Xaimi's Nerdy Blurbs: April 2019

Monday, April 1, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel - Finally

What kickstarted your adventures into anime and manga?

The now defunct Borders Books and Music had a decent manga and manwha library for a North American retailer. Around that time, TokyoPop, Dark Horse, and a few other publishers released English translations of popular series. My internet access was rudimentary at best, so while everyone else slurped down the popular anime of the time-- Naruto, Bleach, Hellsing-- I discovered the following sweet gems: Zombie Powder (see Bleach artist Tite Kubo), Black Cat, Saiyuki, and Battle Angel Alita.

Originally released in Japan as Gunnm, Battle Angel Alita is the story of a young cyborg woman, Alita (Yoko/Gally) that wakes into a world she does not recognize, with no memory of her past, and a prosthetic body built by the kind, but reserved Dr. Edo. She has no idea where to start digging for her memories, until a life or death situation awakens her innate prowess in the ancient fighting art of Panzer Kunst-- a Martian style thought to be lost and only taught to Berserker warriors. She enlists as a Hunter Warrior, believing that she will find herself through her fists. Gunnm spends three full arcs following her literal and figurative transformations as she develops in this world.

I opened the manga thinking I would get the usual big-eyed pushover protagonist followed by me rolling my eyes and closing the novel. What I got is a series that resonated in so many ways. I’ll try to keep my strong women rant brief, but HOLY SHIT I LOVE A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER! You’ve heard me mention this before, but I felt out of place growing up because my interests were considered unlady-like. So, seeing Alita break literal legs,compete in Motorball (think Blitzball out of water and on rollerblades), take on strong warriors of all genders, and still cry or struggle with naivety was refreshing.

Then, all went quiet. I finished the manga, never knew the anime made it stateside, missed that Playstation 1 game release, and mused over cosplaying Alita. But that was it. If you had told me James Cameron looked to helm a live action adaptation around the same time I happened upon the manga, I probably would have squealed.

But, I never knew.

Instead, the years after 2003 gave us painful memories like Avatar: the Last Airbender, two Hitman (iterations based off the games), Dragonball: Evolution, Death Note, Ghost in the Shell, Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun Li, and Speed Racer-- aka Hot Wheels ™ the live action. The anime community weathered a lot of torment, but I think nothing cut deeper than Evolution. I mean, we’re still referencing how it hurt us…

Thus, you can imagine my wariness when I learned last year that Alita Battle Angel was in production. Watching the trailer ignited hope and worry in equal doses. Hollywood does not have a happy history with anime adaptations, but complicating things further is that Gunnm is a cult classic; Gunnm is to Ghost in the Shell as Equilibrium is to the Matrix. Mention the latter in each example and the fans flow in abundance. For this adaptation to succeed, it would have to attract positive attention in groves.

I caught an early screening of the film in IMAX 3D. I usually avoid paying extra for 3D, but this particular screening offered the tickets at a discount rate. Thus, I saw Alita the way the directors intended it to be seen. I decided to forgo the 3D option during my second viewing and I can honestly say the lack of extra effects did not hinder the experience. After watching it twice, I feel Rodriguez and Cameron succeeded where many have failed.

Cameron chose to script the adaptation as a coming of age story, and while I disagree with this approach, his reasoning behind it is sound. The early screening finishes with a 30-minute Q&A with cast members and the co-directors. Here, Cameron explains that reading Gunnm while raising his young daughter was perfect timing. He felt that Yukito Kishiro crafted a female protagonist with depth without relying on the usual tropes for women in the Shonen/Seinen genre.

Audiences unfamiliar with the manga or anime, are lured into the movie because you want to see how Alita develops in this new world. Does she allow the corrupt, loathing despair of Iron City to cloud her positive outlook, or will she change the pecking order through sheer grit? This is a movie you can enjoy as an adult, but you can bring your young niece or so to and they actually take away multiple life lessons.

Alita incorporates several of the early manga volumes into one two-hour movie, so die-hard fans will take issue right away with the timeline of events or item/character origins-- Damascus Blade found with Zapan-- yet the directors managed to succeed for this exact reason; you do not have to read the manga or watch the anime in order to follow the live action. Only those of us that are fond of the series would notice the inconsistencies or liberties taken.

After diving through various reviews and articles, I noticed some critics feel that Alita Battle Angel failed overall financially. True, most of the box office revenue came from China sales, but compare Alita’s $400 million to the $169.8 million box office sales for the Ghost in the Shell live action adaptation. Dragonball Evolution brought in approximately $57.5 million worldwide. The numbers speak for themselves. A cult class protagonist beat out the live action rendition of the series that inspired the Wachowski siblings to make the Matrix!

The nerd culture community are vocal--sometimes to a level of toxicity-- about live action remakes for their beloved series, but I believe Rodriguez and Cameron gave us hope with this entry. Yes, the love interest plot felt forced and Alita’s big eyes still bother me, but the dynamic duo gave us a work of art that made Kishiro-san cry with actual joy. Cameron deferred to the series’s creator every step of the way. Even changing script details because Kishiro-san told him that certain behaviors are not in Alita’s nature.

I’d say given Hollywood’s track record, us nerds won this time.

Until Later Guys,

Xaimi ^_^

Random side thought: Hey @RoosterTeeth and @DEATHBATTLE , how about Alita versus Motoko Kusanagi?

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Box Office Gross
Dragonball Evolution Box Office Gross