R.O.D. The TV Series (Volume 3: The Past) Review
As we approach the halfway point of R.O.D.'s 26-episode run, I'm pleased to report that the background über-plot has been taken up yet another notch. Volume 3 ('The Past') sees the completion at long last of the novel Nenene has been labouring over all this time, but what should be cause for much celebration is tinged with sadness as well, as this milestone also marks the conclusion of the Paper Sisters' contracted employment as her bodyguards. (And if it doesn't sound particularly prudent to let your personal security force go just as you're about to be thrust back into the public eye again, well, it isn't, no.) Towards the end this DVD, we witness the Paper Sisters' preparation for a permanent departure from Japan (accompanying Nenene on her journey back to Hong Kong to attend the premiere of the film based on her previous book), but their goodbyes are interrupted by a serious development they really should have seen coming… and one which raises the stakes for everyone involved.
If you're wary of spoilers, it might be best to skip my summary of episode 12… although since it ends on a cliffhanger, the cat will be out of the bag in my write-up of the next volume of R.O.D. anyway.
9: 'Heart of Darkness'
This episode is somewhat amusing in the sense that the writers deliberately poke fun at the 'small world' phenomenon seen throughout most animé series, including R.O.D.… however its actual thrust is of course quite a bit more sinister. Nenene is off to enjoy a hot springs holiday with some old friends, but it just so happens that the onsen they choose is immediately adjacent to a new archaeological dig which has attracted considerable interest… and not just from the public, either. As Dokusensha, Inc. sends the Paper Sisters in on a recovery mission, the trio finds itself up against not merely a rival collector (the improbably-named Alice Alice Arquette) but also a group dedicated to protecting the artefact in question from any interlopers. Keep your eyes peeled for a cameo from the original Read or Die OVAs.
10: 'Christmas Carol'
A quieter instalment of the show, this sees the gals attending the selfsame annual writing awards ceremony where Nenene first won acclaim as a promising young talent ten years earlier. Whilst this certainly isn't an action packed episode, the gentle pace does allow some time for reflection on all four of our principal characters. More character development is lavished on Nenene than the sisters, but even they get the chance for an extended flashback to when Anita first entered Maggie and Michelle's lives.
11: 'Goodbye Japan'
When Nenene's agent, Mr Lee, makes the decision that since there have been no further attempts on her life in the year that the Paper Sisters have been working for her (and I use 'working for her' in its most generous sense) there is no need to renew their contract, the four gals seem to take the news more placidly than I would have expected. The decision is made that they will all travel back to Hong Kong together one last time, the sisters to resettle in China and Nenene to attend the opening night of the film based on her last novel. Whilst some of the action here is comical (with Michelle and Maggie having to go settle their accounts with the booksellers of Jinbo-Cho, for instance), the emotional core of this episode revolves around Anita having to part ways with the friends she made at her school, Hisami in particular.
12: 'Twilight of the Papers'
And at last we come to the turning point of the entire TV series. Up until now, we've been drip-fed little morsels about Dokusensha's secret plans, being introduced in passing to a number of curious characters who haven't had much development despite their screen time, but the focus of the show has been firmly upon fleshing out the sisters' relationship with Nenene. Abruptly, a number of key revelations are made (most of which should come as no surprise to attentive viewers) and the gals' world is turned upside-down. Nenene is abducted and Dokusensha (which has finally come into possession of all of the various bits of the supernatural codex it has been compiling) attempts to bribe the Paper Sisters to bow out gracefully. As you might imagine, this doesn't go down too well with the stubborn trio and now they have to try to rescue their 'sensei' from their erstwhile employers.
I honestly have nothing to add to my previous comments regarding the superb video transfer this series has received at the hands of Geneon (and distributed by MVM here in the UK). The picture is sharp as a tack, camera pans are rock solid with no jaggies, the colours are rich and vibrant, there's no sign of cross-coloration, and even in dark scenes I didn't spot any macroblocking in the backgrounds. The only thing that could push the video score higher would be if a larger animation budget had been lavished on the fight scenes. As they stand, the action is sufficient and fortunately the audience can take the inventiveness of 'paper master combat' as partial recompense for any minor failings in the animation 'wow' factor.
The audio quality, whilst not quite as impressive as the DVD video, is still excellent… featuring the ever-welcome addition of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround soundtracks in not just English but Japanese as well. (And yes, for purists there's still the original DD 2.0 Japanese to listen to, if you prefer.) As I mentioned before, the DD 5.1 on these discs isn't necessarily a make-or-break proposition; whilst the surround sound adds a slight amount of depth and atmosphere to the audio presentation, it isn't used as actively as you'll find in many other modern animé, and as such is merely a minor accent. There are of course scenes where the rear soundstage in particular really comes into its own, but generally these are few and far between. So don't kick yourself if you don't have surround speakers; the DD 2.0 track is probably 90% as good as the DD 5.1 for listening purposes.
Once again, disc menus aren't anything to get excited about, although the endless loop of the pumping R.O.D. theme music might lead you to expect otherwise. Moving on to the special features included on this disc, we have the standard art gallery (which again only offers a relatively disappointing 13 images after the considerably more generous selection included on the first volume). Still very enjoyable are the extremely-random Japanese previews aired at the end of each of these four episodes. Whether it's the original Japanese voice actors or their American counterparts, the 'next episode guessing' remains a zany and amusing listen. And we're treated once more to a commentary, this time for episode 12. Finally, there's a pair of trailers for Texhnolyze and Gungrave.
R.O.D. is now moving from its introductory mode (where the characters of Anita, Maggie, Michelle, and Nenene were developed and their 'average daily routines' were established) and into a more plot-intensive phase where the writers seem at last ready to delve seriously into the dark world-spanning machinations of Dokusensha, Inc. As this DVD ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, I'm really looking forward to the next volume… and hope that the show will start to spend a bit more time on its ubiquitous lurking antagonists, who have been given somewhat short shrift thus far.