Manga Title: Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
Mangaka: Yukito Kishiro
Genres: Cyberpunk, science-fiction, action
Status: Completed (9 volumes in the first series and 19 in the second)
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. Ido Daisuke is an inhabitant on the surface of Earth, living in a city called the Scrapyard – an area used to dump waste products by the dwellers of the mysterious Tiphares, a floating city that towers above.
People living on the surface have to scrape a living together somehow, and most of them have cybernetically altered bodies to cope with the harsh life. Ido is a cyberphysician, but also hunts cyborg criminals for their bounties to make a living. One day he comes across the dismembered head and midriff of a young cyborg girl who’s been discarded in the scrapyard for unknown reasons.
Ido takes her home and begins the process of rebuilding her, using parts that he purchases with money from his bounties. Naming her Alita, Ido gradually assembles her robotic body – her brain still being intact – and she has regains full consciousness, except that she has no recollection of her former life. She decides she wants to aid Ido in his bounty hunting work.
The work is extremely dangerous, with Ido encountering powerful cyborgs such as Makaku, a deadly being with the bizarre habit of eating brains that acts as a kind of painkiller for him.
Despite Ido’s admonishments, Alita joins him, encountering other bizarre denizens of the city along the way. During her interactions with them we find that while her body is almost completely robot, her heart and feelings are still very much those of a young girl.
The city of Tiphares looms overhead constantly, a source of great desire and dreams, as well as persistent mystery. Especially in Alita’s case, she was found in junkyard of materials from Tiphares, hinting at an unknown history she may have and a link to the enigmatic place.
Ido acts as Alita’s guardian, essentially a father figure for her, and considers her to be his main source of happiness. He dotes on her a lot and initially tries to keep her from the bounty hunting business, wanting her to stay the ‘angel’ that he envisions her to be.
Alita however has her own opinions about what she wants to do. Although grateful and protective of Ido, she also is very opinionated and forges her own path, meeting other individuals and forming friendships along the way.
For Alita, she has no memory of her former life, and is essentially bodiless, making her constantly question who she is. Ironically she’s able to get flashes of memory when she’s engaged in combat, making her want to train herself even harder to discover her identity. Her growth is well developed, starting from her initial naivety about the world, to a much greater understanding of its harshness and grim truths. Despite this she remains cheerful, showing us her youthful, feminine side whilst being a badass cyborg killer. The name ‘Battle Angel’ couldn’t be more apt to describe her.
She reveals herself to be compassionate, considerate and even falls in love with another boy character, Hugo, who appears in the second volume. One thing she seems unable to shake though, is the cruel life thrust upon her and all the dwellers on the surface, who continually live in the shadow of the city Tiphares.
In the first two volumes, minor side characters appear, notably Hugo. He grew up on the surface and had painful family experiences. He eventually resorts to a life of crime in order to obtain money and earn his way into Tiphares. He becomes a romantic interest for Alita, who loves his dreamy visions of escaping the junk-filled life they have and starting a new one on the city above.
Among the more prominent titles of cyberpunk I’ve comes across in manga (like Ghost in the Shell and Blame!) Gunnm’s characters stand out as having more color and emotion. Even the cyborgs encountered by Alita in her battles are mean characters, with foul attitudes to boot.
The style of Gunnm is pretty much hard sci-fi in many ways; most of the gadgets presented in the manga get specific footnotes explaining their operation. Despite not being as dark as the above mentioned titles Gunnm is brutal and has its share of gore. Even though it was first published in 1990, there is such attention to detail that Gunnm looks cool even by today’s standards.
I’d easily call Gunnm a cyberpunk epic, with mind-blowing art, innovative ideas for the time it was created, a varied cast of cyborg and human characters and not to mention the intriguing question of Alita’s origins and how she’ll trace her way to finding her true self.
Battle Angel Alita is one of the first real anime titles I saw. Back when the distributor Manga Entertainment was still producing titles a friend bought copies of Alita, Akira and Vampire Hunter D, which I loved on first watch. It’s great to return to this series that was one of the first that started me down the road into anime/manga land!