Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 19th 2007
Battle Angel Alita: Last Order
Victor has bitten Haruko and left her to either die or survive the transformation into a Cognate, an action which only firms Arthur's resolve to lead the people of Bradley settlement in an extermination of the remaining vampires. It also brings Vilma (aka the eventual Caerula) to a crucial decision: if the humanity she cherishes is to survive, Victor must die, and she is the only one capable of doing it. Their epic battle, and the prediction of the now-active Merlin, heralds the return of spring to the world, and with it the establishment of the path to mankind's return to space. In the wake of Vilma's sacrifice and Arthur's leadership the modern world Alita knows gets built.
How does a manga-ka get away with crafting an entire 6-chapter, 208-page volume of manga without ever showing or even mentioning his title character once?
Apparently it's possible if your name is Yukito Kishiro, you have that important a chunk of backstory to tell, and you have a sufficiently interesting side character on whom to center it.
Volume 9 continues Alita's flashback into the life of her former vampire foe Caerula Sanguis (aka Vilma), in the process revealing why Kishiro has bothered to put so much effort into detailing the story of one of Alita's defeated foes and why it should matter to BAA devotees to read it: in a very real sense Caerula's story is also the foundation of the present. As shown here, her actions in the past played an instrumental role in bringing about the state of affairs that exists in Alita's current time. Before this volume is over we get to see the founding of Tiphares, Melchizedek, and the city that would become Scrap Yard, how the woman who would become Caerula ended up with the Fata Morgana, and why a centuries-old vampire would bother to be involved with an organization like the Stellar Nursery.
Most importantly, after nine full volumes of manga we finally learn where the name of this second series comes from. That critical revelation not only implies Caerula's motivations for giving Alita the Fata Morgana but also engenders a full appreciation for the plotting Kishiro has set up to get the story to this point. Everything that has come before in this series – including this two-volume chunk of backstory – had to be revealed first or the true importance of the “last order” could not be fully understood. While certainly not the climax of the series, it definitely marks a crucial turning point.
For all its backstory and plot development, the centerpiece of volume 9 is once again an epic one-on-one multi-chapter battle scene, this time featuring Vilma and her husband Victor and taking up a bit more than half the volume. The fight, with all its power strokes and named martial arts moves, gives off a vibe suggestive of a cross between Claymore and Naruto or Bleach, though Kishiro's trademark thorough knowledge of even the most obscure real-world martial arts forms lends a sense of refinement and brutal elegance to the fight that none of the aforementioned series could ever attain. Additional references to obscure advanced principles of physics, psychology, philosophy, and quantum mechanics show that Kishiro has not lost his touch, even if his fight scenes are increasingly taking on a shonen feel and dragging a bit more than they did in earlier volumes. The regular storytelling also has its moments, especially one potent late scene involving a flute.
Kishiro has also lost none of his artistic skill over time, although all of the snow-filled settings he uses in this volume limit the detailed background art one normally sees in his work. (Even so, how many other manga artists would bother with backgrounds as artistically complex as cobblestone paving?) His character designs and renditions of flying severed limbs can occasionally get a bit goofy but are invariably well-defined and distinctive, and his scene framing and selections are as good as ever; this volume offers several truly wonderful splash scenes, two of them in the first chapter alone involving Haruka. And as per the norm, this volume does not disappoint on its displays of extremely graphic content.
Kishiro also has few peers when it comes to staging fight scenes. Always dynamic, complex, and well-choreographed affairs full of dramatic moves, his action scenes are nonetheless extraordinarily easily to follow – an extremely rare combination of traits for any comic or manga publication. This is what fight scenes can look like when handled by a true master of the medium.
Viz's release of the volume offers the standard story background and brief character intros at the beginning and two pages of “NG Theater” comical shorts at the end, with various author's notes scattered unobtrusively throughout as needed. All of the sound effects have been translated, but the American comic book feel of the bigger ones is the only negative to this, as in most cases the sound would not be clear from context. The glossy cover delivers a sharp-looking cover picture of Vilma with an attention-catching color contrast. Notably, the volume includes only a minimum of advertisements.
Because the American release of the manga has caught up to the Japanese release, the wait between volumes has, unfortunately, become increasingly long. (This one arrives nine months after the previous one.) Still, this volume, like the others before it, proves worth the wait.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Superior staging of fight scenes, fills in important background story.
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