R.O.D. The TV Series (Volume 2: The Undercover Student) Review
After the foreshadowing provided by episode 4 (at the end of the previous volume of R.O.D.), it comes as little surprise when representatives of Dokusensha, Inc. – for whom the Paper Sisters have undertaken work in the past – re-establish contact and begin drip-feeding our trio of heroines new (and dangerous) assignments.
However, this second instalment has something of a schizoid personality, alternating as it does between the more 'standard' action pieces showcasing all three girls ('They Shout' and 'In a Grove') and character development scripts concentrating primarily on Anita and an ongoing sub-plot set at her school ('The Write Stuff' and 'Seduced by the Night')… and no, the episode titles aren't particularly inspired, but we can't have everything in life.
I was somewhat surprised to see quite how far onto the back burner the role of Nenene Sumiregawa has been relegated on this disc. More or less the crux around which the first DVD operated (although, unlike the Paper Sisters, lacking any superpowers of her own), Nenene barely gets a look in on this volume… with Michelle, Maggie, and Anita managing to fit in entire secret operations abroad without the person in whose home they are staying ever catching wind of their moonlighting for Dokusensha. (To be fair, Nenene is depicted as making good progress on her next book, having finally broken through her several-year-long bout with writer's block. However, the only episode where she seems to take an active interest in what the girls are doing is 'The Right Stuff.')
Speaking of Dokusensha, this disc also begins to paint a not-so-rosy picture of our heroines' occasional employers. As if the various bits of dialogue alluding to their previous work for the agency weren't sufficient, there are many hints dropped during the episodes on this disc to suggest that this mysterious firm may be something less than ethically-neutral in both its interests and current agenda. Of course, even more immediate is the parallel storyline concerning Junior, a young operative whom the shady 'Mr Carpenter' has planted in Anita's school; whilst it would appear his primary goal is to locate some unique text that has been hidden in the school library, the fact that he and Anita end up striking up an unexpected friendship makes this rather more interesting.
All in all, volume 2 of R.O.D. ('The Undercover Student') offers a strong continuation of the story arc begun on the previous disc. There's more action and suspense for the fans of the gals' superpowers (fight scenes, dramatic situations, etc.), and although Nenene gets less screen time on this DVD, this is only because more character development is being lavished on Anita… and to good effect. The writers even have time to work in a few notable homages to famous films; for example, one scene seems to have been lifted wholesale from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
5: 'They Shout'
Asked by Dokusensha to retrieve a rare book from the clutches of a creepy professor living in a gothic castle on some secluded island, it's not surprising that the mission seems to evoke the mood of Michelle's latest (re-)read… her coveted copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
6: 'The Write Stuff'
It's another 'school day' for Anita, and this time she brings her friend Hisami home with her for once. We also discover more about Junior, a boy that the mysterious 'Mr Carpenter' (a shadowy figure who we assume for the moment is up to no good) has assigned to infiltrate Anita's school to unknown purpose. But when the youngest of the Paper Sisters learns that she's expected to write a book report for an upcoming Parent's Day, will this famous bibliophobe be able to rise to the occasion?
7: 'In a Grove'
After two fairly fluffy episodes, things suddenly take a turn for the surreal. Our three heroines are on yet another recovery mission for Dokusensha, but this time things go very wrong indeed. Slipped into a mysterious village in some foreign land, their search for 'Jon Smith' ends up with the three being split up and having to contend with stolen identities and a series of staged false realities.
8: 'Seduced by the Night'
Anita has befriended Junior, still not realising that he is not just another bona fide student. As the strange night-time ransackings of the school library continue apace, some of the students come to the conclusion that it must be some kind of poltergeist activity, and decide to gang up on the ghost and 'capture' it. Although this doesn't quite have the desired effect, both Hisami and Anita have their own revelations regarding their friends.
As before with volume 1, the video quality on R.O.D. continues to be truly excellent. I realise that with the trend nowadays being to encourage quite a bit of widescreen animé (and this no longer limited solely to theatrical releases, but also including a number of popular television series, such as Get Backers), that fans are always going to wonder if the picture on bog-standard 4:3 aspect ratio programmes will look a bit lacklustre by comparison. To those labouring under this concern, the best antidote I can prescribe are DVDs such as R.O.D. or Real Bout High School, which come across looking better than many of their anamorphic 16:9 counterparts.
On the audio front, the presence of Dolby Digital 5.1 on both the English dub and the original Japanese soundtrack continues to be a nice bonus, although certainly not a make-or-break proposition. If anything, the DD 5.1 is primarily used to give the dialogue just a touch more clarity as it permits many ambient sound effects and strains of atmospheric music to be shunted to the rear speakers, freeing up the front soundstage for speech. Certainly no complaints from me, mind you… but just don't look for earth-shatteringly clever use of surround sound here.
I recently discovered to my disappointment that whilst the region 2/4 DVD releases of the R.O.D. TV series were authored and encoded by Madman Interactive, the region 1 versions feature stylish disc menus created by Nightjar – renowned for their innovative DVD designs. This kind of puts a damper on my enthusiasm for the fairly bog-standard (albeit animated) one we're given for the region 2 discs, but they at least get the job done with little fuss.
The selection of special features on this instalment precisely mirror those from volume 1. Again we have an art gallery (albeit one containing a scant 9 production sketches this time around). Again, the full set of original Japanese previews from the ends of episodes 5-8 (so, therefore, really for episodes 6-9) are included. And not to be outdone, this disc provides a commentary track for episode 5 led by voice director Talesin Jaffe and featuring the three North American VAs who play the Paper Sisters on the English dub: Hunter Mackenzie Austin (Michelle), Sara Lahti (Maggie) and Rachel Hirschfield (Anita). As usual, there are also a handful of trailers for other upcoming DVD releases.
I'm continuing to enjoy R.O.D. and think it's beginning to hit its stride, so far as over-arching story arc goes. We're learning more about the past of our three Paper Sisters now that their shadowy old employer Dokusensha has now resurfaced, and the sub-plot concerning the efforts of those who would infiltrate Anita's school to steal a rare book are providing good fodder for her own character development. A good balance between action and dialogue give this show a feeling of solidity, but hopefully they'll remember to make better use of Nenene's character on the next volume.
Last updated: 02/05/2018 06:20:03