Opening to Read or Die OVA.
There are many examples of Scientific Romances which spend a degree of time in the present day, from the framing device of Ray Harryhausen's The First Men in the Moon where a 1960's lunar launch finds relics of a turn of the century expedition, to Time After Time which utilizes time travel to bounce between the Victorian era and the Swingin' Seventies, to the anime series Escaflowne which introduces a modern Japanese school girl to a world of steam-driven fantasy. These stories break the romance of the Victorian era and its adventuresome discoveries into the modern world.
The OVA Read or Die is just such a story. Taking place in a pre-9/11 world, Read or Die tells of a plot that young bookworm, substitute teacher and superpowered secret agent Yomiko Readman becomes incidentally involved in. It seems that someone has stolen a series of DNA samples from the World Bio Engineering Lab and are now on the hunt for a lost manuscript of Ludwig Van Beethoven's, which has fallen into Yomiko's possession. How badly do they want it? The 3-episode OVA begins with a mysterious samurai harnessing the powers of electricity to blow up the White House, asking the now homeless President where the Library of Congress happens to be.
As the story deepens, we find that a madman is bent on destroying humanity, replacing it with reincarnations of the greatest geniuses in history. But what truly gbone-chilling place does Beethoven and his music have in all this? Nevertheless, the British Library special forces is on the mission, and Yomiko is intent on getting her copy of Beethoven's manuscript back.
To get in their way is an army of genetically maladjusted and steam-tech enhanced historical luminaries. The mysterious samurai is Gen-nai Hiraga, who invented a static electricity producing device in 18th century Japan, now enhanced to near elemental-force proportions. The first to attack Yomiko is Jean Henri Fabre, 19th century French entymologist. But he is changed to be more insect than man now, and he rides a giant grasshopper sporting gilded piping. Next to come after the book is Otto Lilenthall, a Victorian era German glider pioneer, blasting through the sky in a fantastic jet glider built by steam-power pioneer Stephen Wilcox. Along the way they also encounter Mata Hari, 15th century Japanese rogue monk Ikkyu and Chinese folk legend Genjo Sanzo.
Then there is the British Library Force, led by Mr. Gentleman who looks suspiciously like Leonardo DaVinci, kept alive by more fantastic steam-tech. The Force seems to draw from some inexplicable linkage between libraries and the Victorian era, wearing vests and printer's sleeve guards as they walk amongst deep gilt and wood stacks. The division head, Joker, also owns the best cell phone ever, resembling the receiver of an antique wall-mounted phone.
The technology in this OVA is worth the price of admission alone. Lilenthall's glider and Fabre's steam-powered giant grasshopper are the highlights. But Read or Die can also back it up with an interesting story. Though only 3 episodes in length, it is chock full of material in an involved and well imagined story. How could something entitled "Read or Die" not be?
Based on a manga series, Read or Die has spun off into a TV series that sadly lacks amny of the Victorian flourishes of the OVA. For originality and interesting designs, the OVA is a welcome arrival nevertheless.