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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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12/23/2006 Archived Entry: "Manga review: R.O.D.: Read or Die, Vol. 2"

R.O.D.: Read or Die, Vol. 2
Story by Hideyuki Kurata
Art by Shutaro Yamada
English Translation and Adaptation by Steve Ballati

Review by Tom Good

"Your actions amount to heresy. More to the point, they are against school rules." - Read or Die

In this episode of R.O.D., history teacher Yomiko Readman uses her mystical powers over paper to do battle with bullies, and also investigates a secret underground library holding ancient Chinese texts of great power. Yomiko is a bookworm whose magical abilities seem to come from her wholehearted love of books.

The name Yomiko Readman kept making me laugh each time I saw it. Yomi means "reading." Ko literally means "child" and is a common suffix for Japanese female names, similar to the -y/-ie suffix in English names like Ally, Billie, or Carly. So Yomiko Readman is a silly name that means the same thing twice, like Cat Feline.

Yamada draws Yomiko without the exaggerated sexuality that is common in female manga characters. She avoids short skirts and low-cut tops, and has oversize geeky glasses, long hair, and conservative outfits. The appeal of the character design does not depend upon -- to use one of Lene Taylor's memorable phrases -- "giant inflatable tits." Yamada's art features plenty of graceful, sensual curves, but they occur in the lines of Yomiko's overcoat, the flow of her hair, and her dynamic yet adorably awkward poses. In another manga, Yomiko would probably be just a minor character, perhaps the nerdy acquaintance of the alien-vampire-time-traveler-robot-ninja who saves the world. But R.O.D. makes her the heroine, and I really liked that.

Prior to reading this manga, I had tried to watch a few episodes of the R.O.D. anime on TV, but did not find it very interesting. This may have been because I had not watched the show from the beginning and missed what was going on, but the show felt slow-moving and aimless. I liked the manga much better, because it had plenty of action, good art, and memorable characters.

Still, R.O.D. is not really a book to read for the plot. It has the amusing property that each page taken on its own seems to make sense, but when you think back on the whole thing it becomes a mess. Have you ever had a dream that seemed perfectly logical while you were having it, but when you tried to explain it to a friend it suddenly sounded completely crazy? The plot of R.O.D. is sort of like that. (Like that dream I recently had where the obvious next step in my life was to adopt a baby gorilla.)

R.O.D. hints at a lesbian subtext to the relationship between Yomiko and Nenene Sumiregawa, a student who is also a famous author. Yomiko is a huge fan of Sumiregawa's writing, and seems attracted to her on more than just an intellectual level. This is more apparent in Volume 1, where the two share a possibly-innocent kiss and many suggestive glances. Here in Volume 2 Nenene does not figure into the story until near the end.

The two even say in Volume 1 that they love each other, though what they mean by that is open to interpretation: Yomiko could mean she loves Nenene as a writer, and Nenene may love Yomiko's honesty and sincerity, but there is probably more to it than that. Their relationship reminds me of the Xena/Gabrielle subtext in Xena: Warrior Princess, in that it uses humor and ultimately leaves the interpretation up to the reader.

There are some comics I would enjoy even without the words, just for the way the characters are drawn. Bucky, the cat in Darby Conley's Get Fuzzy, comes to mind as a character I really like to look at. Yomiko Readman also fits into this category. Despite some weaknesses in the plot, I found R.O.D. to be a very entertaining manga, and I would recommend it.

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