Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 27th 2011
Battle Angel Alita: Last Order
The stage has now been set for the first ever all-civilian finals for the Z.O.T. tournament! At stake is no less than the future of the Scrapyard and Tiphares, a reality hardly lost on the denizens of both Earthbound locales and on other figures that Alita has encountered over time. Things are hardly uneventful in the days in space leading up to the event, as Sechs attempts to master a new trick, Alita must finally come to terms with her brain chip, Mbadi continues to scheme to put himself back in control of things, and Zastie shows up again with a problem that only Alita can remedy. The news Zazie brings is even more startling: amongst the rebel faction on Mars is another frighteningly powerful female master of Panzer Kurst, one who seems to recognize Alita's old name.
The Z.O.T. tournament which has been a framing device for most of The Last Order is finally starting to wind down, but an event as sprawling and complicated as this, and with such wide-reaching ramifications for the setting of the story, cannot be allowed to climax without a considerable set-up. This volume covers that set-up, and despite a lower-than-normal action quotient, it does not disappoint. The final tournament battle is just getting started as the volume ends, but not before putting everything neatly into place.
Of course, even this crucial set-up does not happen without additional new twists and complications. The story hints for the first time that Zastin may have his own secret, indicates that Mbadi may still have a final trick or two up his sleeve, and brings an interesting new character into the picture in the form of another mysterious Panzer Kurst master. This so-called Frau X may not actually be all that mysterious, because anyone who has followed The Last Order since its beginning will know that there is only one character she can logically be given her reactions to Alita's real name, but if it is that person then the promise for future developments are juicy indeed. These chapters also bring a plethora of other characters back for cameo appearances or minor or supporting roles, a collection which spans the entire breadth of the BAA franchise; kudos to the fan who can identify them all without looking them up.
This volume also reiterates a couple of the ongoing problems with the series. While Alita is still undeniably the central character, her actual presence has waned. Volume 6, which covered Phases 32-37, was the last volume in which Alita was at the forefront of events in every chapter. She has only been at the forefront of events in 18 of the 50 chapters since then and present in a lesser capacity in a handful of others. In other words, despite being the star, she has been completely absent in over half of the chapters spanning the last eight volumes. Granted, many of the events that have happened in her absence have been entertaining, but is this now less Alita's story specifically than the story of the setting in general. Kishiro increasingly seems to not know what he wants to do with his main character, and that's a bad long-term sign. He also seems to be finding his supporting cast more interesting right now than his lead, and in truth the supporting characters have been carrying the series lately – something which did not happen earlier in this series or its predecessor.
Otherwise Kishiro's writing and artistry are up to their usual standards. His inventiveness in cyborg design and extrapolation of combat techniques continues to be unequalled amongst manga-ka, as is his penchant for throwing in obscure little factual tidbits. His tendency for the occasional chibi aside also remains; his current theme is to portray Alita in a catlike form in such situations. His artistry, especially in action scenes, is as clean and clearly-defined as ever, though this volume lacks the biological monstrosities frequently seen lately (which is not necessarily a negative).
Viz Media does its usual fine job on the translation and production end, including nicely-detailed color cover art and a complete translation of all sound effects. As per the norm, the volume opens with a story summary and very brief character blurbs and closes with three pages of “NG Theater” four-panel gag strips. The price has remained at $9.99 for a full 200 pages of actual content, making it a relatively economical title by current standards. On a sad note, there is no indication present on when we might see the next volume.
While this volume may not show the franchise at its very best, it is an improvement over recent volumes and fulfills its purpose very well. The franchise's storytelling well-being may yet endure.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Does an excellent job of setting up the series for its climactic tournament final.
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