Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 9th 2009
Battle Angel Alita: Last Order - Angel Goes Nova
With Caerula's backstory now complete, Alita finds herself in possession of the awesome responsibility of the Fata Morgana, the literal key to shutting down Melchizedek should she deem it necessary, but she is still primarily interested in securing her friend Lou's brain. Trinidad may have something to say about that, however, setting up an epic cyber-battle against onetime ace hacker Ping Wu. An even greater concern for Alita and others, however, is a sudden multiplying of active incarnations of Desty Nova, some helpful, some not. While Alita struggles to deal with a shocking revelation resulting from a devil's bargain, one which may shake her to the core, Sechs carries on the Space Angels' advancement in the Z.O.E. tournament virtually single-handedly, which sets up a thumb-wrestling battle for the ages against an all-time martial arts champion.
Forgot this one was still running, didn't you?
Hard to blame you; it has been fifteen months since the last volume, after all, and this is only the second volume in the series to come out in the past two years. The last one proved well worth it despite a lengthy wait, so surely this one will, too. Right? Right?
Well. . .
Yukito Kishiro has always displayed a penchant for inserting occasional bits of silliness into his otherwise serious and heavy storytelling, which often can be rather disarming. That he does so in this volume, too, is not a problem. His other habit – turning mundane activities into ludicrous displays of power and skill – is more of an issue. His tendency to play such things out seriously leaves it unclear as to how seriously he actually intends the reader to take them, and a classic example of that is the supersonic thumb-wrestling match that breaks out between Sechs and the martial arts champion Zekka in Phase 60. Is this a sign that Kishiro finally, officially, has a screw loose after doing this manga for so long?
And yet he partly pulls it off, something that no other manga-ka could probably manage. For as ridiculous as it is, that thumb-wrestling match actually achieves an impressive level of intensity, and the ending to it is a classic. Whatever else might be said about Kishiro, he knows how to stage action scenes, and he knows how to work in an element of fun.
However, he also seems to be running short on ideas. His manga volumes have been running a “submit new characters/costume designs” option for some time now, and finding a way to off his main character and then bring her back yet again is starting to get old. Zekka is certainly a colorful character, but not an original one, and Desty Nova's incessant reincarnations are getting tiresome, too. (And really, what is up with the '70s look on one of the newest incarnations? Granted, the “white Afro” and pimp coat do make him look more evil than normal, but in a tacky way.)
On the upside, this volume does pace itself quite well, spending only a few pages on flashes to Tiphares and the Scrap Yard and on a colorful recap of the Z.O.E. tournament to date, including the results of several battles not played out in earlier volumes. It skillfully jumps around, covering all its varied current plot threads, including the wrap-up of Alita's cyber excursion, Sechs' barreling through the Z.O.E. tournament, and what Desty Nova has been up to of late, without short-changing any of them. The storytelling even delves a little more into Ping Wu's past without letting it interfere with the pacing, and gives Ping a chance to shine in his epic cyber-battle against Trinidad. It also drops a bombshell by finally revealing exactly what is in that box that Alita has been toting around since volume 3 that is so valuable, and it is a revelation that, while shocking, makes a great deal of sense.
After a shaky (by his standards) volume 9, Kishiro's artistry has returned to top form. No one in the manga field draws or stages action scenes clearer or more convincingly than he does, and no one in the field is better at depicting the movement or impact of powerful blows. Even the effectiveness of his uses of blurring effects and speed lines exceeds that of most other manga-ka, as readers can still follow the action no matter how complicated the movements get. Sharp detail on equipment designs and inventive use of cybernetics maintains his status as the unquestioned master of cyborg design and rendering, and though his character designs may not always be eye-appealing, no one can ever complain that they look dull. Even his backgrounds are typically replete with detail, and few manga-ka are his equal when it comes to panel lay-out. Despite any faults in writing, it is another thoroughly impressive visual effort.
Viz Media has consistently done a great job producing this title for its English release, and does not falter here. It replaces all of the Japanese sound effects with English ones, but in many places this is essential. The glossy cover features artwork with a sharp, eye-catching color contrast, and the content includes typical features like a two-page story recap at the beginning and two pages of rather funny four-panel bonus strips at the end.
Angel Goes Nova is not one of the series' better volumes, but it is still better than most of the other action-oriented trash out there in Mangaville. It still kicks butt on the artistic front and still tells a solid story. Above all, it still has Alita, and she is back, front and center where she should be. That should be plenty enough to keep fans of the series reading on.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Quality artistry, excellent action scenes, a major revelation.
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