What Is Alita: Battle Angel?

In a year full of superhero movies, none has me as excited as Alita: Battle Angel — the Cyberpunk action film by James Cameron. Yes, the same James Cameron responsible for Titanic and Avatar.

Alita: Battle Angel is an adaptation of the manga series Gunnm written by Yukito Kishiro in 1990. My first exposure to it was through the two episode OVA simply titled Battle Angel that was released in North America by ADV films and had me reading the manga not long after. Ever since I started reading the manga I was aware of James Cameron’s ownership of the film rights — something he has held onto for two decades. If nothing else, it’s a testament for the patience he has had in waiting for a time when the film could be done “right”.

Whether or not the film holds up or falls into the same pits as previous adaptations of Japanese manga and anime remains to be seen. From what has been shown so far, however, it looks like the film promises to be a fairly faithful adaptation – covering elements of at least the first four volumes of the manga. While early reviews are mixed, many critics have praised Rosa Salazar’s portrayal of the character — exaggerated eyes and all. Still, regardless of critical reviews, the film itself promises to be a tour-de-force on the big screen — filled with action and excitement and a great protagonist. I hope to have a review written after I’ve seen it.

If you haven’t seen the film (or have no desire to) I do recommend reading the Battle Angel manga series. There are three sets of books in the core series. Battle Angel Alita, Battle Angel Alita: Last Order and Battle Angel Alita: Martian Chronicles with the strongest chapters being the early few books and the quality wavering afterwards. There is also the spin-off series Ashen Victor which is set in the vicious world of Motorball sports and Battle Angel Alita: Holy Night & Other Stories which collects a series of short stories.

The main series as a whole is a journey of self discovery and touches often on themes of an individual’s worth. Doctor Ido Daisuke – a cybernetics doctor – finds a cyborg head in the garbage heap with its brain still intact. The cyborg – who he names Alita – wakes up to find she has no memory of her past. It soon becomes apparent that Alita still has instinctive recollection of ancient Martian martial arts. Determined to learn of her past through combat and to become her own person, Alita becomes a bounty hunter. Through her journey, she discovers love, suffers loss and does her best to cope with each. As she moves from bounty hunter to sports champion and beyond Alita journeys far and wide for answers to the question of who she really is. She faces each of her struggles – both physical and psychological – head on and finds ways to overcome them and become stronger because of them. Through her journey Alita remains a strong and admirable character to root for and you do root for her every step of the way.

The stories are violent. Blood and dismemberment are commonplace, over-the-top and at times quite graphic which may be a turnoff to some. For those seeking action it is frequent and beautifully illustrated. There are also quiet moments of introspection and even levity here and there to break things up. The villains Alita confronts are genuinely intriguing with Desty Nova becoming a fascinating recurring nemesis. It’s worth the read — at least the first series. As I’ve said earlier, the story starts out very strong but it does weaken as it progresses. The story ended almost abruptly at the end of Battle Angel Alita with an ending that was all to quick though at least somewhat satisfying.  The author revisited the story — essentially removing the last book from canon and rewriting the story from that point onward. The violence tilts upwards and the story stretches itself thin in parts. Alita still remains a strong and engaging character to follow but it feels stretched a bit thin.  The strength in the later books lies in some of the new characters introduced but many moments feel like forced excuses to show combat. Still, Battle Angel Alita: Last Order and Battle Angel Alita: Martian Chronicles is more Alita and that’s not a bad thing.

I mentioned the OVA series earlier as well and it’s something folks may want to check out. It follows the first two volumes of the manga and makes a few alterations. The story itself is generally the same. One thing to note is that the US dub is a bit lackluster and the portrayal of Alita (Gally in the OVA and original Gunnm manga) de-ages her somewhat. Still, it’s a good means to get at least some exposure to the series though frankly the Cameron film likely covers more ground in just as much detail. I wouldn’t watch the OVA until after you see the film if that is your intention.

Alita is a great character and her story is one that everyone should check out in some form — be it the original manga, the OVA series or the upcoming movie. She really is a superhero up there with any Marvel or DC has to offer.

Greg Grondin
Gregory Grondin is a full time Systems Analyst working for Mariner Innovations. He also works as a weight loss consultant for Weight Watchers and is part owner of Heroes' Beacon. You can follow his web comic series at http://www.spacepawdyssey.com

Greg is a fan of gaming and comics in general and an avid collector of Transformers figures.