Home > Manga Reviews, Reviews > Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1

Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1

The cover to Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1
by Yukito Kishiro, translated by Stephen Paul.
Kodansha Comics, 430 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16 +)

The dystopian future presented by Yukito Kishiro is both horrific and strangely beautiful. The wealthy and powerful live in a floating city, tethered to the ground, while the rest of humanity literally live off the scraps and refuse they dump onto the land below. The sprawling city of Scrapyard is a cyberpunk favela, where life is rough, violent, and full of bizarre outcasts. Yet it’s also a place of dreams, success stories, and families who will kill to defend their loved ones. In this industrial nightmare landscape ugly desperation and moments of deep kindness intermingle. Into this world comes Alita, who starts off as nothing but a torso, but through the kindness and fatherly affection of Dr. Ido, is given a refurbished cybernetic body. Unfortunately, nothing can be done for her apparent lack of memories, or explain her innate knowledge of a lost martial arts form. With little left to do, she follows in Dr. Ido’s footsteps and becomes a bounty hunter. Originally published in 1990, and long out of print in the United States, Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1 presents Yukito Kishiro’s classic cyberpunk story in a beautiful, oversized, hardcover edition, with a new translation!

While I have long known about Battle Angel Alita I knew very little about it prior to reading the new Deluxe Edition. So I was not prepared with how bizarrely relevant the world of Alita was to modern day concerns. The basic set up behind Scrapyard and Zalem, with the enormous wealth gap and teaming masses left to fend for themselves while the wealthy live in a (reported) paradise echoes the ever expanding wealth gap which faces the United States and other nations. On a certain level this relevance is due to the universality of the premise. The wealthy exploiting and tossing scraps to the rest of the populace is a concern that stretches back to the Medieval period and, indeed, the cyborg gladiatorial games which lurks throughout the background of this first volume certainly recalls the bread and circus of yore.

Yukito’s focus on the characters rather than the setting plays into comparisons to modern day concerns. Alita, Ido, and Alita’s love interest, Yugo, are all trapped in the impoverished and dead end Scrapyard, doing what they have to make ends meet. Sometimes this means becoming a bounty hunter, sometimes it means engaging in a little black market organ trafficking. While some of these actions are morally questionable, they’re grounded in relatable and understandable motivations. Alita wants to help her improvised family survive and flourish and Yugo seeks a way out of the dog eat dog Scrapyard. Even Ido’s claims of being a bounty hunter solely for the thrill of kill is undercut by his selfless actions towards Alita throughout the book. Even his misguided attempts to guide Alita towards a more “feminine” life style—something Alita flatly rejects in a sequence that must be relatable to anyone who’s ever fought with their parent/child—are rooted in parental concern and belies the heartless image of himself Ido attempts to sell Alita on. Yukito’s decision to focus on the emotional and personal over the political and social grants the story a solid, emotional foundation to support any weirdness that may follow.

Just a taste of the lovely action sequences from the first volume.

The fantastic setting and characters come to life thanks to Yukito’s visuals. While his style does look a bit dated—it’s a style that clearly places it as a peer of works like Appleseed, Akira, and Silent Mobius—it is undeniably gorgeous and his handling of action sequences and creative character designs will hopefully win over those who prefer the more modern stylings. His character designs are wonderfully varied and weird, with a wide variety of body types thanks to the cybernetic aspect. Figures with inhumanely long limbs, half a head, and more populate the ramshackle world of Scrapyard. The level of detail Yukito puts into his backgrounds is perfect. He doesn’t overwhelm the panels or pages with details, but instead provides just enough to help breathe life into the bizarre world. The grimy alleys, improvised housing, and massive lengths of industrial tubing go a long way to making Scrapyard feel like an actual lived in setting. That he also uses the settings to add to the individual fight scenes is also a wonderful touch, with Alita bouncing off walls, floors breaking, and sewers being flooded with refuse at inopportune times.

After reading Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1 it’s easy to see why Yukito Kishiro’s work gets such heavy praise. It’s a wonderful blend of many different genres with some gorgeous artwork, and lightning fast action scenes that are a joy to watch play out across the oversized pages of this Deluxe Edition. In the end, this first volume is a fantastic read that manages to impress and entertain despite its age and slightly dated visuals.

Battle Angel Alita: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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