Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Worlds Without End Blog

SF Manga 101: Battle Angel Alita & Battle Angel Alita: Last Order Posted at 10:54 AM by Glenn Hough


Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on SF Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of science fiction within it.

Gally1Two very strange things happened with Battle Angel during it’s production, which, good god!, started in 1991 and is still going on. When it came to the states, VIZ, for reasons I’ve never been able to find out or figure out, changed the name of the title character to Alita. Her name is Gally in the original. Obviously, no one at Viz looked up the word Gally in the OED. Why would they? Gally, in colloquial english, just means to inspire the fear of death. Root word is probably gallows. As the manga unfolds, we see that Gally certainly is someone who inspires the fear of death.

The second strange thing is Kishiro ended Battle Angel with volume 9. This is only strange since volume 17 of the Last Order arc is due out this month. I’ve heard he was pressured to end it; he was canceled. I’ve heard he rushed the ending due to illness and then couldn’t stand that ending. I’ve heard a lot of things so I don’t know what’s true. What I do know is that Kishiro goes on to another project but returns to Battle Angel a few years later. An omnibus version of Battle Angel appeared in Japan and the last few chapters of volume 9 were lopped off from that edition. The chapters which wraps things up are gone and Kishiro proceeds into the Last Order arc as if he’s just taken time off from the series. It’s as if that ending never happened. Now that I’m more familiar with how the manga system works in Japan, I certainly respect this author for asserting control over his work, which is not always the case over there.

Gally5One more point before I move on. I should think this is obvious by now, but in case it’s not, this is a point about authorship in Japan. A mangaka, and his or her team, works on a manga project. And when that project is over, either one issue, or 50 takubon later, whichever, then the series is over. Those characters are done with. That’s it. They don’t have Superman type characters which generations of authors work on. In the states, you can divide Superman up into authorship eras if you wanted to. That’s not how it works in Japan.

This is what the publisher says about Battle Angel Alita Vol. 1.

When Doc Ido, a talented cyberphysician, finds Alita’s head in a junk heap, she has lost all memory of her past life. But when he reconstructs her, she discovers her body still instinctively remembers the Panzer Kunst, the most powerful martian cyborg fighting technique ever known. In the post-apocalyptic world of the Scrapyard, as the secrets of Alita’s past unfold, each day is a struggle for survival.

Gally6The floating utopia of Tiphares above and the dystopian Scrapyard City below, which is literally getting Tiphares’ trash dumped on them; this is Gally’s world.

Battle Angel is pure cyberpunk. The cyborg enhancements of this world go up to and include brain transplants. This is paired with pure bloody action. Gally’s only key to her identity is her ability to fight. So the obvious course to take is to fight, in the hopes that something will eventually bubble up in her memory, pointing the way to who she was. It sounds like a plan, even if it’s not a good one. And it doesn’t work out anything like she expected it to.

Gally’s popularity and/or staying power is based around the basic myths and motifs Kishiro uses to construct her story. Gally is on the epic quest. In this case, it’s to rediscover herself. By the time we get into the Last Order arc, that self-discovery is tempered by helping a friend, of upholding a promise to that friend. Gally’s quest is also easily identifiable to any video game enthusiast since it’s the same. As she progresses, her opposition gets tougher and tougher, which is the core law of video gaming. The guy Gally is fighting in book 16 of the Last Order arc, Toji, one of a handful of masters in the history of elector-magnetic karate, could have sneezed and defeated the Gally of book 1. She’s come a long way since then.

Gally10Gally’s myth making is the same as the myth of the lone Samurai, the lone Ronin, the lone Gunman, who always faces impossible odds, but ends up coming out alive in the end. This is the second backbone of Gally’s story. She always lives, but is forever changed by her encounters. One of the changes is what the Japanese would call Shishogan Eyes: the eyes of life and death. She’s looked upon all the horrors Humanity and Hell can produced, and come through after scaling a mountain of corpses and swimming in a sea of blood. Gally has Shishogan Eyes. But that does not preclude her from still being on the side of goodness, of helping those less fortunate, of joy, of laughter, of pleasure in the solar system and it’s peoples. She knows the joy of combat, but it’s not her only joy. She still retains her basic humanity even after all she’s seen and the blood she’s spilled. And when you consider the fact that Gally has been a full replacement cyborg for a long time now, having any humanity at all, is quite the accomplishment.

Gally2There are other battle mangas out there which are far better known and have far wider appeal, some which seem to reflect the Japanese soul as much as Bruce Wayne reflects America’s soul. But that’s not Battle Angel. Gally is for… insiders is not the right word, nor is connoisseur. Gally, I think, is for those who need a dose of hope. She’s brutal. There’s no doubt about that. But that closeness to death makes hope shine all the more vividly. Gally has many monikers: Angel of Death, Victory, Chaos, Redemption and a dozen others. Her last and most important moniker is the one she embraces most fully: Angel of Hope. It is not her own hope which shines out vividly in the darkness of her world, it is the hope she inspires in others.

Gally11When it comes to finding Battle Angel Alita and Battle Angel Alita: Last Order, the answer is different today than it was several months ago. A few months ago, everything Battle Angel was available from VIZ, which had continuously held the publishing rights since Battle Angel started in the states. This has just changed. The VIZ era is over. Everything from Viz has gone out of print, but since there was so much of it, finding the series at your favorite online dealer should be no problem. The Viz books should still be in the distribution chain. But the Last Order arc has yet to finish, so Kodansha comics has stepped in for issue 16 onward. Kodansha also plans an omnibus version reissue for Last Order.

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.