animefringe august 2003 / reviews

Battle Angel Alita - Last Order Vol.1: Angel Reborn
Format: right-left manga
Production: Viz, LLC / Yukito Kishiro
Comments: One of the greatest manga series of all time finally makes its long-overdue reappearance.
Animefringe Reviews:
Battle Angel Alita - Last Order Vol.1: Angel Reborn

I can't believe I've had to wait so long for a new volume in the Battle Angel series. My sister was so eager to read this, she actually imported the Japanese manga so that she could at least look at the art. She also dutifully purchased the monthly comics installments when they were eventually released domestically. Personally, though, I'd rather not read manga in little bits at a time. I read the first nine Gunnm (Battle Angel's Japanese name) books in one day, averaging about 30 minutes a book. It's hard for me to read a 45-page comic book and not feel completely dissatisfied. So, rather than torture myself with the wait between issues, I just held off, knowing that there would eventually be a graphic novel edition. Oh, how my patience has paid off.

It's been two years since I last read Battle Angel Alita. Over the years, while the series maintained its status as the best manga I'd ever read, I began to forget the intricacies that defined it so well. I couldn't fully recall Yukito Kishiro's gritty, visceral style, shaped to perfection by his enthralling artistic talent. I had almost forgotten the magnitude of Kishiro's creation - his living, breathing, terrifying, and all-too-believable, potentially prophetic view of the future of mankind. I could no longer remember the texture of the blood, the gore, the unflinching brutality he illustrated as Alita fought her way from death piled upon a trash heap to victory as a Motorball champion and eventually bringing to light one of the most shocking truths of her entire age.

Yet, as I dove into the first volume of this new story arc, Last Order, it all came back to me rapidly. Mankind was separated into two classes, enlightened folk living on the floating Utopia known as Tiphares, and the poorer class, dwelling on the surface of the dying Earth, living off of the refuse of the people hovering above them. Alita, the main character of this story, was a cyborg. With a human brain housed within a powerful robotic body, her past was shrouded in mystery, and her goal was to discover her purpose in life. Panzer Kunst, an advanced fighting style, was a leftover relic from her forgotten memories, and at first, she could only use it because it had been instinctually burned into her psyche.

The one thing I certainly did not forget - nor hopefully will I ever - was how much I loved Kishiro's characters. Whether it was Doc Ido, the kindly Tipharian scientist that revived Alita after finding her on a trash heap, or Dr. Nova, the psychopathic flan-loving mad genius, it's hard to stop thinking about the people that populated Alita's world. Of course, Alita remains my favorite, and after nine volumes, she has developed significantly from when we first met. Gone is the naive little girl of the first few books, and in her place stands an imposing, self-assured leader. Her heart may be mechanical, but her soul is as pure as they come.

The thought-provoking questions Kishiro raises concerning the nature of humanity and the presence of the soul were easily one of the most attractive aspects of the series. Yes, they've been discussed before (and frequently) in other works (such as within Kikaider and Saber Marionette in this month's issue alone), Kishiro's vision remains my favorite over all the others.

I don't want to ruin any of the surprises that are in store for readers of this excellent series, so I'll refrain from talking about the story any more. While I'm also trying to avoid discussing the events of the previous manga, I'd like to suggest that any potential reader of this volume should find and read the other nine books before this one. Not only will you have a far greater understanding of Alita, you'll get the added bonus of reading one of the best manga stories ever.

Unlike the more cartoonish style of Kishiro's Aqua Knight, Last Order paints a picture of his dark future with searing realism. His imagination is astounding, from the variety of quirky characters to the incredible backgrounds, it is quite easy to fall into his world, getting entranced by its horrific beauty. This is not a tale for children, but the violence it depicts helps to put into perspective exactly what Alita is fighting for. I don't believe that anything in this work is gratuitous, and every messy scene is appropriate to convey exactly how far humanity has fallen. Still, be wary if you're squeamish - this series can sometimes get rather sticky.

If anything disappointed me about this release, it would have to be the reduced size. I realize it allows Viz to publish the book $5 cheaper than it was, but I'd rather pay the $5 and have a book the same size as my other nine Battle Angel volumes. On the upside, this work has been left unflipped (unlike Viz's previous releases in the series), which almost makes up for the smaller format. Almost. And really, with Vagabond, Ceres, and Video Girl Ai all maintaining their old sizes but dropping in price, I have trouble understanding why Last Order (easily my favorite over those three top-notch manga releases) couldn't do the same.

Oh well. At least I have the new Battle Angel series now. I'm sure that those of you who may have read this before are already sold on this title. As I said above, however, if you haven't experienced this grimly humorous, brilliantly executed science fiction tale, then order a copy of the first volume as soon as you can. You should be hooked in no time.