Based on a series of light novels and a manga, R.O.D: Read Or Die sounded awesome, on "paper" at least.
The plot was something akin to a bookworm school teacher/special agent known The Paper (hence the above pun) fighting off weird super-powered bad guys over books under the US President's orders as some Beethoven manuscripts could end up being the key to building a 9th Symphony weapon that makes people kill themselves The Happening-style.
In a word: nonsense.
But it sounded like the kind of steampunky nonsense I could get behind. Remember The Amazing Screw-On Head? The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow? I like all that stuff and I was looking forward to R.O.D introducing us to a crazy, messed-up world where Thomas Edison flies blimps, shooting carrots at robot penguins or something to that effect. The result was, indeed, appropriately absurd but not quite as joyfully so as it promised to be. The animated feature isn't so much a feature film as it is three episodes stuck together. The opening episode, which opens with the American President literally pissing his pants (I kid you not), the White House blowing up and which sees our main character, Yomiko Readman (yes, her name's actually READman), battling a giant grasshopper that's being ridden by Jean-Henri Fabre is admittedly kind of fun in places. She meets another agent, who can pass through any structures Shadowcat-style while, of course, wearing revealing latex catsuits. It's pure insanity and, even though the whole book-centric plot isn't exactly all that mind-blowing, I was happy to move on to the next episode. Unfortunately, that's where I started losing interest. This second episode just lacked urgency and basically revealed this whole book-finding scenario as too episodic and not all that interesting. The final part perks up again a little as we get some fun reveals and finally see the whole Beethoven-operated Death Symphony being performed: it's absolutely ludicrous but in a good way. Then we get an anti-climactic epilogue and R.O.D basically ends.
I don't hate Read Or Die, it's just really inconsistent and uneven. The whole premise sounds like a show designed to show kids that reading is cool, which is a worthy endeavour, but then you get the odd surprisingly gory moment or weird stuff like the US President being so scared by a samurai that he pisses himself. Also, the pace is up and down from start to finish, not in a balanced way, and the tone jumps from light-hearted to serious randomly and unconvincingly. It doesn't help that the film's plot is this muddled. The premise is straight-forward but the way the story's told makes it sound much more complicated than it really is, which isn't necessary. The score suggests a super-spy genre like Alias or the James Bond franchise so they should have run with that and went for a more self-knowingly tongue-in-cheek approach rather than this collection of conflicting ideas. Speaking of ideas, the film does have some good ones: the evil Beethoven symphony thing, historical figures as villains, the secret agency setting, it just doesn't make the most of all that stuff. Based on that premise, Read Or Die should have been both hilarious and tons of fun but, as it stands, it's tolerable, even enjoyable in places but mostly, it's just kinda underwhelming.
Not sure if I recommend this one as other shows/films have done similar things much better but Read Or Die isn't terrible so if you're forced to watch it, you won't have too bad a time, you'll just wish you were watching something with a bit more oomph. The anime series, R.O.D The TV, may be better, I don't know, but I don't see myself sitting through 26 episodes of it to find out.