So many goddamn spoilers are in effect. Don’t say I didn’t tell ya so. All scans/caps by me unless stated otherwise.
(R.O.D stands for Read or Don’t, Bitch…)
Read or Die/Read or Dream/R.O.D the TV
First happened upon this series when I was twelve or thirteen and there was no going back. Let’s cover the light novels, manga and anime, shall we? For the newbies to this franchise, first: there’s the Read or Die novels, manga and three-episode OVA with Yomiko and the British Library Special Operations Unit. Second: The Read or Dream manga with the Paper Sisters Detective Company (it was being published as the TV series was aired in Japan; the production was simultaneous). Third: R.O.D -THE TV-, a twenty-six-episode series that combines elements of Die and Dream. Plus, two Drama CDs. I’m excluding the R.O.D Rehabilitation manga; I’m frankly not interested in that version. Same characters, same universe, different canons—that’s how this works, folks. Hideyuki Kurata, the creator, essentially writes “self-fan fiction” as all R.O.D properties are solely penned by him, no matter the different canons and lack of continuity. It’s “retconning” at its finest without it being exactly that as all media is treated as its own thing
unlike the Lucas/Rowling Empires. “R.O.D” is a catch-all for Die and Dream and if I had to pitch the series, it’s like X-Men meets James Bond—with bibliophiles. While the series is imperfect as a whole since Kurata’s weakness as a writer is plot (this is more apparent in his feature film Welcome to the Space Show, which was produced by many of the same staff as R.O.D and Kamichu!), what he excels in is character. That’s what I’ll chiefly focus on.
Favourite character(s): This is tough…
The Paper Sisters (Michelle, Maggie and Anita) are quirky in their sisterly humour and likable (mostly). I say “mostly” because Anita is a well-written twelve, thirteen-year-old and tends to be more believable than other kids in media. She doesn’t act too young that it’s more annoying than cute, but also not too precocious (and yes, she’s very cute… and funny). There’s a middle ground. She can be self-centered and bitchy, which is where the least likable aspects of her character come in. Both her voice actresses, Chiwa Saito and Rachel Hirschfeld have expressed their annoyance with her and on the U.S. DVD audio commentaries, Hirschfeld says that she’s “a little beyotch” (lol), yet I expect this from a kid (and Hirschfeld, who was twelve at the time, channels that spirit brilliantly). On the other hand, she’s also admirable in how she parents her older sisters and befriends more quiet characters like Hisami and Junior. Her martial arts skills and abilities as a Paper Master (telekinetic origami, basically) is unquestioningly impressive for her age (and size).
Anita kicking Junior’s ass twice in one episode and being a shameless badass about it. Girl, why are you suddenly wearing your outdoor shoes? Fucking witchcraft. (Episode 4: “The Seventh Grade Course”; nothingforkings; xamd Tumblr)
Out of the sisters, I relate to Maggie the most, but due to her introverted nature, Kurata often leaves her in the background of both the Read or Dream manga and R.O.D -THE TV- (Anita is obviously his favourite sister as in both media, she receives the most spotlight; nothing wrong with that). The biggest story arc Maggie has in the manga is in Volume One, her relationship with a sick girl named Fay (it’s borderline lesbian, which I guess is fine because while Fay is young, Maggie is a teenager, and I love every minute of it; R.O.D often has intentional and unintentional gay subtext).
In the TV series, she’s given the chance to off a rival Paper Master and she’s truly badass. After that and once the main conflict in the series is introduced, the focus shifts from the Paper Sisters and Nenene (the TV’s original protagonists) to the British Library agents (pretty much everyone from the OVA plus Junior) and consequently Maggie gets very little to do, at least when compared to Michelle and Anita (which is a shame). Kurata lost some opportunity to develop a relationship between Maggie and Junior (which I’m guessing has some blame in her being less personally involved with later events; Junior forms a bond with the other two sisters and him needing to be rescued from the British Library is the climax). Suppose it just didn’t come naturally, so he decided not to force it (understandably). There was untapped potential there. Maggie and Junior each have a talent for cooking and they could bond over that.
Read or Die OVA (Episode 1: “Operation Manuscript Retrieval”; xamd Tumblr)
Yomiko Readman is adorable and a fucking mood. Similar to the Paper Sisters, it’s difficult not to relate to her financial struggles; her constant unemployment status (minus an odd job here and there in the novels, manga and OVA as a substitute teacher and field agent for the British Library Special Operations Unit and/or Division, depending on the translation); her very particular set of talents as a Paper Master that may keep her unemployed as she doesn’t have a range of life skills (boo, that’s me); and her compulsive spending habits on books (how does this bitch manage to keep her apartment?). I mean, this is Yomiko, boys. Basically, every bibliophile. Strike that, reverse it. What every bibliophile wishes they were.
Episode 1: “The Papers Have Landed” (nekoscape95 Tumblr)
Nenene Sumiregawa is badass and throws some epic burns when she wants and as a passionate writer, she doesn’t allow anyone to mess with her. Example: she has no qualms about sticking her middle finger in a gunman’s barrel (of a loaded gun) of all things, like what is fear and caution to her? Also, dare me to not relate to her apparent depression. She isn’t exactly the most “feminine” woman either (Michelle is not wrong to make such a comment in Episode One) and I wish there were more female characters like her in the manga/anime scene (minus the fanservice). Japan, as a conservative society despite what some manga/anime titles will lead you to believe—except, media isn’t necessarily representative of a culture—frequently values the submissive woman over anything else. Hentai/porn culture more or less makes that narrative clear (or if you read/watch anything from Satoshi Kon and get his commentary on modern Japanese society).
Drake Anderson is one of the few male characters who stands out in a female-dominated cast and is sorely underrated. He’s probably the only character of the R.O.D Universe who has anything that resembles a catchphrase (and from my general experience, correct me if I’m wrong, catchphrases in manga/anime are a rarity). “It’s not my lucky day…” Yeah, we’ve all been there, Drake. Is it a stretch to say his theme song might be on the lines of “Another Terrible Day” (the only song I’ve heard from that show)? He’s also a (single?) dad and despite his hard-shell appearance as an ex-mercenary (in the TV timeline), his softer side shows; how can you not love that about him?
In the TV, Junior has no positive male role models in his life and I can imagine that Drake could (possibly) fill that role for him to some degree (God, that kid needs a dad). While Junior is obviously terrified of him on their first interactions, Drake feels protective of him like he does of Anita and is willing to tear down those barriers. I wish he got more to do in the final episode. Like the manga and OVA, he does some badass shit, then disappears (boo!). He’s such a dad and a mood.
Read or Die OVA (Episode 2: “Operation Global Suicide”; halfquarts Tumblr)
Nancy Makuhari is sympathetic and it’s difficult not to want to protect her from everyone and everything. Okay, wait… which Nancy am I talking about? Maybe TV!Nancy, but I also love book! and OVA!Nancy: her Kitty Pryde ability to slip through walls (which makes her a perfect agent for the British Library), her smooth demeanor, her sarcasm, the fact she’s a shameless bisexual queen and double agent (I could write more, but there’s technically two Nancys and we’ll be here all damn day trying to unpack that; I treat them as separate people, so just watch the OVA, y’all). Out of the entire cast, her and Wendy (another Library agent) change the most progressively from the novels to the OVA to the TV (she doesn’t appear in the manga) and her character exhibits some of the smartest writing when it comes to dealing with trauma. This woman goes through a lot of fucked up shit and it certainly isn’t helped that her relationship with her estranged son, Junior complicates matters. When shit hits the fan and their relationship gets ugly, mother and son can both be selfish and unlikable. At the same time, I understand where they’re coming from and feel both characters deserve better.
R.O.D the TV Intro (ydotome Tumblr)
Junior, Nancy’s son, is… complicated. I love him to death, however like his mother, there’s a lot to unpack. In the first handful of episodes, he tends to be emotionally flat and is less expressive than other kids his age (compared to Anita). This is where the precocious-child-in-media comes in and in Junior’s case, it makes sense given the hints about his upbringing and his work as a field agent for the British Library (he’s made useful given he has inherited his mother’s ability). Episode Fourteen: “Paper Leaf Wood” offers a rare glimpse into Junior’s home life living with Wendy. We’ve seen Wendy’s apartment before, sure, just not too many details about the life that exists there. It’s worth noting that the way the mood shifts from the chaotic, middle-class urban clutter of Nenene and the Paper Sisters’ apartment to Wendy and Junior’s modern, high-rise, sharply-furnished apartment in some unspecified prefecture in Tokyo is drastically different and here, some conscious creative decisions are made by the production staff.
Establishing shots of Nenene’s Apartment (above; Episode 14: “Paper Leaf Wood”) and Wendy’s Apartment (below; Episode 6: “The Right Stuff”); look closely and while the quality is a product of early 2000s cel animation and you can see the edges of the cels that I chose not to crop (that’s the highest quality you’re gonna get; yes, these are DVD caps), you can spot the beautiful brush strokes of both frames. All anime is produced digitally now and while still beautiful, I’m nostalgic for the less-polished hand-done look of traditional art.
Not only is the set design of both apartments worlds away in terms of warmth and familiarity versus formality and coldness, but Taku Iwasaki composed this moody theme for whenever Junior enters Wendy’s office (compare this to one of the themes rife with relaxing “Sunday afternoon vibes” that plays for the slice-of-life shenanigans of Nenene and the Paper Sisters). The contrast is deliberate, stark and borderline chilling.
During a meal together that Junior prepared for Wendy, he tries to connect with her in a rare instance as the British Library has been stalking the Sisters (a reverie reveals Junior has been studying and admiring the girls from afar and is attempting to mimic them), although she appears to lack interest in understanding him. The conversation is awkward and distant unlike what we see from the Paper Sisters.
After the meal, Junior is seen alone and the small view of his grey, bare bedroom couldn’t be further away from Anita’s and her organized chaos of Mr. Froggy memorabilia (here, viewers may notice some exceptional bookend framing, calling back to Junior’s isolation in Episode Six). It’s devoid of anything that tells you it belongs to a kid, as if Junior never entertained the notion of having an identity beyond his work (that’s likely the case). His isolation is a clear grooming method that Joker, Junior’s “handler” (I guess you can say) uses to manipulate him and his lack of important human contact in his life has done more damage than good. For instance, in Episode Eight: “Seduced by the Night” as Junior poses as a student during an ongoing operation, Anita invites him to a ghost hunt at the school library with the rest of her class. All the kids arrive on time, except for Junior. Anita keeps expecting him, but unbeknownst to her, Junior has been on the school grounds the entire time. He later confronts Anita when she’s alone, admitting to her that he deliberately avoided the other kids. He’s willing to talk to Anita (mainly because she’s a person of interest to him—er, not like that; as mentioned, the Library is keeping tabs on her and her sisters), but not anyone else.
Similar to Anita, Junior can range from relatable to empathetic to unlikable (specifically in the last half of the series). I’ll discuss briefly below as to what provokes Junior to bring out this less-than-ideal side to him, though I want to clarify that like Anita, I don’t expect anything less from a kid, especially a kid who has had his unique upbringing (and comparably, Anita has her own set of traumas). I’ve seen Junior receive an unfair amount of criticism by the very small R.O.D fandom (let’s face it, there’s only two hundred fans out there lol) for being cold, unlikable, selfish and cowardly. Notably when… shit escalates from zero to one hundred real quick: he meets his estranged mother, an ex-Library Operative, with Yomiko and the others in Saitama, all of them in hiding in Yomiko’s childhood cabin from the British Library. He nearly shoots Nancy until thwarted by Michelle.
Episode 17: “Sweet Home” (tenkaichibudokai Tumblr)
The group forgive him, Yomiko reveals some hard truths to him (I’ll talk about that later) and Nenene suggests that he stay with them. Fine, until Junior betrays them by giving into the persuasion of another agent, Mirror Man who infiltrates the hideout. Years of mental programming will do that to you, y’all.
He agrees to follow Joker’s orders and nearly brings the group to the British Library in a helicopter before a colleague of his unintentionally drags him back to reality. So, he shoots that bloke’s face off; separates everyone in the woods while leaving Yomiko and Anita behind at the cabin; removes his internal tracking device (he “phases” his hand through his chest cavity and rips the sucker out; yeah, must have felt great); and proceeds to explode the helicopter, leading the British Library, Yomiko and Anita to think everyone perished. Yeah, remarkably cunning of a kid to try and fake his and everyone’s deaths. It backfires immensely, his actions appear self-serving, in his words he “threw them all into terrible danger,” and he didn’t think through the follow-up, but hey… he’s a goddamn kid, universe. And he admits to being wrong, which is why he’s under the impression that no one will come and rescue him once Joker finds and imprisons him (having injured himself, his X-Men phasing ability is useless, so he can’t escape). Everyone else has an emotional presence to fall back on while Junior feels he lacks that.
“Must be nice to have people you can trust,” he says to Nenene (Japanese dub). “I don’t have anyone like that.” Nenene assures him he’s wrong, but still. He knows he fucked up, he didn’t mean to and it’s fucking sad. Whereas Anita appears to be less criticized for, I don’t know, being a literal child. There’s a handful of episodes (“They Shout” and “In a Grove” to name a couple) where her badassery crumbles, she’s scared shitless without her sisters and she cries… because that’s how kids act. But Junior? God forbid he gives into mental programming or wants to save his own skin (survival mode, y’all heard of it?). And yes, he is scared when confronted by Mirror Man and doesn’t know what to do. He is selfish when some of the group rejoins, he disowns Nancy as his mother and (because of an obvious crush/emotional attachment to a mother figure) he separates Michelle further from Drake and Nancy, which in a lot of ways, is no different from Nancy wanting to be left alone with Yomiko (Joker’s actually kind of not wrong when he says about Nancy and Junior’s behaviour that it runs in the family, only he puts it in an offensive way). At the end of the day, he’s a kid with a kid’s brain (he’s also much younger than he looks). What a shock that he doesn’t have everything together.
Despite his scary maturity at times, the first time he fights with Nancy (and honestly, the first time he breaks out of his quiet demeanor and really screams; the vocal performances by both Mitsuki Saiga and Jessica D. Stone, who was fifteen, is worth highlighting) reminds us that he’s a kid with a limited mental capacity to deal with the terrible shit he’s going through: his frustrations, inadequacy and crippling loneliness. It’s a hard scene to watch and happens to be the more dramatic moment in the series, yet it all feels entirely natural (the chemistry between Saiga and Michiko Neya in Japanese; and Stone and Carrie Savage in English helps to limit the melodrama and both sets of actresses convincingly play off each other). Nancy and Junior are both whiny to a degree (perhaps, more so in the Japanese script; the English script is tweaked to where Junior is less bitchy), but regardless, he accuses Nancy of only caring about Yomiko. On the flip side, Junior is drawn to Michelle and at this point, displays no interest in connecting with Nancy. It’s terrible to hear acidic insults from a parent and child and previously, Nancy does her best to try and open herself up to Junior by giving him extra strawberries from a piece of her cake (it’s awkward, yet sweet), but I understand both their cases and the emotional baggage they’re carrying. A scene like this needs to happen in some respects because it does allow Nancy to grow up and realise later on that her son needs her. OVA!Nancy (as a double agent) and Junior (as an anti-villain) are two of the most surprising characters in R.O.D (unless one counts TV!Wendy, it’s coming; I’ll save Mr. Lee for a Latter Day). Junior is one of those characters, like Nancy, you can’t help feel protective over and want to see them happy (of course, Kurata gives them a happier epilogue and in the English dub, if you listen closely to the tag scene after the credits where all the characters are having dinner together in Nenene’s apartment, you can hear him laugh for the first and only time).
Thanks to the R.O.D fandom, someone mentioned somewhere (readordie, perhaps?) that The Dresden Dolls song “Half Jack” vaguely reminds them of Junior and I swear, I can’t unhear it now. Thank you, fandom.
Wendy Earhart is a total bitch who I hate to love. My dear Wendy… By “bitch”, I don’t mean “bitchy” like in Anita’s (and sometimes Junior’s) case. I mean, she’s a fucking cold monster (Siobhan Flynn, her English voice actress, agrees with that sentiment on the DVD commentaries). She begins as a flatter character in the novels, manga and OVA. She’s clumsy, hard-working, adorable and you can’t not cherish her, but there’s nothing much to write home about. In fact, her presence adds little to the OVA. Her research skills as an intern for the Special Operations Unit are used more as a means of delivering a plot twist in regards to Nancy. All of her scenes are, without a doubt, great and her polar opposite personality to and interactions with Joker are a joy to watch. On the other hand, these sequences could end up on the cutting room floor and nothing of value would be lost. Then five years pass in the chronology and we’re blessed (or cursed) with TV!Wendy. My God, nothing holds a candle to TV!Wendy. Comparably when we’re first introduced to TV!Joker, a mellower version of OVA!Joker, TV!Wendy is noticeably chiller than bubbly OVA!Wendy. She sports a new haircut, exhibits a new wardrobe, she wears makeup, she’s like a different woman altogether. Mika Sakenobe, Wendy’s Japanese voice actress who also played her in the OVA was surprised by the change when she came onboard with the series (both of Nancy’s voice actors shared similar reservations about TV!Nancy). However, according to Kurata, the old side to Wendy is still there… y’all just don’t notice (insert 2010-era Tumblr troll face; God, I’m ancient). Except, I have to offer my two cents and say I believe the 2002 terrorist attack on the British Library by Yomiko messed Wendy up psychologically. It’s not a stretch to say that she’s still klutzy (we see this in the epilogue) and maybe there was a darker side to her all along, but people change. Wendy certainly does. Fans love to bitch about this all the time, but sorry folks, Wendy grew the fuck up and she changed.
OVA model sheets (Character Design References)
So, why is she a stone-cold bitch? Well, we see little of her in action for the first fourteen or fifteen episodes. She’s an extension in some respects to OVA!Wendy where she does nothing but acts an (unpaid?) Uber driver for Junior and (her unhealthy love interest) Joker and writes up secretarial reports on her laptop. Once in a blue moon (okay, one episode-and-a-half), she pulls out a gun and… hurts people off-screen, hacks into rival organization software and downloads their data onto her computer (okay, that’s pretty badass; meanwhile, that fucking cripple Joker stands in the background and talks to his reflection… he does that on days off his meds). That doesn’t last because behind-the-scenes, her and Joker have been tracking down Yomiko and Nancy who betrayed the Library and disappeared for five years after “the Incident.” They each confront Yomiko separately and each take vastly different approaches to express their anger and feelings of betrayal. Joker can be ruthless, although he’s more “polite” about it. He’ll attempt to talk someone to death before trying anything and even so, he’ll refrain from pulling out a gun himself unless he has to. That’s where “Joker’s Sheep” come in, those faceless uniformed men he hides behind in the manga and TV. He’ll pull their strings first until he can’t.
And Wendy? She’s like, “Nope, fuck that.” She barely speaks to Yomiko again after five years, her former best friend, pulls out her bloody gun and shoots Yomiko in the arm. Then, she orders Joker’s Sheep to attack Nancy. Okay, that’s “tame.”
Episode 17: “Sweet Home” (nothingforkings Tumblr)
But wait: by this point, everything is insanity, all of the characters are separated and trying to out-wit each other, Wendy’s on the chessboard, makes her move and finds Anita alone at her old school. Anita has left Yomiko, blaming her for everything that happened and helpless, she’s still under the impression that her sisters burned alive in the helicopter crash. Wendy attempts to manipulate Anita that she can’t survive in the world alone and that she would be happier living a brainwashed existence in the “New World” the Library is rejuvenating, which is basically them trying to be
cultists modern colonialists. Patriotic plug: “Let’s revert the U.K. (and the world) to its former glory!” So, like Tory/Brexit ideals (and a bunch of other complicated shit). Perhaps, it’s safe to say now that while the TV aired in 2003/05, it’s set in an alternate history in 2006/07 where previously in 2003, the U.K. left the E.U. and was expelled from the U.N., so I commend Kurata for that level of authenticity before it became reality. (Because R.O.D really jumps the shark in other areas.) Shit, these delusional tea boos even get two songs from Iwasaki titled “Bring All the Wisdom to Great Britain!” and “God Save the Queen.” Up your proverbial fine white English arses much? (Okay, they’re epic songs.)
What Wendy doesn’t tell Anita is that because Joker believes Junior is deceased, he’s targeting Anita as a new candidate for… I’ll get to that. Fast-forward: What kind of glam-slam girl would she be if she didn’t take advantage of an opportunity? Learning from her colleague Frankie that Yomiko and Anita have taken her f*ckboi Joker hostage, she locates Nenene and Maggie at a hotel, corners Maggie and knowing Maggie’s sensitivity, she lies to her and tells her Anita’s life is threatened by the Library, providing false evidence. “Give us the writer lady and you can have your sister, sound good? Or, you know, we *might* kill her. Sorry, love.” No, Wendy. That’s not how life works, darling. Wendy can’t catch a break because naturally, Nenene figures it out and turns herself in willingly so Wendy can exchange hostages. All right, but we’re not done.
The Library do come to realise that Junior pulled an Ikkyu-and-Nancy on them (Ikkyu being his dead father and… terrorist, you can say, or in Junior’s words, “would-be world conqueror” who fucked with the Library in the OVA; Nancy was a double agent for Ikkyu) and that he’s still out there, alive (and not well). Once Junior is abducted and brought back to England with them, Wendy visits him in an examination room before a certain procedure is about to take place. Wendy and Junior have lived together for years and while their relationship in previous scenes was guarded and strained, there were no hints of dislike or animosity. Welp, Wendy breaks down that glass and fucks everything up in not two seconds. Junior, having never known his parents since he was separated from Nancy all his life, had no other source of affection but Wendy.
“You know, I never liked you,” Wendy says (English dub). “You were always just there…” Jesus Christ, Wendy. (Note of interest: Flynn’s vocal performance here is pretty impressive. She really nails the ice and unsaid layers of Wendy’s character.) The Japanese dub goes one step further: Wendy doesn’t hold back and claims that Junior’s docile nature made her job feel dirtier than it needed to (another good performance by Sakenobe who has a vastly different energy in the OVA and first half of the TV).
“I’ve always held onto the hope that you loved me,” he tells her, despite being afraid of her (the Japanese script is not as explicit; Junior just wants Wendy to “begin to like” him). God, this fucking kid… Junior can be too sweet for this world sometimes. He goes out of his way to bake a birthday cake for her in an earlier episode (mimicking the Paper Sisters’ birthday party that he witnessed) and this is how she treats him? Queen of Cold.
Seriously, look at this gorgeous dinner and cake he made for her, what the fuck?! And his attention to detail is impressive; he copied the Sisters’ cake pretty much exactly, down to the near precise order of the strawberries. (Episode 14: “Paper Leaf Wood”)
Wendy is a fascinating character because the way I see her, she’s not one person. Two vastly opposite personalities exist inside her and during the scene where she’s speaking to Junior for (likely) the last time, I’m under the impression she doesn’t always say what she feels, and she doesn’t always feel what she says. In fact, there’s subtle and not-so-subtle reaction shots of her sprinkled throughout the series that hint at some layered nuances brewing inside her head that’s never delivered in dialogue, particularly when she balls her fists when Joker denies her request to retrieve Junior from Saitama, telling her that it “doesn’t strictly require your talents” and he needs her in his office; then her manner changes to one of unwavering loyalty (she has a similar reaction when Joker meets her after she shoots Yomiko; it’s some excellent storyboarding by the animation staff).
Yep, this is what I’m talking about. (Episode 19: “The Family Game”; nothingforkings Tumblr)
While she straight-up tells Junior she hates him, she adds (while holding his hand and blinking away tears) that his new existence will be more deserving than the one he has and she accepts that he may exact revenge on her. Similar to Joker, she does receive a little comeuppance. Junior mentally messes up her f*ckboi (temporarily, yet…) and on the Drama CD (which succeeds the TV series), she meets Junior again when he begins eighth grade at Nishihama. Here, he comes back at her with an epic burn: “Wendy-san, it’s you who seems to be tired of your life. The wrinkles at the corners of your eyes are getting worse.” That legit pissers her off, but Wendy sis, you know you were asking for it. She’s detestable in many ways, though there’s a good reason I don’t consider her a least favourite character. Honey, I love you unconditionally, but you’re fucking twisted.
Not much to analyze here, but I do enjoy all the kids at Nishihama Junior High, the school Anita attends in Tokyo. Hisami, Toko, Chiho, Okahara, Natsume. They’re not complicated characters by any means and perhaps one-dimensional, but they’re a likeable group of kids and I seriously wish the kids I went to middle school with were as nice as them and not downright pricks.
Least Favourite character(s): Joe Carpenter, a.k.a. Joker (Joe-Car, get it? No relation to Batman/the DC-verse, but it’s amusing to think that might be the case, a “cruel” twist played on him by his colleagues. Why there aren’t any meta-DC references/humour in R.O.D, I’ll never understand it, so I rely on my own fan fiction to make up for it).
He’s big, blonde and beautiful… Hold the fuck up—uh, no. He’s a deplorable piece of shit, but I can’t lie and say I don’t enjoy every minute he’s on page or screen (and with fan doodles in the works, I discovered I like drawing him; how does that make a lick of sense? There’s hardly any fan art of him to begin with, so I do think he’s overlooked by the fandom). Why is he a hideous, righteous bastard asking for a swift kick in the willy? Big ass spoiler here: in the TV series, he takes Junior away from Nancy as a baby with the intention of grooming this kid for some hardcore Get Out sci-fi horror procedure and just doesn’t give a single flying shit. By that, I mean Junior’s body is intended to be used as a host for some nasty ol’ bloke the British Library worships like the American Moses and whose own body and essence was “extracted” (for lack of a better term) like seven Horcruxes into seven books (books made of his skin, flesh and everything and are “alive” in a sense). Yep, the series really jumps off the rails and gets a little too trippy for its own good by this point, a glaring flaw that the anime exhibits in its second half. Don’t get me started on these half-explained concepts and (when caps are taken out of context), Urotsukidoji “tentacle erotica” designs that seem to come out of nowhere.
The manga can get weird too, of course. There’s an actual “living library” that consumes people, which shows up in Volume Three like the “closet mouth” from Poltergeist, no joke. The “library beast” is there just… ‘cos. (“Oh! I guess that’s what you were kinda going for…”)
Mr. Gentleman, the “all-British Prophet” (Episode 14: “Paper Leaf Wood”; nothingforkings Tumblr)
Yep, creepy borderline cult-like shit. Gentleman, the “Joseph Smith” in question, is elusive in the anime (the former Library head before his “death” and staying consistent with the weirdness, book!Gentleman can reverse his age; apparently, anime!Gentleman can’t?). Though after reading the manga, I get a better sense of why the Library kisses his ass because he’s no ordinary man. Duh. The manga and anime canons may be separate, but as it’s suggested in the anime as well, he has a supernatural ability to whitewash history and mentally influence the greatest historical figures; in his prime, he was responsible for Britain’s power. In the manga, “rewriting” is rather literal by means of a diary and the Library agents, always looking for ways to escape reality (that’s never fully explored), buy into this shit. Think about the implications! Joker is Gentleman’s biggest ass-kisser and is like, to put into perspective, the Judge Turpin of the R.O.D Universe. One man goes out of his way to fuck everything up for literally everyone. Even when Junior is clearly in discomfort during the “transfer” procedure to have some not-yet-dead guy shoved inside his head in the last episode, Joker is just, “Nope. Look at all these damns I give. In the name of New World Colonialism, sweetheart… Oh, we might irreversibly damage Junior’s mind? Eh. The only thing I regret today is running out of ketchup for my full English breakfast.” (He doesn’t actually say that, just the vibe he gives off.) In addition, it’s terribly depressing that prior to this, Junior appears to lose the will to fight and/or live after his exchange with Wendy, telling Joker and Wendy (or maybe more to himself), “Everything is pointless.” (“Why should I die? Would I be more noticed than I ever was before?”) That is, until the sisters and others come to fuck up the party.
Contrary to the last episode’s fluffy epilogue (which is welcome after ten or so episodes of screaming and crying), Nancy and Junior are going to be dealing with a shitload of trauma because of him, I can tell you that. And Nancy already is traumatized when he meets her and Yomiko again after half a decade. On a half-positive note, Joker certainly receives his dose of comeuppance from Junior.
Edit: Thought I could offer a better point of reference here since a lot of viewers are confused as hell by this scene (so, here’s my take):
During the “procedure” of Gentleman’s rebirth, Junior’s Kitty Pryde phasing ability appears to return enough to allow him to phase his fingers through Joker’s scalp and transfer some of Gentleman’s essence, knowledge, memories, etc. that’s being poured into him to Joker. He tells Joker (Japanese dub), “You can watch it with me,” which makes more sense to me than the English script (“I have something to show you”). Joker, being a “normal” individual, is unable to deal with the capacity of Gentleman’s essence, thus his hair turns white, his eyes become “dead” and he’s rendered a vegetable. (Episode 26: “From There On”)
And he had it coming (although his punishment from the Paper Master Ridley Wan in the manga is perhaps not more deserving, but cruel in its level of violence).
Only, after three months he’s fine and I feel that Joker will just get back up and continue being Joker and Kurata is no doubt hinting at that. (Also, after all this time, fans are still wondering: what the bloody hell is up with Joker and that dog? To me, it just signifies he comes to from his vegetable state.) Another anime series from Aniplex was in order. Unfortunately, it was never released. Maybe someday… The closest thing we have to a “sequel” at the moment is the Drama CD (with loose continuity; Joker’s hair is still blonde, Junior’s is still long) and yes, Joker does appear in that. The genre is comedy, so he’s less ruthless, he bitches to Wendy about his man-pain (“Wendy, I’m struggling!”) and they each have weird-ass interactions with some eighth-graders (R.O.D is strange like that). Although I will say, he may be a tad one-note, more so in the anime than the manga. Manga!Joker is sly and laid-back; yet over the top and sarcastic and batshit insane; and I fucking love to hate it/hate to love it, and why is anime!Joker so toned down in comparison? (Manga!Joker is also obsessed with Japanese culture as a foreigner and being the worst white English offender of cultural appropriation, it’s highly amusing. Maybe for another post, I’ll do a deep dive on that.)
TV!Joker makes sense that he’s more numb by that point in his life since the British Library Incident left him injured—he has a range of two(ish) feelings: pleasantly smirking or mildly annoyed except for when he confronts Yomiko again after five years and he nearly loses his shit—but OVA!Joker?
Seriously, I love his OVA model sheets. (Character Design References)
Minus his wider range of emotions and comically-induced reactions to stress and failure, I wanted to see that batshit side from the manga pop out someplace. Eh, at least we get sick-of everyone’s-bull-and-tired-as-fuck Joker in the novels and OVA because it’s priceless.
“God, shoot me.” (Illustration by Taraku Uon; Read or Die Novel, Vol. 9; Baka-Tsuki)
Despite his cliché “villain” arc and unoriginal goals (Nenene even calls him out on that: “You can just recycle the same material again and again.”), he can be nicely written. Because his wants as an anti-protagonist (in the OVA)/antagonist (in the TV) are tried and shamelessly tropey, he has been accused of being a bland “villain.” I mean, I don’t know in what world abducting a mother’s baby for ulterior motives; and messing up an already mentally-vulnerable Nancy in the process; and embracing Junior and telling him, “Keep doing this for me because we’re going to save everyone in the world” bullshit; and pushing Yomiko to psychological limits through false trust and charm; and turning around and manipulating Anita into believing she’s abandoned and her life is a lie; and making Wendy think he cares for her when he most likely doesn’t and she’s nothing more than a tool to him like everyone else is considered “bland”, but okay, Internet. I digress.
I mean, he’s no Johan Liebert. Some of the criticism about his characterization is warranted and his motives regarding his white saviour complex (“save mankind and all children need a good education, not that a privileged bibliophile like Yomiko can understand that” and what are you talking about?) is wishy-washy at best (“I want to be the Briton who changed all of mankind”). However, Joker in the R.O.D Universe is the King of Mindfucking (unless, one counts Wendy mindfucking Anita and Junior) and he fucking knows it. He knows that just with the
right write(?) words, he can act like a writer (drawing from the bookish themes of the series) and influence anyone. He takes hints from his Lord and Saviour Mr. Gentleman for sure and he can brainwash people to believe in and do anything for him, and we see this with his past “friendship”/work relationship with Yomiko in the novels, manga and OVA. Yomiko is a “friend” to him until she isn’t. “You stop being useful to me? Cheerio, darling.”
I think Kurata knew exactly what kind of tropes he was playing with and just owned it. Die Hard is said to be one of Kurata’s favourite action franchises and you can tell some elements from those films (obvious hint: Hans Gruber) were lifted for Joker and then some. Volume Two of the Read or Die novels shares a similar premise as the first Die Hard film and though not the first media to do so, it’s admirable.
R.O.D and its brilliant referencing (Illustration by Taraku Uon; Read or Die Novel, Vol. 2; Baka-Tsuki)
There’s more to Joker than he’s given credit for and he has some excellent, savage one-liners that both his TV voice actors, Hozumi Gouda and JB Blanc (yes, THE Caustic, a.k.a. “Gas Daddy”) milk in the best way possible. For example, in the Japanese dub, second to last episode, he tells Yomiko with a smirk as she’s messing with his perfect day, “Can this not wait? Unlike you, who is unemployed, I’m busy.” Savage as fuck. On a final note, I’ve never seen a character in a manga/anime as obsessive-compulsive with his hair as Joker is, or a wanker that owns such a badass vintage cellphone with zero fucks to give (I have OCD, so don’t come at me; I kinda get Joker in that respect). Outside of the part-improvised TV spots where Maggie proposes Joker actually wears a wig (don’t ask; if only Maggie were this snide in the show), unfortunately, I feel Kurata was left with more room for comedy in regards to this. (So, that’s where doujinshi comes in…)
5 Favourite ships (canon or non-canon): Whatever are ships? Okay, but I do ship Anita/Hisami. That’s firmly established as canon.
Like I said, R.O.D throws out a lot of Ho Yay/gay subtext (conscious or unconscious). The only truly straight pairing(s) I can name are Yomiko/Donny (also spelled “Donnie”), Iraka/Ridley (manga), Joker/Wendy, Ikkyu/Nancy (the most toxic behind Iraka/Ridley and Joker/Wendy)… but Yomiko and Nancy are open bisexual queens, so… Maybe Michelle/Junior (an obvious parallel to Yomiko/Nancy)? Except, I treat this more as a “puppy crush” on Junior’s part since he’s twelve, er looks twelve, not a serious pairing (and I think there’s mother-child affection there, too). So, Anita/Hisami: Hisami admits to Okahara, a boy who has a crush on her, that she loves Anita and Kurata does the right thing here: he allows Okahara to respect that. He still clearly cares for her, but he doesn’t get butt-hurt, never forces himself on her and recognises how special their relationship is. As an example, in Episode Eleven: “Goodbye Japan” when Anita is preparing to leave Tokyo for Hong Kong (her hometown) and she’s forced to say her farewells to her school friends, Hisami is unable to bring herself to say goodbye and runs off. Okahara takes the initiative to go find her and bring the girls together because he understands they both need closure. Okahara is one of those characters that seems typically immature for a seventh-grader on first glance, yet underneath, he’s a caring kid and knows when to give Hisami her space (by Episode Eight, I think I fell in love with his character). It’s a really sweet moment.
Episode 11: “Goodbye Japan” (nothingforkings Tumblr)
I can’t say if Anita is aware of Hisami’s love yet since she appears to be a late bloomer and has no interest in the opposite (or same) sex, but that can change. I know the fandom is keen on shipping Anita/Junior and while they’re cute together, canon-wise, I never get the impression they’re interested in each other; they’re strictly friends. Whenever Anita is teased by her classmates and sisters that she likes Junior, she gets seriously defensive. Notably in the Japanese dub when the group is in Saitama, Junior overhears from the bathroom Nenene and Michelle suggest to Anita that she share a room with him since she’s “all buddy-buddy with him.” As expected, Anita screams in horror while Junior looks on, very confused. Of course, thirteen is a painfully awkward age and any kid would react like this. (That said, it’s amusing to me that Anita’s English voice actress, Hirschfeld jokes on the DVD commentaries: “My best friend plays my boyfriend,” referring to Stone who voiced Junior, and the voice director is quick to add that the pairing is not confirmed, which Hirschfeld sounds disappointed by.)
Donny and Ridley are the best thing to come out of the manga. While claimed to be merely a friendship and they each have girlfriends, y’all are lying to yourselves. The Ho Yay with these two ain’t even subtext, it’s blatant. (One of these days, I’ll pen a think piece on R.O.D Ho Yay and the rest of the male cast; save it for a Latter Day.)
Eh, I can’t list five, oops.
Character(s) I find most attractive: Book!/OVA!Nancy. Definitely. God, she’s so damn hot. Also TV!Wendy, Michelle and a minor character, Alice Alice Arquette (Triple A).
Read or Die OVA (Episode 1: “Operation Manuscript Retrieval”; xamd Tumblr)
Character(s) I would marry: Yomiko. Duh.
Character(s) I would be best friends with: Maggie and Nenene. But as an Aspie, I relate to Junior’s inability to read social cues.
A random thought: Random? Did y’all not see that rambling nonsense up there? Boy, I’ve tortured you people enough.
An unpopular opinion: Junior is not a dude who looks like a lady. Canonically, he does get confused for a girl more than once, notably by Michelle (even when his hoodie is up, God!), and he does keep his nails long (hey, maybe for defense?), but you see him in motion and hear him speak, it’s a wonder anyone makes that mistake. Although to be fair, even Mitsuki Saiga (his original voice actress) had a hard time telling his gender when she was first cast, which I think is amusing since if you know her work, she often voices males. Likewise, on the U.S. DVD audio commentaries, the English voice cast constantly make jokes that “Jessica is not a boy,” referring to the young lady that played him, which is also funny to me (if you’re a Millennial, you may know her as Stanley from the Playhouse Disney show; she also voiced several males in anime and Makoto in the Street Fighter games). Like, I get kids at that tween age are androgynous, but let’s be real. What is this, the fucking fifties?
Canon OTP(s): Yomiko and Nancy. Nancy girl, I question your life choices. Seriously. You have Yomiko right there. Screw Ikkyu, sis!
Non-canon OTP(s): Um… I don’t know if this is necessarily an OTP, but Junior and Okahara on the Drama CD (from the small section I roughly translated for myself) give me life. I wish we’d see them interact in the show. Nothing wrong with Junior hanging out with the girls, though it’s nice to hear Junior talk and connect with another boy his age. Like I said, he has little to no positive male relationships and Joker is toxic as fuck. Okahara may think Junior is weird at first, but unlike other kids, he gives him a chance. It’s a friendship that can blossom.
Most badass character(s): See above. I’ve mentioned a few. While the novels are unfortunately not translated into English (except for part of Volume One), just based on Uon’s beautiful illustrations, Faust is another Paper Master Yomiko meets and I swear, look at this kid (except, he’s way older than he appears; there’s a number of characters in R.O.D who pull from that trope).
Faust is here to fuck shit up (Illustration by Taraku Uon; Read or Die Novel, Vol. 6; Baka-Tsuki)
Pairing(s) I am not a fan of: What are those even? Do those exist for R.O.D? Asking the real questions. rhianwen_24601 was my go-to fan fiction writer back in the day. She had some well-written Drake/Wendy fics, like what a weird-ass pairing, but she made it work somehow. Short answer: no?
Character(s) I feel the writers screwed over: Running in circles, yo. Kurata loves mentally torturing his characters, doesn’t he? I failed to mention Alice, an ex-Library Operative. She only appears in one TV episode, but something about her is charismatic and memorable and her unwarranted death is possibly the cruelest any character in this series has endured. Drake shouldn’t have had to witness her murder (he also deserves better).
Episode 9: “Heart of Darkness” (nothingforkings Tumblr)
Favourite friendship(s): Yomiko/Nancy/Drake, Yomiko/Nancy/Nenene, Nenene/the Paper Sisters, Junior/the Paper Sisters, Anita/Hisami/Junior, Hisami/Okahara. Shit, that’s nearly everyone, huh? Wendy and Nenene are friends in the novels (and the ending of the manga) and sadly, none of that is translated in the anime. Though, one that could develop off-screen (or in a hypothetical series two) that Kurata didn’t get a chance to explore thoroughly as we barely see them together, even in the final episode (the fact that he kept pairing Junior with Michelle tells me he either wasn’t interested or didn’t know how to make these characters work together): Nancy and Junior.
I know they’re mother and son, hear me out: Nancy is willing to try to learn to how to be a parent (we see this in the lovely letter she writes to Junior as she’s travelling India and Junior seems eager to see her again), but they have a long way to go before that serious bonding will take effect. They have a lot of trauma, self-loathing, emotional distance and lost time to work through, and it’s difficult to say if Nancy can ever be a mother to Junior so late in his life (in biology, yes). But he needs a mum and I feel Nancy will put the work in. Can she be a friend, too? I think so. Doors are open. We’ll see.
Character(s) I want to adopt or be adopted by: Nancy.
I could write a bloody book about R.O.D… but I won’t. Or can I?