Reviewby Theron Martin,
Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle
Three years after the events of the ZOTT, Alita returns to Mars after a stint on Venus and arrives at a memorial to the long-destroyed town she once lived in. Erica aka Frau X is there, but is that really the Erica that she knew more than 200 years ago? And what are her former teacher and compatriots up to? She soon discovers that she's been set up to be incriminated in the attempted assassination of Queen Limeira, while powerful figures maneuver in the background.
Back in Alita's past, she finally locates the remains of where Erica once lived, only to discover that very little of Erica's memories match the truth. The bounty hunters who were looking for Yoko are still on their tail, but a masked man with a mind for vengeance intervenes and takes an interest in Erica's sordid tale. He seeks to make Erica his apprentice and believes she holds a key to one of Mars' greatest treasures, but what wicked design might he have in mind for Yoko?
After focusing exclusively on the youth of Alita and Erica during volume 1, Mars Chronicle shifts to a present-day focus for volume 2, looking at the adult characters and what happens after the events of Last Order. Volume 3 then returns to where the past story in volume 1 left off and picks up from there. Given how volume 2 plays out, Yukito Kishiro seems to be using the past story to explain certain circumstances in the present. He's got a lot more explaining to do, as volume 2 drops a big bombshell about past events, one which begs an explanation for how it happened. But that will have to wait for later volumes.
Erica took the lead in volume 1 and does have a couple of prominent scenes in volume 2, but the focus is predominately back on Alita. A fair amount has happened in the three-year time gap that warrants further explanation, such as what Alita was doing on Venus that was so secretive and how she got her new sentient weapon. What has not changed is Alita's penchant for combat creativity, as we eventually learn that Erica was not intending this to be a peaceful reunion; she has definite reasons for wanting to “test” Alita. That leads to a relatively brief but nonetheless classic exchange of cyborg-based martial arts, the neatest stunt of which involves a severed arm being used as a weapon. It also provides yet another reminder that, as strong and skilled as Alita can be, she still doesn't know everything about Panzer Kurst and its newer derivatives. We only get a sample of the latter before the battle is interrupted, but no doubt we'll see more of that in the future.
The rest of the volume dwells on the bigger picture. Other characters prominent in the later stages of Last Order haven't been idle, as the return of Zazie, Queen Limeira (and her stuffed bear), and even Caerula Sanguis can be expected, as can a couple other figures from that part of the story. One figure Alita encountered as a child in volume 1 also pops up, establishing one of the other reasons for having volume 1 entirely be a flashback, and we also meet the new long-term mastermind villain. In other words, this whole volume is merely setup for the greater story being told.
Volume 3 returns to flesh out the past storyline in more detail. Kishiro's world view has always been pretty bleak, but it takes serious effort to top the appalling backstory that Erica has to deal with once she finally stops deluding herself. It's not hard to understand how she might have turned villainous after that, especially when separated from Yoko, who she claims to find a pest but also clearly helps keep her stable. Exposing her to this new masked villain and his crazy disease (in the grotesque vein that has been Kishiro's trademark) certainly didn't help matters. How this links up to present-time events remains to be seen, but given how volume 1 was used to support volume 2, I have to think that this is going to connect up somehow. Maybe the masked figure is somehow linked to the legendary secret power mentioned in volume 2?
Kishiro's artistry is up to his normal standards, with his highly distinctive character designs and smooth yet detailed battle scenes. Some of his ship designs leave something to be desired, such as the one used by the priestess, but few manga authors make sharper use of action scenes or dark shading. He's definitely better at drawing teens and adults than drawing little kids, but even they fit smoothly into his overall style. Color cover art on both volumes is also very sharp.
Various explanatory notes are included in the margins, as well as more involved explanations of a few points in Translation Notes at the end. Volume 2 also contains a bonus story entirely disconnected from Alita's universe. “Mukai: World of Mist” is a one-shot story drawn by Kishiro but penned by a writer who won an award for sci-fi short stories for this piece. Over 33 pages, it tells a solid story about a boy trapped in an alternate space with all kinds of trappings from the regular world, the girl who eventually joins him, and an old man who initially seems frozen in time that they learn to communicate with. It's well worth a read, especially if you're already a fan of Kishiro's artistic style.
Overall, these two volumes feel like further setup for a story that could run every bit as long as the previous series. Whether Kishiro has that much ambition or not, nothing here should discourage established franchise fans from continuing.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Drops plenty of story hooks, strong fight scenes, imaginative equipment designs
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