Reviewby Theron Martin,
Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle
Long before Yoko became a Panzer Kunst master or Alita, she was just a little cyborg girl trying to survive on war-torn Mars with her fellow orphan Erica. A kindly traveling doctor introduces them to a girls-only orphanage, where they struggle at first to fit in under the leadership of a girl who claims to be related to a regional Lord. Even the orphanage isn't a haven for long, however, as the town where it's located hosts a valued pumping station that draws unsavory parties. Even with the sky literally falling on them, the girls have destinies too big for them to die so young.
Volume 1 of Battle Angel Alita: Last Order revealed a past for Alita that cast her as a young girl clinging to life on a settled Mars. This origin was alluded to a few times later in that series but never explored in further detail; we only saw glimpses of a fully-grown Yoko in action at later points, prior to the circumstances which led to her head and shoulders being found in Scrapyard by Doctor Ido. This spin-off manga series by franchise creator Yukito Kishiro is focused on going back and exploring that past. Because this approach involves no direct allusions to what Yoko will become later in life, prior familiarity with the franchise isn't necessary. Volume 1 at least stands well enough on its own.
That being said, this series is also clearly made with established franchise fans in mind. Later volumes of The Last Order all but outright stated that Frau X, the shadowy female Panzer Kunst-using cyborg who Zazie encountered on Mars, was actually the Erica from Alita's youth, but the series ended without ever delving much into the details, leaving her existence as one of the biggest unresolved plot threads in the story. With Erica being more the protagonist of this first volume than Yoko, this story seems primed to reveal how she got to the point of being Frau X at least as much as how Yoko got to the point of the final mission on Mars shown in later flashbacks of Last Order. If the series eventually goes that far, then it will be a welcome development indeed.
For now, the story is Kishiro's trademark balance of the adorably cute mixed with the incredibly ugly. On the cute side is Yoko, the hapless young girl still trying to adjust to having an 80% artificial body. Why she is nearly a full-body cyborg at such a young age is an interesting question, but not one that the story seems prepared to address at this point, and given Yoko's age, we may never know at all. Meanwhile, Erica stands impressively strong as the “big sister” figure. Ninon, the eldest girl at the orphanage and thus the de facto leader of the children, is harder to appreciate, as her motivations and sympathies seem inconsistent. Her somewhat erratic characterization is the weakest aspect of the volume.
Kishiro is back to his strengths both in his imaginative detail work on his future settings and his depiction of action scenes. No super-powered cyborg battles have happened yet, and the graphic violence doesn't ascend to the gory extremes that Kishiro's work is known for, but various battle scenes are nonetheless satisfyingly graphic and interestingly staged, full of varied explosions and energetic release. Kishiro also gets good mileage out of vehicular action in the “falling sky” scene. Equipment designs are a good mix of standard fare and fresh innovations, such as the wheeled combat suits worn by the attacking soldiers, and the artistry is clean and easy to follow. Fair warning, however, that this volume does involve deadly graphic violence against children that some may find unsettling. Also expect a continuing fascination with German naming conventions.
Kodansha Comics' release of the volume advertises “special extras after the story,” but that just consists of a set of translation notes. It is otherwise a standard release with a sharply-colored, non-glossy cover and a single glossy page on the interior. Fortunately, the price point being on the low end of the normal manga range is an added bonus.
If you were a big fan of previous installments in the franchise, then this is probably a must-have volume that will serve as a nice warm-up and tide-me-over for this summer's live-action movie.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Promises to fill in big gaps in the previous story, numerous inventive design elements
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