November is my birthday month and in this modern age of digital shopping, that usually means a slew of coupons find their way into my email over the course of the month. I don’t use all the coupons. If I did, I’d probably go broke saving all that money. That noted, the coupons that tempt me most are the ones that get me to shop at bookstores. Among other things, the coupons become an excuse to try some books I haven’t explored before.
This time around, I found myself looking at the manga shelf at the local bookstore when Kodansha Comics’ beautiful deluxe edition of Battle Angel Alita caught my eye. Mostly I knew of Alita from the recent film directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Rosa Salazar. I’d put off seeing the film because I knew it had been based on a manga and I wanted to know the source material before going to see the film. Among other things, I’ve often been disappointed by American interpretations of manga and anime.
Kodansha’s deluxe edition of the manga features an introduction by Brenden Fletcher, beautifully reproduced artwork at large size and some great translator notes. From the introduction, I learned that this cyberpunk manga by Yukito Kushiro had its origins in the early 1990s. Its Japanese title might best be translated as “Gun Dream Gally.” The manga first appeared in the United States in the mid-1990s, which probably explains why I wasn’t familiar with it. I was busy being a new dad at that point. However, arriving in the mid-1990s, manga and anime characters were still subject to having their names changed by translators, so Gally (or Garii) became Alita.
Battle Angel Alita is set in a dystopian, dark futuristic version of Kansas City, which sits under a floating, modern city called Zalem. A cybernetics specialist called Ito finds a beautiful robotic head in the scrap dropped by Zalem. He repairs the head and attaches it to a body and thus Alita is born. It turns out that Ito isn’t just a cybernetics specialist, he’s also a bounty hunter who dispenses justice to humans and rogue cyborgs who have broken the laws of the factory, which has become the central authority in this version of Kansas City. Alita’s first volume is largely a martial arts adventure story as Alita discovers she is a skilled warrior. She must battle a rogue cyborg called Makaku.
In the second volume, Alita falls in love with a boy named Yugo who dreams of going to the floating city. The only problem is that Yugo is illegally killing cyborgs and harvesting their spinal columns, the only part of the human body cyberneticists can’t duplicate. This volume explored the Yukito Kushiro’s science fictional world much more and I found myself much more engaged by the complicated set of emotions experienced by Alita and Yugo. Overall, I highly recommend this deluxe hardcover manga.
It turns out that Battle Angel Alita was also made into a short original video animation. As of this writing, the anime can be watched for free on YouTube and it does tell much the same story as the manga, though somewhat condensed. Having watched the anime and read the manga, I’m now interested in seeing the American film.
As with many of the best cyberpunk stories, Battle Angel Alita explores questions of our relationship with machines. In the future, how much will machines become part of our bodies? Will we be able to move our consciousness from one body to another? Can the brain live long enough to be transplanted? Can consciousness survive in a computer without the brain? I was pleased to edit and publish a novel that also explores these questions, though it’s set on a distant alien world encountered by the crew of a starship. If you’re intrigued by these questions, I also encourage you to read Upstart Mystique by Don Braden. The book is available at: http://hadrosaur.com/UpstartMystique.php