Disappointing, defeating the enthusiastic goodwill I'd brought to it. I wanted to love this. I'm a fan of the original OVA and the first few episodes of this follow-up TV series, but after that things kinda dribbled away. A damn shame, I call it. However having said that, my main problem with this is the same one I have with 24, so if you think I was crazy to lose interest and turn off Kiefer Sutherland then you may disagree with me here too.
Maggie, Michelle and Anita are a trio of Paper Masters with basically the same powers as Yomiko Readman in the original OVA. Anita is fast and slices things, Michelle coordinates the team and fires a paper bow-and-arrow, and Maggie plays a defensive role by throwing up paper walls and monsters. Seeing them together in action is quite something. TV series visuals couldn't be expected to outdo an OVA's, but the big set-piece battles here feel almost as spectacular as Read or Die's. They're just less frequent, that's all.
There's even a reason for that. Yomiko was tackling a world crisis, but Maggie, Michelle and Anita are merely babysitting a grouchy bespectacled author called Nenene. They're not secret agents, although secret agents are taking an interest in them. In the first half of the series the sisters occasionally take some one-off troubleshooting cases, but overall the show is far more interested in plot development and offbeat character studies.
Fortunately our leading ladies are all fun. Nenene is grumpy, ungrateful and worried sick about her missing friend Yomiko. Michelle is blonde and care-resistant. Michelle is tall, geekish and uncomfortable when forced to associate with other human beings. Anita is still in her early teens and the only sister who doesn't adore books with every fibre of her being. This series has an off-centre touch with characterisation that I really enjoyed, so I was happy to spend episodes at a time just watching the sisters hanging out and bit by bit slowly revealing the truth about themselves.
The problem is the plot. The story arc is messy and random, with an awkward mix of classroom antics, baddie-of-the-week and confusing Le Carre espionage stuff. OVA heroes become villains, which upset me. I liked those guys! More damagingly, the second half of the show is an ugly mess of betrayal, deception, capture and escape. There's no structure to it. It's plot for its own sake. None of it matters because in a few episodes' time, the current prisoners will have escaped and their friends will have got captured instead. It's running in circles. The good guys are made to look gullible and the show becomes boring.
Besides, this is the wrong kind of story for these characters! It's the difference between James Bond and John Le Carre. Michelle, Maggie and Anita are action heroines who work best in colourful clashes with bad guys, not trudging through a murky ambiguous world where no one's really their friend. We want to see them kicking arse, not hiding like rats in a hole!
It's too shoujo for its own good. I'd assumed that the TV show would be less action-based than its predecessor and I was right. We get lots of feelings and emotions, which can be powerful but also sometimes a bit cloying. Even the last episode wastes too much screen time on heartfelt outpourings. I normally like watching girlie stuff, but even I got a bit impatient with this show.
It's unquestionably a sequel rather than a reboot, though. Everything from the OVA crops up in the TV series, down to the Bond-esque theme tune for the action set-pieces. Damn, that's cool music! Obviously it's less action-focused, but the opening episode blows the show's budget with such an amazing paperfight that I'd almost recommend buying the show just for that. It's even faithful to the OVA in little ways. Lesbian overtones? Hell yeah. An unbelievable plan for world domination, like a cross between The Avengers and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? You better believe it.
A plus for me was the fact that most of the characters are women, although this isn't a fanservice show. Of the three sisters only Maggie could even be called pretty, though she's distracting in episode two in a Chinese outfit with no bra. She's curvy! Nevertheless female characters hold my attention more than male ones... and this lot are likable, with a terrific introduction in the first few episodes. The first disc had me expecting greatness. Maggie, Michelle and Anita can be hilarious, with odd sisterly quirks (e.g. synchronised toothbrushes). Even when the espionage plot slithered into view, odd character moments kept cropping up. Strangely, in the end the character my heart went out to the most was the villain's ice-queen chief henchwoman!
As a frivolous aside, it has been observed that the sisters may have been named after Hong Kong action stars Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung. I mention this observation, but sadly I can't take any credit for it.
Overall I can't recommend this show, although I may rewatch it one day with forgiveness in my heart and an eye cocked for the good stuff. There's plenty to like, but as a whole it's sentimental and messy with such shoddy arc construction that I almost felt cheated. I watched it quickly, but you can blame much of that on bloody-mindedness. This show has charms, but also big problems. I still prefer it to 24, though.