Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 19th 2005
Battle Angel Alita: Last Order
The battle between the Space Angels and Guntroll for the right to move on to the second round of the Z.O.T. tournament reaches its climax as Alita completes her defeat of Qu Tsang and faces off against their final remaining combatant: Caerula Sanguis, the 600-year-old founder of the Stellar Nursery Society who, unbeknownst to most, is a vampire. Alita faces one of her stiffest challenges ever against an opponent who might not match her in raw power but is a master of many forms of martial arts and unrivaled at both anticipating an opponent's actions and directing a battle towards a lethal ending for the opposition. She also seems to know more about Alita's Panzer Kunst fighting style than Alita does herself! And is it possible that a past connection exists between the two? The battle also conjures up memories from Alita's past, memories which, when explored, lead to some disturbing observations, encounters, and revelations.
Meanwhile Sechs gets repaired and upgraded, the Stellar Nursery Society makes their getaway, and Ping, Alita's hacker partner, discovers that his alliance with Alita may reap benefits beyond his wildest dreams.
Yukito Kushiro's classic manga about a small, cute, and very deadly female cyborg rebuilt from a scrap heap continues in this latest installment of his alternate ending to his original series. While the previous volume got bogged down in its prolonged combat tournament scenes and repetitive use of Alita's self-doubts, this volume recaptures the freshness and inventiveness that has long been a hallmark of Kushiro's creation. Yeah, there's another lengthy tournament battle scene, but the sense of menace in Alita's conflict with Caerula is back as it quickly becomes clear that this battle is not one of the typical “my combat style can defeat yours” kind of affairs. And, most importantly, the star is back on center stage in the battle scenes rather than her sidekicks.
Most significant about this volume, however, is the window it opens into Alita's past. Some of the gaps in the events leading up to Yoko's near-death above Mars 200 years ago, and the circumstances surrounding her destruction, are filled in, with the promise of more to come in the next volume. These are revelations that any true Alita/Gunnm fan has probably been anticipating for a very long time, and Kushiro doesn't disappoint. There are few new insights into Aga Mbadi's machinations, however; he is an observer and commentator only for this volume.
As ever, Kushiro's knowledge of even the most obscure martial arts styles, and his extrapolation of future martial arts styles, is tremendously impressive. His vision of a future universe where mankind has achieved immortality through the use of technology is as inventive as anything to be seen in science-fiction media. His disarming use of cuteness and silliness also continues, which sometimes provides welcome comic relief from very dark and serious content but other times is a distraction. And this wouldn't be a Kushiro work without a generous dose of extreme graphic content. The original Battle Angel Alita/Gunnm series helped set the standard for modern ultraviolent manga, and this volume continues the tradition with a gloriously gory 13-page battle sequence which will not easily be topped. “So stark. . . so merciless. . . so plain in its beauty,” the text says as the scene comes to an end, and it's hard to deny the truth of those words. Several lesser bits of bloodshed and mechanical carnage are also scattered throughout. It should go without saying that this is not something that children or even younger teens should be reading, and it's not for older teens or adults who have a weak stomach.
Kushiro's exceptionally detailed artistry is among the cleanest and most appealing manga art one will find in any manga title. All too often complex action scenes in manga become so cluttered by motion lines and other attempts to suggest swift movement that it can be difficult to make out exactly what's going on. Not so with this title! A reader can always clearly tell what's happening even in the most stupefyingly complicated maneuvers. Mechanical designs and gore are also rendered in loving detail. Kushiro's penchant for odd and sometimes cutesy character designs (and especially expressions) is ever-present, but whether intended to be serious or not the designs are always well-rendered and usually well-detailed. Shading sometimes can be a little on the heavy side, but it does suit the generally dark tone of the series. All-in-all, though, Last Order joins the original series as one of the finest examples of quality work in manga artistry to make its way across the Pacific.
Viz Media's translation of Last Order retains the right-to-left format of the original but translates all the sound effects, although it does endeavor to retain the relative size, positioning, and shapes of the originals so their English versions look very natural. Those of a more purist bent may not care for this alteration, but it does make things easier to understand and helps events to flow along more smoothly, thus allowing a reader to concentrate on the story and great artistry. Like the previous volume, it includes a story background and character introduction at the beginning, which can be helpful given the large gap of time since the previous volume's release. The comical “NG Theater” strips seen in earlier volumes (but absent from the previous one) are also back at the end of this one.
Fans of action-oriented manga who don't mind a healthy dose of ultraviolence will find a lot to like in this newest installment. It is an attractive-looking, detail-rich work which puts the series back on track.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A
+ Exceptionally detailed and well-drawn artistry, long-awaited revelations, gloriously gory.
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