination is not their aim but something much more sinister.
The plot is rather complex, but never wavers off track as the action moves from Tokyo to D.C. to New York (including a harrowing scene at a pre-9/11 World Trade Center) in the first episode alone, venturing to India in the second, and to a massive techno-fortress which rises out of the central Pacific Ocean in the third. The writing is consistently clever, the heroine relentlessly charming and the characters and multiple historical references always intriguing. There's also an elaborate title sequence that's the best seen in any anime since "Cowboy Bebop," along with a jazzy early-'70s style-TV theme that gives it some added color. The release of all three episodes on one DVD is a welcome signal of the possible resurgence of the OAV format, which allows for limited-run series of various lengths like this one.