VOLUMES 2, 3 AND 4
By Hemanth Kissoon
BATTLE ANGEL ALITA is a nine part manga. Please see my earlier piece on Volume One. This is a review of parts two, three and four. They all continue straight on from each other as if there is no break. Rumours are that director James Cameron will turn Volumes One to Three into a first film, and if it is successful there will be a trilogy.
“I have no memory of my earlier life...so I don’t know what kind of person I was really like. Life itself remains undefined to me...whether it’s ugly...or beautiful...a sin or a gift to cherish – I don’t know. But I’ll find out! I need a sense of purpose – being a bounty hunter lets me search for myself through battle! The money you speak of is meaningless to me! I walk in faith! The faith that we choose who we want to be...and grow into that identity, ugly or beautiful!” Alita
Over the three volumes Alita goes through heavy emotional turmoil. She gets driven by love, and then unfocused rage. Whenever in combat, she learns a little more about herself and her origins. Alita’s is not the only mystery to be solved. We begin to learn about Daisuke Ido, Alita’s quasi-guardian - what that mark on his forehead means. There is also the floating city, Tiphares, above the scrapyard city that is shrouded in anonymity. There are plots and sub-plots that make this series gripping.
There is the added bonus of interesting, compelling characters. Alita, as the focus, is strong, witty, fearsome and compassionate. She has an impressive, unchartered array of weapons and gifts that originate from her and the Berserker soldier’s body (that Daisuke grafted onto her).
The battle with serial-killer junkie Makaku continues into Volume Two, and his background is delved into – that perhaps aims for understanding – a bold choice. Giving everyone of significance a back-story helps empathy and gives richer characterisation. Makaku, we discover, was abandoned as a baby in the sewers and attacked. There are issues of child abuse, violence on the streets, and corruption of innocence. An enigmatic scientist saved Makaku, and is later revealed to have possibly saved another nemesis of Alita.
Makaku is eventually vanquished. Alita continues meting out justice to a city that is more and more revealed to be severely lacking in that commodity. “The factories [the administrative body] operate entirely for the sake of Tiphares and are not concerned with the daily lives of the residents of the scrapyard”.
Amid all this chaos Alita falls in love with Hugo, a dreamer who wants to escape to Tiphares. Seemingly courageous, he in fact will do anything to make enough money to fulfil his ambition, even if that includes vicious assaults on others. Love is blind, and Alita does not care. (Losing an eye is a motif that runs through the series.)
There is a stunning image of an in-love Alita looking out over the city. The love affair though has the whiff of tragedy from the beginning. Once realised, Alita goes A.W.O.L. and Daisuke hunts for her. The tragedy reveals the alarming chasm literally and metaphorically between the two cities.
Daisuke tracks her down to one of the two major combat sports in the scrapyard – Motorball. Alita is now a rising star, and plays as the ‘Killing Angel’, where she takes out her aggression and frustrations of a broken heart and lack of identity. It is “a combat-oriented racetrack in the Western Region where cyborg circuit-riders compete to control the ball”. There is the feeling that the violence of Motorball is used to sate the citizens, á la The Running Man, otherwise discord would erupt.
Volume Three really shows the enhancement of humans with machinery – the benefits and detriments. There are new characters introduced. Alita’s team consists of Umba (mechanic), Esdoc (coach) and Tommy (sponsor). As her aptitude at this brutal sport is made clear, she has flashbacks to her training. She decides out of obstinacy to challenge the best Motorball player that probably has ever been – Jashugan. He has been enhanced to spectacular level by Desty Nova , a cyber physician who could also have saved Makaku as a child. Even with Alita’s lost combat technique for machine bodies, ‘Panzer Kunst’, the battle would look foolhardy.
The encounters with Jashugan jolt memories that are still tantalisingly vague. Volume Four is an exciting page-turner. There is a good build-up to the climatic game, which ends in a cliff-hanger as to the fate of Jashugan. Oh yeah, and Alita remembers her real name...
The imagination on display is impressive, as well as the thrilling pace. Amid the carnage, the frailty of existence is really felt.