Movie Talk: Alita: Battle Angel

SPOILER ALERT. I’m going to be talking about stuff that’s in the movie, the anime, and the manga so if you don’t like spoilers don’t read this.

I’m going to give you a little bit of backstory so you know where I’m coming from when I say what I do about this movie.

This will probably be way more information that you ever wanted to know about me.

When Blockbuster was still around, you know, that place where you could rent movies on VHS, when I was in junior high, there was an extremely limited anime section. There were only maybe 10 or 15 anime tapes and most of them were the 3rd or 4th volume of a series so you had no way of knowing what was going on and a couple movies.

I remember seeing Ninja Scroll, Sailor Moon, Galaxy Express 999, Windaria, Bubblegum Crisis, Dirty Pair, and two or three with elves on the covers but I can’t remember what they were called. And Battle Angel.

Battle Angel was the 3rd anime I’d ever watched (First: Galaxy Express 999, Second: Iria: Zarem the Animation). It was gory as fuck. They vivisected a dog ON SCREEN. And then Alita (Gally in the English dub) tore the guy’s arm off. And then you got to see Dr. Chiren’s tits when that guy broke into her apartment and begged her to fix him.

I fucking loved that shit.

I love Alita. I love her optimism, her blind lust for vengeance, her determination. I loved watching her fall in love and I cried with her when she lost that love. The anime doesn’t go into her backstory very much so there aren’t as many references to her fighting style or her memory flashbacks.

That anime also inspired me to get more physically fit and I took up jiu-jitsu, I wanted to be a fighter just like Alita. When the bullies at school came after me I did what I thought Alita would do and–no I didn’t get into any fights, my mom would have skinned me alive if I got in trouble like that–I became a more emotionally healthy person.

Alita was my role model. And I probably watched Battle Angel 100+ times. Until I discovered the manga.

Back then Battle Angel: Last Order and Alita: Mars Chronicle had not been written yet so there were only 9 graphic novel volumes (nothing compared to One Piece’s 600-whatever) but those could have been a fucking encyclopedia for all I cared. IT WAS SO MUCH BATTLE ANGEL AND I WAS SO FUCKING EXCITED ABOUT THEM.

I learned that Gally’s name was really Alita and I learned all about her past and motorball (motorball wasn’t in the anime) and the full story of her and Hugo. I didn’t have many positive male role models growing up so I really clung to the father/daughter relationship between Alita and Doc Ido.

And there were robot dogs. You can’t get angry with robot dogs.

I want to learn how to play the harmonica because Alita plays harmonica.

And then there was THE TRUTH behind Zalem and what it actually meant to be part of the floating city. Alita destroys a suicide booth, y’all. Like, a booth you go into when life is so great and conflict free you get bored and want to kill yourself. She just jumps in there and rips this huge gear out of the floor. And then she screams about hypocrisy for a little bit. It’s great.

Alita’s story gave and continues to give me joy, hope, and encouragement in these troubling times and, as a writer, her character development and story arc are fantastic inspirations. I want Regina to be my version of the Battle Angel (not a carbon copy of the character, of course, that would be plagiarism); funny and vulnerable, good hearted and tough as fucking nails.

And then back in January this year I heard a fragment of the movie trailer from another room and I thought to myself, “There’s no way that guy said Alita.” But I looked on YouTube just to make sure and I almost gave my mom a heart attack when I screamed with delight. ALITA BATTLE ANGEL IS ON THE BIG SCREEN!

HOLY SHIT

HOLY SHIT

HOLY SHIT

My favorite anime and manga character, my waifu if you want to dive that deep, was going to be in a major motion picture. And James Cameron had a hand in it. I knew, I just KNEW it was going to be epic.

And then my husband, Mr. J., crushed my dreams. He said all the reviews were bad and people were so disappointed and blah blah blah. And he said he didn’t want to see it with me even thought he would be visiting me during the opening week and our anniversary was the day before it released.

I told him I wouldn’t care if the movie was microwaved dog shit, I was still going to see it and I was going to damn well enjoy it because ALITA.

And then after it released Mr. J. ended up seeing it with me because more reviews had come out and they were less negative. And one of his co-workers saw it 3 times so he told me it couldn’t be that bad.

So, I’m pretty biased when I say that I thought the movie was fucking amazing. Even though there were some plot holes and they changed up a bunch of things.

I am going to talk about some of those things now. If you don’t want major spoilers do not read any further.

A few differences:

1. Motorball: Alita does not play motorball in the anime. In the manga Alita plays motorball to get over Hugo’s death and learn more about her past by forcing herself to experience flashbacks while fighting.

I’m not mad at how the live action movie introduced motorball. I loved seeing kids on the street playing a tamer version and how motorball players were targeted for their weapons/parts as sabotage and the cyborg organ trade. I can’t remember if something was referenced in the manga but to my knowledge the whole “champion gets to go to Zalem thing” is only in the live action version.

I loved how Jasugen looked in the movie and I hope they include Shumira if they do make a sequel.

2. The Hugo romance: like the anime, the live action blends vol. 1 and 2 of the manga to incorporate Alita’s romance with Hugo. But in the live action version Hugo is more attentive to Alita, he doesn’t take her out or buy her chocolate in the anime or manga. The live action movie also humanizes Hugo a bit more. In the manga and anime he is so driven to achieve his dream of going to Zalem that he doesn’t care about killing cyborgs. I felt like the live action version tried to make the cyborg and human populations more like different ethnic groups, hard body vs. meat whatever; if that existed in the anime and manga it wasn’t as obvious. Because in the live action version Hugo quits the organ/part harvesting trade because Alita is a cyborg and he doesn’t want to hurt cyborgs anymore. In the anime and manga Hugo didn’t give a shit, he wanted money to get to Zalem.

So in the manga when he finally admits that he loves Alita it’s all the more touching because he becomes willing to put aside his dream to be with her.

And then he dies. That was the same across the board.

3. Alita’s past: Alita was a Mars super soldier. In the live action version she dies either somewhere on the tubes trying to get to Zalem or in Zalem proper, it wasn’t completely revealed. In the manga Alita is on a Mars ship that gets blown up before even getting to Zalem and Alita’s body is partially destroyed when her escape pod/bubble thing doesn’t activate in time. Her head and shoulders are protected and she falls through the atmosphere, into the scrap yard where Ido finds her 300 years later. This discrepancy made me a little confused but maybe they’re planning on revealing something that makes this change make more sense in the live action sequel, I don’t know.

4. The berserker body and the Damascus blade: In the live action version Zapan, another hunter warrior, carries around the Damascus blade, a badass looking sword. In the manga, Alita gets the Damascus blade from her motorball coach, Ed. There is no sword in the anime but she does have a knife at the end.

In the anime Ido gives Alita the berserker body right away and we don’t see the pretty filigree arms that are from the murder victim in the manga. In the manga Alita gets the berserker body from Ido after her body is destroyed by Makaku (not Gurishka). In the live action version, Alita’s first body was supposed to be Dr. Ido and Dr. Chiren’s daughter’s body. BIG DIFFERENCE HERE. Which helps me segue into…

5. Dr. Ido’s real daughter: only in the live action. In the anime and manga Ido and Chiren may have had a romantic past but it’s not fully fleshed out. In the live action version they were not only married but had a daughter and they left Zalem as a family when she

6. The Dog Master: does not show up in the anime. In the manga he doesn’t come on stage until vol. 5. So it was super cool to see him in the live action version with Fury, Winner, Glory, and Loud.

7. The Kansas Bar dog: In the live action version and in the anime Gurishka kills a dog with his cutters. This is the iconic scene where Alita draws her berserker face markings back on with the dog’s blood. The live action version tames it down but in the anime you see all the blood and guts, very visceral. The dog lives in the manga and even survives a death defying leap into the under-city.

8. Nova: not in the anime, very different in the manga. But I love how they cast Edward Norton in the live action version and even though he didn’t do much in this movie, I really hope they utilize more of him in the sequel. Desty Nova doesn’t really come into the spot light until vol. 4 or 5. He’s referenced here and there but his reveal as a “villain” in the manga is really well paced.

Obviously there are more similarities and differences I could go into but I won’t bore you. Overall I think the live action movie was a good version of Alita’s story and even though the ending where she starts competing in motorball to become champion to get to Zalem to possibly kill Nova is a bit of a stretch in keeping with the original source material it wasn’t badly executed and I had a good time watching it.

And I feel like Dua Lipa’s Swan Song was perfect for the end credits; Alita has her own pop star moment in vol. 5 of the manga.

Of all of Alita’s incarnations, the manga is still my favorite.

Thanks for letting me babble about one of my favorite things 🙂

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jessicahalseywrites

Jessica Halsey is the author of The Slaughter Chronicles and many strange poems. She lives in Arkansas and writes urban fantasy, preternatural horror, and experimental poetry (and sometimes science fiction).

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