Manga Reviews

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Battle Angel Alita

Battle Angel Alita (aka GUNNM)
By Yukito Kishiro
Licensed by VIZ

Topics: Shounen, Philosophical, Fighting, Post-Apocolyptic

On a base level, Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita relates the story to of a girl’s struggle to find answers in a world gone mad. Set in a dystopic vision of the future, Kishiro echoes concerns addressed in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The tale opens in the Scrapyard, a sprawling heap of refuse created by the supposed paradisiacal city Tiphares. This looming bastion hangs in midair, suspended above a veritable ocean of waste. Under its imposing shadow, wallowing in debris, the citizens of the Scrapyard forage through the garbage of their Tipharean rulers and struggle to survive.

Enter the enigmatic Doctor Ido, a skilled cybertechnician. While scavenging for parts in the Scrapyard he stumbles upon the remains of an ancient female cyborg. Much to his astonishment he realizes she’s still showing vital signs, so Ido quickly goes to work repairing her. Ido proceeds to assume an essentially paternal role with the amnesic girl, whom he christens “Alita” after a feisty cat he’d once owned. But when circumstances reveal her innate, almost superhuman martial arts abilities, Alita is forced to investigate her forgotten past and sully her hands in order to better understand who or what she is.

Battle Angel is also about relationships and personal growth. Alita’s journey mirrors that of the typical human life cycle in numerous ways. Her early grappling with who she is precipitates her ultimate decision to become a bounty hunter, a choice which sets into motion a chain of events which propels her down the long, circuitous path towards the answers she so desperately seeks. As her journey progresses the momentum grows exponentially toward something epic in scale. Alita’s decision to pursue bounty hunting is also motivated in part by her natural rebellion against her father figure Ido. She is an idealist by nature, living by her own tenets and walking a path dictated by her own decisions. As she matures she’s also forced to confront a plethora of philosophical and moral dilemmas. Why we exist, human nature, the ideal society, and even the very definition of humanity are addressed. As Alita progresses and learns about love she becomes ensnared in one of the most bittersweet romances ever conceived. An eclectic array of other important relationships examined on a progressively grander scale: the bond between parent and child, lovers, friends, and citizen and state are closely scrutinized.

There is no absolutism in Battle Angel. The characters, whether heroes or villains, are rich and complex, motivated by a variety of convoluted ideologies. Battle Angel is also notable for containing some of the most rounded, intriguing villains ever to grace the printed page. Even the most despicable persons are depicted as multifaceted enigmas. This is a captivating decision, contrasting sharply with the cardboard caricatures that suffice for villains in many mangas. If you’re looking for easy answers, or a clear adversary to point one’s finger at, you’ll be at a loss to find one in the Scrapyard. The heroes are equally complex and profoundly affable. Indeed even the less significant characters are each substantial and memorable in their own way.

Lastly, one should not disregard the overabundance of explosive action within which this is all framed. Yukito flawlessly reconciles martial arts, philosophy, science fiction and melodrama. There is also a gripping period where Alita participates in a sport flagrantly appropriated from the film Rollerball, which in itself spawned a noteworthy spinoff. I highly suggest this series.

Rating: 10.0/10.0 -- Reviewer's Choice

-- Submitted by AorticNomenclature


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