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.

battle angel alita

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.

battle angel alita

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.

battle angel alita

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.

battle angel alita

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!

Mecha, Aliens and Space Opera – Knights of Sidonia

Knights of Sidonia From his raw beginnings with the cyberpunk classic Blame! we can see how much Tsutomu Nihei’s work has changed and grown in his more recent title – Knights of Sidonia.

Manga Title: Knights of Sidonia (Sidonia no Kishi)
Mangaka: Tsutomu Nihei
Genres: Science-fiction, space opera, mecha, romance
Demographic: Seinen

Storyboard:
Taking place in the distant future, the space colony called Sidonia sails through space. Centuries prior to the start of the manga, humanity encountered an alien race known as the Gauna. Sometime after, a war between the huge aliens and humanity broke out, forcing people to flee earth aboard ‘seed ships’. Sidonia is one such ship, a wondrous, self-sustaining community that has made many advances not only in technology but also in genetic engineering.

Knights of Sidonia

Sidonia

Here we meet Nagate Tanikaze, a young man who dwells in the vast underground of Sidonia with his grandfather. Shortly after his grandfather passes away, Nagate embarks on a journey to the upper levels in search of food, finding himself in an unfamiliar world in the process.

Knights of Sidonia

Above the surface

The dwellers on the surface of Sidonia have discovered how to ‘photosynthesize’ thus reducing their need to digest real food to about once a week. Nagate is immediately seen as strange for not being able to photosynthesize and having a ravenous appetite. After being apprehended for stealing rice, he’s taken to the authorities who then inexplicably escort him to meet Sidonia’s captain – the mysterious Kobayashi.

Knights of Sidonia

Nagate and Captain Kobayashi

Kobayashi asks him to become a trainee guardian pilot – pilots who fly mechs (or frames) known as guardians to defend Sidonia against the Gauna. Nagate accepts and begins his training, meeting many other members of Sidonia’s guardian force.

The Gauna are a bizarre race, being able to traverse space and having grotesque, squid-like forms. Their bodies are constructed of something called ‘placenta’ – a substance the Gauna secrete to cover their true body, known as the ‘core’. The core is impervious to all weaponry, except for specially crafted lances called ‘Kabizashi’. Only by directly piercing the core of a Gauna with a Kabizashi is one able to destroy it.

Knights of Sidonia

Nagate faces a Gauna

Nagate is given the privilege of piloting the legendary guardian named Tsugumori, a frame which was used previously by a hero in mankind’s wars against the Gauna. This gains Nagate the disdain of one of his fellow pilots, Norio Kunato, who comes from an influential family and hopes for fame and glory. After his first sortie in which Nagate encounters a Gauna and helps repel it in the Tsugumori, he gains some status for being able to actually fight back against the powerful enemies.

Our hero, once called ‘the mole man’ for living underground, becomes an object of fascination for many. Nagate is befriended by the amiable Izana, one of a new sex who are capable of procreating with males or females thereby making them asexual. Izana Shinatose takes a liking to the clumsy and rather incapable Nagate, becoming somewhat of a partner for him. Another pilot he befriends is Shizuka Hoshijiro, a young woman who attempts to rescue Nagate when they encounter the Gauna on a mining mission. To the jealousy of Izana, Nagate becomes fond of Hoshijiro and the two quickly form a close bond.

Knights of Sidonia

Hoshijiro and Izana

Before the end of volume one it’s announced that the Gauna repelled earlier has returned, and a task force consisting of four well-known warriors will be going out to engage it. Whether or not they will be able to defeat the seemingly invincible Gauna or not remains to be seen…

Pencil Sketch:
Aside from overall story structure, pacing and plot differences, another major distinction between Sidonia no Kishi and Blame! is the amount of character development. All of the main characters have a significant amount of interaction and details about their backgrounds are introduced.

Making an unlikely protagonist with his clumsy and naïve mannerisms, Nagate is nonetheless a literal powerhouse once he gets into the cockpit. Being unaware of the history as well as the politics on Sidonia, Nagate innocently follows the commands of Captain Kobayashi to battle the Gauna. While Izana and Hoshijiro are protecting him mostly when on Sidonia, in space he’s capable of protecting them and becomes a clearheaded, resourceful pilot. At times his obliviousness can get a bit much, but it’s made up for with his earnest attitude and caring towards the inhabitants of Sidonia and his friends.

Being an asexual, Izana has boyish features that might be described as ‘bishounen’, his/her mannerisms though, from way of walking to caring for Nagate are quite feminine. Izana is a composed person, and this togetherness acts as a good foil for Nagate. There are some comic and awkward moments between the two of them that make me wonder where their relationship might be headed in future.

Hoshijiro is a similarly sturdy and mature person. She’s equally considerate towards Nagate, whether on Sidonia or the battlefield. While neither of them have expressed any feelings for each other in volume one, there’s an obvious chemistry between them right from the start.

Another character worthy of mentioning is Kunato. His first appearance in the manga is when he knocks Nagate unconscious for stealing rice. Kunato is galled at Nagate’s being chosen to pilot Tsugumori as well as at his popularity thereafter. Coming from the wealthy family behind Kunato industries, who develop the guardians for Sidonia, he’s arrogant and two-faced.

Knights of Sidonia

Kunato’s hatred

Inking:
Knights of Sidonia combines what are elements I already enjoyed in Nihei’s previous work, with additional depth in storytelling and fleshed-out characterization. Despite being a lot more up-beat, it still retains a brooding atmosphere, with the threat of the Gauna being ever present and the persisting secrets about their origins nagging.

Its hard science-fiction themes are well thought out and explained, while at the same time using a more show and less tell approach that leaves out just enough details to keep you guessing. In this regard it has everything the sci-fi lover could ask for: mecha, aliens, space opera and big spaceships.

Nihei’s art is as usual – stunning. The backgrounds, architecture and mecha in Knights of Sidonia are detailed and eye-catching, mixing elements of modern Japan with a dystopian, futuristic feel. Despite the comparatively simple character designs, they have a style and charm that could only be delivered by Nihei.

This is the first series for me in a long time that’s felt like a more serious sci-fi manga. My first impressions of it left me with a ‘Ghost in the Shell’ kind of feel, not because of the topics dealt with but simply the lesser amount of usual manga tropes and its more serious nature. That’s not to say the series is completely without tropes, it’s more the way they’re dealt with.

What little fanservice there is, is placed seriously too, and almost achieves the opposite effect of what it normally would. The characters are likeable and at the same time no-nonsense. That’s also not to say they don’t do silly things, there’s plenty of that, but it’s done earnestly and the meanings behind everyone’s actions all play their part in broadening the story.

Knights of Sidonia

KOS style humor

Doodles:
Once again, I started reading this series directly after the anime finished airing. As of the date I’m writing this article, Knights of Sidonia has a second season which is green-lit for November. I’m confident in saying that this show can be enjoyed just as much after reading the manga or vice-versa. The fact that Nihei’s work has been given an anime adaption completely in CG seems fitting for this modern master of cyberpunk and sci-fi.