I’ve enjoyed my fair share of manga over the years, but unfortunately never got a chance to read Battle Angel Alita. Now seemed like a good time to dive in with this deluxe format in print from Kodansha Comics. The question is, does this 1990s manga hold up?
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
In a dump in the lawless settlement of Scrapyard, far beneath the mysterious space city of Zalem, disgraced cyber-doctor Daisuke Ido makes a strange find: the detached head of a cyborg woman who has lost all her memories. He names her Alita and equips her with a powerful new body, the Berserker. While Alita remembers no details of her former life, a moment of desperation reawakens in her nerves the legendary school of martial arts known as Panzer Kunst. In a place where there is no justice but what people make for themselves, Alita decides to become a hunter-killer, tracking down and taking out those who prey on the weak. But can she hold onto her humanity as she begins to revel in her own bloodlust?
Why does this matter?
Out of print for over a decade, this is your first chance in a while to get the series in physical form and on top of that it’s in a well made hardcover format. This collects the first two volumes and runs over 400 pages, capturing the story arc of Alita moving from trash heap to battle ready kick-assery.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
A hovering city of the rich hanging over a scrapeyard for the poor.
The manga itself is incredibly enjoyable. It never talks down to the reader or dives into heavy exposition, and instead allows the characters to drive the story forward and reveal the world to you. Blade Runner and science fiction like it most likely influenced this world, but it’s unique in its own right. It’s a manga that I’m sure inspired works like Elysium, which also had a rich vs. poor separation. In the case of this manga, Zalem is where the rich live on a hovering crater over the poor people who live in the scrapyard. It’s a mysterious place I’m sure is revealed later on, but remains a thing of wonder in the manga. Those who live in the Scrapyard live in a bounty hunter driven world where the heads of humans and cyborgs are torn off for payment. It’s the only form of law and Alita is pulled into it due to the man who saved and fixed her.
The Alita character is an easy one to relate to, as she’s a character who doesn’t understand the world and must learn as she goes. At first, creator Yukito Kishiro seemed to tell a story of Alita being his plaything and possible lover. Quickly though, the story shifts from her being a doll for her savior to being a daughter who he outfits with incredible protective technology. She becomes a battle ready bounty hunter in her own right and it’s fun to see how she develops from a weak character who knows nothing to one that can fight and kill with ease.
The story in this manga is split in two, which makes sense since it contains volume one and volume two. The first volume is all about Alita gaining her powers and taking on a madman who needs to be stopped. The second involves Alita falling in love with a human and discovering he may not be in as good of spirits as she is. Both stories do a great job establishing the torment that made the “villains” of each arc who they are. That fleshes them out and makes them much more interesting. Kishiro also does a good job developing Alita, who develops well over the course of the manga.
The art in the manga is quite good with very good backgrounds that help establish the futuristic slum that is the Shipyard. The strange looking cyborgs and robots that populate the backgrounds are rather interesting, which makes me want to see the rich people’s area of Zalem even more. If Kishiro can draw such interesting run-down areas and characters, what could he do with Zalem? It’s also refreshing to see Alita isn’t sexualized (too much) and instead treated with respect. There’s a lot of gore in this manga, with eyes and heads being torn off in gross ways. You can see cartoons may have inspired a lot of the art though, which can make the gore a little less disturbing.
There’s a really cool world to observe here.
It can’t be perfect can it?
Customary of manga, but fight scenes can get a little chaotic, especially with a lack of backgrounds. Speed lines populate these scenes, which certainly add energy to the moves, but it’s pretty impossible to track how the fight progresses at key moments.
At 400+ pages Alita certainly grows across this manga, but I was wanting a bit more from her internal struggle and thought process. There’s an interesting element of her berserker body influencing her thinking, but largely she’s a hero who does the right thing because she thinks she must. Early on there are hints that there may be more to her before she was plucked out of the junkyard, but this manga doesn’t dip into that kind of detail. The villains get much more backstory than she does, though I suspect hers will be developed further as the story progresses.
There’s a reason a movie director like James Cameron gets quoted on the back of this collection. Battle Angel Alita has assuredly influenced artists and filmmakers over the years. The manga is well written, visually stunning and captures a unique science fiction world you’ll want to explore. The deluxe edition is well worth a purchase as you’ll most likely want to reread this one for years to come.