Battle Angel Alita

Battle Angel AlitaGunnm, or as its better known, Battle Angel Alita, is a gritty cyberpunk classic, exploring themes well-known to the genre while taking some to new heights.

Manga Title: Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
Mangaka: Yukito Kishiro
Genres: Cyberpunk, science-fiction, action
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Completed (9 volumes in the first series and 19 in the second)

The Storyboard:
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.

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Tiphares

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.

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Alita’s head

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.

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Alita’s 2nd body

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.

battle angel alita

Makaku

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.

Pencil Sketch:
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.

Ido Daisuke

Ido Daisuke

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.

battle angel alita

Alita and Hugo

Inking:
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.

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Alita in action

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.

Doodles:
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!

The Denizens of Dystopia – Blame!

blame!I’ve never seen a manga quite like Blame! I say ‘seen’ as very little dialogue appears in the first volume and the story is told by following the gritty, industrial-style artwork panel by panel.

Manga Title: Blame!
Mangaka:
Tsutomu Nihei
Genres:
Cyberpunk, horror, action
Demographic:
Seinen

Storyboard:
The tale begins in the setting of ‘The City’; little is known about it at first except for that it is a vast construction with innumerable levels going upwards and downwards for thousands of floors. Our protagonist, going simply by ‘Killy’, travels through this massive place searching for Net Terminal Genes, which are not explained in this part of the manga except that they seem to be present in certain people and allow access to what Killy’s refers to as the ‘Net’.

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The City

His quest takes him deep into the twisted, nightmarish passages and caverns of The City, where he encounters its various denizens upon the way.

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Denizens of The City

Of particular note is the weapon that Killy uses in his quest, a handgun which is called a ‘Gravitational Beam Emitter’. This handgun has incredible destructive power, being able to kill almost all the creatures Killy encounters while at the same time devastating buildings in its range of fire. How he came across the gun or its limitations aren’t revealed yet, but a quick glance at volume two showed me they would be in future.

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Shooting a cyborg

Pencil Sketch:
The main character Killy is the only one to receive much attention, but information about him is scarce except for his purpose and the extraordinary weapon he has. His personality comes across as somewhat psychotic at times; in one part he deliberately incites the cyborgs he meets and acts with what appears to be a disregard for his own life.

He reacts amiably towards humans when he does encounter them, and even gets angered when he sees how some of the beings in The City are being mistreated.

Blame! is populated with potential side characters that do not come to the foreground in volume one. Killy seldom remains with characters long enough for any development to take place, though I’m sure that’ll change as the series continues. A character he meets in the second chapter, with only an upper torso for a body (the rest being cybernetic parts) and a pet dog, may have a recurring role.

In one scene Killy passes the dead body of a boy to this unknown character and she/he in turn passes on information to Killy about unknown life forms that have been detected thousands of floors above.

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Killy and mystery character

Inking:
Blame! is definitely not intended to be read in the way one might be used to with manga. Reading it is a jarring, dizzy experience like an epileptic roller-coaster ride. The pictures tell the story, and the art is technological and gloomy – giving the impression of being after a catastrophic event. That being said, the art itself is something I am in awe of. The architecture of The City is immense in its scope, and drawn in detail by Nihei with wires, pipes, cables and organic life forms festering from the walls and stretching out into the distance above. It’s easy to see how much Nihei labored over his creation.

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Intense detail

The action is nail-biting and graphic. Gory battles smear across the pages in between the mechanized, apocalyptic backgrounds. Human, half human and inhuman inhabitants of the city emerge from nooks and crannies, all making this a manga that’s not for the fainthearted. In all I was glued to the pages for the first volume; my eyes were burnt into the macabre scenery and I couldn’t help but follow Killy’s bloody path as he makes his way toward an almost impossible goal.

Doodles:
Blame is one of Nihei’s most popular works, especially in Germany where he’s said to have a large fanbase. I looked up this title due to my fascination with Sidonia no Kishi (Knights of Sidonia) – a currently airing adaption of Nihei’s manga – and am thoroughly enjoying adventuring into the roots of where this talented and unique artist came from.