Battle Angel Alita

This was one of the first manga I ever purchased when I was beginning to explore the genre. I told myself I would carry on with the other volumes of the series but, sadly, I never picked up another volume.

The story centers on Ido Daisuke and an essentially dormant (but living) brain encased in the cybernetic refuse of a head and upper torso that Daisuke finds in the giant scrapyard beneath the enormous floating city of Tiphares (named Salem in the original Japanese series). She is soon awake but has lost all of her memories, so Daisuke christens her Alita (Gally) after his recently deceased cat.

Daisuke doesn’t know it yet, and neither does Alita, but she is much more than she first appears. The same goes for Daisuke as well: Daisuke is not only a cybernetic technician, with a mysterious tattoo on his forehead, but he’s also an accomplished bounty hunter. Alita discovers this at the same time that Daisuke’s prey turns on him, putting his life in danger. That’s when Alita’s instincts take over and she efficiently levels her attacker with an obscure and destructive fighting style, the Panzer Kunst.

The action is well drawn although it can be hard to follow at times. If anything, it’s because there’s so much detail and movement packed into these black and white panels. When the fighting starts you can almost feel the punches and kicks land. It would be easy for Battle Angel Alita to rely entirely on the action elements of the story and the concept of a beautiful girl kicking ass but, much like Kill Bill, this first volume rises above doing things the easy way. In contrast with the intense action, for instance, there are many panels that have a simple beauty to them that would be ruined by the addition of any more detail or action.

Many manga aspire to engage readers on an intellectual and emotional level, but few rise to the challenge as well as Battle Angel Alita. Quotes from Nietzsche aren’t out of place; in fact, they’re entirely appropriate and are used to very good effect. Contrasts like the floating city of Tiphares and the scrapyard hint to conflicts later in the story that can’t help but make a social commentary. Even the concept of what it is to be human is questioned as Alita changes bodies at least once in this volume and again later in the series.

Early in the volume, Alita tries to bring in the biggest bounty around: Makaku. This guy is so mean ten bounty hunters have been killed trying to bring him in. And if that’s not bad enough, he’s developed an addiction to the endorphins in the human brain and loves cracking skulls like nuts to get to that sweet, juicy grey matter.

Kishiro declines to take the easy way out by making Makaku a flat, two-dimensional character, although he seems to at first. In the climactic battle between Makaku and Alita, we begin to see that things aren’t as black and white as they first seemed. Both Makaku’s and Alita’s lives are very symbolic of the scrapyard: They have all been cast aside from a world that despises them and does not want them. But where Makaku has proven to be the force of destruction, Alita promises to be a force of, if not creation, then at least resurrection.

Of course with nine volumes in the primary series and a second series of books, there’s still a lot about Alita to be unveiled. Why was she left in the scrap heap below Tiphares? What’s the meaning of the strange mark on Daisuke’s forehead? And who is the mysterious scientist responsible for creating Makaku, who shares the same strange mark as Daisuke? I guess I’ll have to pick up the second volume of the series, Tears of an Angel, to find out more.

Also keep an eye out for any news concerning James Cameron’s (Terminator, Titanic) live-action version of the first three volumes of the series, set to show in theatres sometime in 2009.