Reviewby Theron Martin,
Battle Angel Alita: Last Order
Dogged by a false rumor that Ido is actually Desty Nova, Figure and Ido's escape from Farm 21 comes at a steep cost. Even then they're not safe, as the next town seeks to make them scapegoats, but doing good deeds has a way of paying off in the long run. On their trek to the Scrapyard (where they see some of the fallout of the Z.O.T. tournament) and eventually on to Tiphares, the duo picks up other past associates of Alita, including Kaos and Koyomi. Desty Nova – the real one – awaits them there, too, for one final sick game. To truly find out what happened to Alita requires ascending to Ketheres, where the party discovers trouble of a different kind, as well as the final legacies left behind by Alita.
When it comes to discussing the defining writers of cyborg-focused sci fi manga, two names invariably come up: Masamune Shirow and Yukito Kishiro. While Shirow took an “integrate them into the real world” approach with his Ghost in the Shell stories and emphasized the cybernetic aspects of what could be done with cyborgs, Kishiro opted more for a grittier, post-apocalyptic approach and emphasized what could be done with cyborg technology if advancements in that realm (and really with technology in general) were left unfettered by morality and human dignity. The result of the latter has been a bloody, often very twisted romp highlighted by spectacular extrapolations of martial arts and deep explorations of how you define your identity, all occasionally spelled by ridiculous comedy asides. (If Kishiro was not responsible for establishing the odious practice of the cute comedy aside in otherwise-serious content then he certainly contributed to promoting it.) Some of those elements, at least, hold true to the end.
That some don't is not all that make this final volume both frustrating and a bit of a disappointment. To be sure, the lack of any significant fight scenes is a drag, but the problems run deeper than that. Kishiro seems to make a point of showcasing every long-running character who is still alive and on either Earth or the upper cities, as if he is giving them one last hurrah before permanently cleaning house of cast he doesn't need anymore. By the time the Alita Search Party makes it to Ketheres he seems to be getting impatient with wrapping up the story. (Either that or he had to wrap it up quicker than anticipated.) As a result, the delivery is rushed and uneven, with some events happening without explanation and some characters popping up seemingly just for the heck of it. One of Alita's long-standing objectives is achieved, but in too casual a fashion to feel fully satisfying. The way the finale plays out also raises a whole new batch of questions about morality and identity, but instead of pondering them, as the franchise often has done before, this time it leaves to the reader to contemplate what, if anything, they might mean. Certain aspects of the conclusion may also feel like a retread of what Kishiro has done before, even though events come to that point in an entirely different way.
Not all is bad, though. The alternate perspective on what was happening on Earth as the events of the Z.O.T. tournament played out does flesh out what was otherwise a heavily tournament-centered story and fill in some gaps, such as the exact impact of Tiphares settling down to the ground on the people on the ground or what other side effects from the major battles the people on the ground may have noticed. It does still retain Kishiro's unparalleled sense for fantastic (and sometimes gross) applications of technology to biology, and it does revisit characters that, in some cases, haven't been seen in ages. Despite the way it does it, it does, indeed, resolve one long-standing plot goal, and Alita's final decision on the matter of who she is and what should be done about her flesh-and-blood brain is both an interesting one and fully in-character with her thought processes over the course of the franchise (even if it does somewhat smack of a gimmick used a few years earlier in Dr. Who).
Kishiro's artistry remains as sharp as ever. While it may not get to shine in action sequences, the caliber of his work still shows in his attention to detail in scenes of the macabre, of gory harm, of dramatic facial expressions, and of course the astounding array of bizarre-looking robots and cyborgs. The color work on the cover is also quite sharp. Just as valuable is the bonus information he provides in places, as fronting the beginning of one chapter is a summary of Desty Nova's final death game and fronting another is a flow chart showing the progression and relationship of all of Desty Nova's various incarnations – an especially valuable addition, as this has been a confusing mess over the course of the franchise. He also closes out with a two-page summary of the various human regeneration devices that have popped up over the course of the franchise and an obligatory four-panel humor strip.
As it has for the last couple of volumes, Kodansha Comics' production steps away from the former use of glossy covers in favor of heavier paperback ones and away from a black color scheme in favor of a gray one. As always, sound effects are fully translated, a brief outline/bio page is included at the beginning, and a page of translation notes is included at the end. The frequent footnotes are often difficult to read, especially on pages in black backgrounds.
Despite The Last Order officially wrapping, the story isn't over – which is definitely good, since several lingering plot threads remain to be tied up. Based on comments made in early 2014 and the final scene of this volume, Kishiro apparently intends to transition the story to Mars and continue there in a new series titled Kasei Senki (i.e., The Martian War Chronicles), which is set to debut in late October 2014. Thus while the 14 year saga of The Last Order may be over, we haven't seen the last of Alita in print form.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B+
+ Alternate perspective on what happened elsewhere during the Z.O.T., imaginative application of technology to biology.
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