‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Surprises Sci-Fi Fans with Enjoyable Manga Adaptation

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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Surprises Sci-Fi Fans with Enjoyable Manga Adaptation

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It’s no secret that western adaptations of manga stories typically fail to do justice to the original work as well as bring viewers into the box office, (see Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in The Shell) however Alita: Battle Angel might just be the turning point for this area of the industry.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel, based on the ‘90s manga series (alternatively titled Battle Angel Alita) written and illustrated by Yikito Kushiro, features young Alita (Rosa Salazar), a wrecked and discarded cyborg from the city of Zalem. She is taken in and repaired by local Dr. Dyson Ido (Cristoph Waltz) of the lowly Iron City, a sort of “leftover” civilization just below the glowing city Zalem. Immediately taking a liking to the young woman, Dr. Ido gives her a bionic body, originally meant for his late daughter, naming her after the same girl. Alita remembers nothing of her past and is determined to explore the world around her and unravel the mystery of who she is.

This paternal relationship is not unlike ones we’ve seen in other mediums of sci-fi storytelling, (Logan, The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite…) and unfortunately brings nothing more to the charming, yet overused trope. Alita is young and eager to be out on her own and Ido is troubled by loss and willing to do anything to keep the girl out of harm. Not to say that this relationship is underdeveloped, just that us sci-fi fans could use some new, more captivating relationship dynamics.

Not far into the film, we are introduced to yet another common trope as Alita meets the dashing young Hugo (Keean Johnson), sporting perfect hair, a leather jacket, and an awesome futuristic motorcycle. She is, of course, enamored with him immediately, though Ido is not amused by the pair’s banter and flirtation. This romantic subplot is followed throughout the movie, and despite the fact that the two have known each other for less than a week, the teenagers fall madly in love with one another. It can be excused by the fact that Alita is naive due to her loss of memory; however, it’s undeniably cliche.

Where Alita really stands out is not in its character relations and development, but in its visuals and action. The fictional land of Iron City is buzzing with excitement, filled with cyborgs, bounty hunters, and a weird fusion of basketball, rugby, and roller derby called “motorball.” (Which, of course, Alita is exceptionally good at). The main storyline follows Alita as she explores the city both in it’s delight and peril – learning of the organization of bounty hunters (dubbed “Hunter Warriors”) who are out to get her. Once Alita takes the step up to become a Hunter Warrior herself is when we really see a change of pace for the better.

Alita is soon thrown into battle with street thugs, bounty hunters, and cyborg villains (most of whom are unmemorable, but make for some pretty great action). She is a much stronger character on her own, radiating confidence and determination whether she’s fighting for bounty or competing in motorball. Her fighting style is smooth and steady, staying strong even when her robot body is ripped to shreds. The CGI in her face and body is so seamless in these moments that for a moment you forget what you’re watching isn’t real. This is where Alita is in her element, and where the film is at its best.

Overall, Alita could be overlooked for its unoriginal sci-fi tropes and lack of side-character development, but it should be given credit where credit is due. Featuring a captivating strong female lead, jaw-dropping CGI, and plenty of epic fight scenes, Alita: Battle Angel should be recognized for what it is: a feel good, visually captivating, action-packed sci-fi.

Final Rating: ⅗ Stars