If there’s one thing that appeals to me, by god, it is a queer heroine whose superpower is linked to books. That speaks to me on a nigh-religious level, and so it stands to reason that I’d enjoy Read or Die. Unfortunately, the manga series doesn’t deliver the level of awesome that you’d expect from that description.
Read or Die follows Yomiko Readman, a literature enthusiast with the power to telekinetically control paper. She’s deployed by the Library of England to deal with crimes related to books, such as rare book thefts or threats to popular authors. In the first volume, she’s sent out to protect Sumiregawa Nenene, a bestselling writer who’s also a high school student. In the first volume, Nenene is captured by a superfan who wants to rape… and… imprison her… forever? And Yomiko has to save her. Yeah, so this gets really terrible really fast. Later Yomiko gets into other problems that are less… rapey… but just as poorly plotted and melodramatic.
Although Yomiko’s queerness is never really considered to be inappropriate or portrayed as wrong, what
rubbed me the wrong way was that her attachment to books was drawn as creepily sexual. Like, the visual cues when she is holding a really rare book—the little drops of sweat, the huffed-out breath clouds, and the slightly watery eyes—make it look like she’s actually having an orgasm just from touching the book. And, like, I mean, if that’s what gets you off, then as long as you’re not hurting anyone, do your thing… but it’s like, aren’t there enough super-sexualized queer women in the world? Yomiko’s usual method of dress is a vest and button-down shirt, a long dark skirt, and a shapeless trenchcoat, so she escapes the usual problems of objectifying attire, but she just couldn’t escape being drawn in the throes of bookgasm in the middle of a battle.
Also, purely on a ease-of-reading level, the English adaptation in this manga is terrible, and it’s possible the original Japanese writing is nothing to write home about either. The sentences are blocky and poorly-worded, the exposition makes little-to-no sense, the dialogue is just super-awkward, and I’m not sure how much of it is due to poor writing and how much of it is bad adaptation.
I recall that a long time ago I watched the Read or Die OVA, on which this series is very loosely based. I recall it being significantly more enjoyable and markedly less skeevy, so if you’re interested in the concept of this story but not in this particular terrible adaptation, I’d recommend you watch that instead.
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