Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 3rd 2009
Battle Angel Alita: Last Order
GN 12 - Angel Redux
Alita has made her triumphant return by bursting forth from the body of Tunguska with a new body (including a tail!) and some new tricks. Although that seems to insure victory for the Space Angels, Mbadi has other ideas, and tries to discontinue the Z.O.T. tournament. The remaining contestants and popular opinion have other things to say about that matter, though, things that even Mbadi dares not stand against, and so the Z.O.T. tournament officially becomes a battle for independence. Mbadi has one remaining trick up his sleeve, but for the moment Toji contemplates his motivation, an effort to determine which karate schools are worthy of being represented in the Space Karate Team alongside Zekka and Toji in the semis turns into an all-out brawl, and various characters have various reunions.
Evaluated as a whole, Battle Angel Alita is certainly one of the greatest (and possibly the greatest) of all sci fi action manga series. Since completing its backstory arc in volumes 8 and 9, though (and arguably since before that), the quality of Yukito Kishiro's tale of cyborg warfare in a really screwed-up future has seen a slow, steady decline. His artistic chops are still there, but concerns in previous volumes that he seemed to be running out of ideas are only reinforced in this one. A major plot development and the massed karate Royal Rumble fail to completely distract readers from the fact that Kishiro's stories and character developments are now repeating themselves and his freak show new characters are becoming increasingly silly. One has to wonder if he has any more of a clear sense of direction at this point than his title character does.
The flakiest of moments is, of course, the business with the tail that has been much-speculated-about ever since images of the cover were first revealed months ago. Alita has always been a satisfying balance between cute and totally bad-ass, but that tail tips the scales towards the former despite her combat application of it. But why stop at that, Kishiro? Where are the ears and more paw-like hands to give her the full complement? Really, why not go all the way if you are going to insist on designing something so ridiculous?
The generally ho-hum progression of the story is just as much of a concern. Admittedly, Alita does have a couple of fantastic scenes where she demonstrates to Mbadi that even he cannot directly mess with her anymore, and she does showcase some nifty moves, but beyond those scenes she reverts to retread listlessness and “I look forward to fighting you at full strength” comments – when she is on the page at all, that is. After being entirely absent from the last volume, she only gets the star treatment in less than half of this one, with Mbadi and Toji both having enlightening flashback chapters and the karate free-for-all taking up much of the volume's later stages. Alita's newly-empowered form also smacks of a Dragonball Z-like power escalation (although it has been awhile since Alita upped her power level) and any mention of the reason why Alita was originally doing all of this – i.e. to recover Lou's brain chip – is conspicuously absent. Has Kishiro given up on this plot thread?
In the plus column, Alita getting the better of Mbadi for once is highly satisfying and her more light-hearted side is back in play after a long period of near-complete seriousness. Kishiro continues his unmatched talent for inventively grotesque applications of bioengineering and creative cyborg designs, although some of the animal themes he uses this time are just ridiculous, as are some of the karate fighter names. The two pages of four-panel “NG Theater” strips at the end are also quite funny.
Although Kishiro is still among the best in the business on technical and artistic fronts, his new renderings for Alita seem just a little off in style and refinement compared to earlier efforts. He still knows how to execute fight scenes with the best of them, though, and never fails to make his characters distinctive and interesting even when they are completely ridiculous. The color pictures of Alita on the front and back covers are especially sharp despite the incongruous tail.
Viz Media continues to do a fine job of releasing the title, heading each volume with an up-to-date story summary and closing out each one with the four-panel strips. As always, sound effects are fully translated.
The other problem here is that the end of this volume gives no indication when the next one might come out. Volume 13 has apparently been out in Japan for a few months now but there has been no clear indication on a possible English release date, suggesting that another long gap between volumes could be facing fans of the series. Unlike at many previous points in the series, though, fans are unlikely to be waiting impatiently this time. There is still more story to tell here, but not the sense of excitement and anticipation seen in previous volumes; in fact, the final pages of this one are decidedly lackluster. Watching this series fall into decline is saddening, so fans can only hope that Kishiro will either rediscover his enthusiasm or else find a way to soon and properly bring his onetime masterpiece to a fitting conclusion.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : A-
+ Alita's one-upmanship over Mbadi, inventive designs.
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