Yomiko Readman's love for literature goes far beyond any run-of-the-mill bookworm's! In fact, she has a supernatural ability to manipulate paper in the most amazing ways. From turning a tiny scrap into a lethal throwing dagger to making a single sheet hard enough to block bullets, she's only limited by her imagination. She uses her phenomenal power to seek out legendary books containing secret information that, in the wrong hands, could be dangerous. Backed by a Special Operations Division in England, Yomiko has her hands full battling evildoers, saving the world, and trying to find time to curl up with a good book.
I've been trying to get into reading manga more, and I really wanted to like Read or Die, I really did. I almost didn't want to think about it so I could enjoy it more. However if I enjoyed it more the review wouldn't be nearly as heartfelt. The manga wants to be a lot of things; a school story, a spy story, an X-Men-ish 'we have powers that no one understands' preachfest, an action-comedy, and a dash of wanting to appreciate great literature without referencing any of it. Sure I liked the Misery quip at the beginning, and the story has a nice synopsis
going for it, but it's not consistently clever or cohesive enough to be considered great or even a full story at times.
The story has a promising premise without a doubt. Yomiko is a bubbly teacher-turned agent with an ability to control paper and but not her feelings about her troubled past. From the get go, it announces that Yomiko is in a world where greater organizations like the London library suits following her around are pulling the strings and requesting that she helps them find rare books for, some reason. There's also old dirt on the bibliophiles like Yomiko; her former boyfriend Donnie and his best friend Ridley that is seemingly covered up by the organization as well. Along the way Yomiko meets an author and tries to save a group of students, and her interactions with all the characters, stereotypical or otherwise, were pretty sweet and geneuine. I also liked the psychological effects Yumiko experienced from supposedly killing Donnie, and there were some sad and sweet moments along the way even if the manga doesn't fully resolve them or make use of their full potential.
With me so far? Good, because that's all I got too. The rest of the story is so convoluted and all the character and story subplots and arcs introduced previously get lost in the shuffle very VERY quickly. Fighting between two groups of students comes out of nowhere and gets resolved somehow. A giant paper dragon-worm flies out of the ground as part of an ancient library of books that the London library wants to find the book of truth, again, for some unexplained reason. The library also weaves in and out of fight scenes for some reason and while they are seemingly pulling the strings, they just end up being there to give the illusion of story amid all the fighting. Ridley eventually shows up out of nowhere announcing that he's Yomiko's rival and the books then feel the need to take a big info dump and tell us all about his experience, which when digging deeper doesn't even make sense. Who are Donnie and Ridley and how did they get their powers? Why does the library want the book of truth? Why is it so important to begin with? Why does Yomiko fight for the students and why does she try so hard at all of this in general? The manga posed so many unanswered questions and threw up so many red herrings that I started to get bogged down with more questions than the suspense that the story tries to build and they started to drag my enjoyment of the story down very very quickly. On top of that, so few of them get unanswered that I felt cheated with the ending I got.
The action and occasional panel furthers my confusion as well. The art is drawn well for sure, but during the action sequences a boom or bang along with a beam of light or a flying character will be so huge and dramatic that it almost took me out of the experience and came across as more obnoxious than intense. This when paired with the confusing story that ties itself in knots comes across as half baked. Being a bibliophile myself, I really wanted to enjoy Read or Die, and I'm aware that the anime has quite a bit of praise, but if you were to read the manga first, I would recommend passing it up.
First, I really enjoyed the OVA. I think that had me in a certain mindset when I picked up the manga to read.
I was generally disappointed by the manga for a few things:
1) It was confusing. The flow from panel to panel was not smooth, especially the action scenes (See #3).
2) I couldn't tell who was talking. The speech bubbles often didn't have the little tag to show who was talking. Sometimes it seemed that someone in an entirely different panel was talking, but I had no direction as to who was talking.
3) The action scenes were confusing.
Again, I'm comparing it to the ova, but if I hadn't seen the ova, I don't think I would quite get Yomiko's Paper power very well.
The plot was fine, but for me it didn't 'salvage' the manga. I nearly didn't bother finishing it. Too much other better manga to read.