Battle Angel Alita was a classic '90s cyberpunk manga long before it became a big-budget Hollywood movie. This week, Andy and Steve compare this blockbuster to its source material to discover how Cameron and Rodriguez created the most successful live-action anime adaptation yet!
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You can read our full review of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL here!
Hey Andy! Since we like to keep things current here on This Week in Anime, why don't we talk about a movie that came out two weeks ago, based on an anime OVA
that came out 25 years ago, based on a manga that's almost 30 years old?
At least we're getting to this quicker than it took James Cameron
to actually make
the movie. The dude sat on those rights for the bulk of my entire existence on this planet!
I do question his decision on that, since you'd think having a more recent anime would help drum up support for his passion project, but who am I to question the ways of the man who's promised us multiple Avatar sequels? He's clearly got his finger on the pulse of the entertainment world.
Multiple Avatar sequels, of which we've gotten [checks watch] precisely none. But it's not like I can be upset when Alita turned out to be so much better than anyone could have expected.
Right? I actually hope it does well enough that Old Jim decides to switch from multiple Avatars to multiple Alitas. First, I wanted to know what your expectations were going in compared to what we got.
Well I think we all know that Hollywood's history with manga and anime adaptations doesn't exactly inspire high hopes (cough Ghost in the Shell
cough Dragon Ball
cough etc.). But on the other hand, this seemed like a (laughably expensive) passion project from a bunch of nerds instead of some studio executives looking for a quick buck, so I was tentatively optimistic. I think my exact words to a friend after seeing the trailer were "that could be good".
I believe mine were "It can't be worse than Ghost in the Shell".
It's a low bar, but thankfully it was cleared!
It's crazy how much better movies are if you care about making them!
Yeah! I mean, it ain't a perfect movie by any stretch, and it's barely even a good one by some metrics. But damn, did I ever enjoy it.
Alita manages to rollerskate past the finish line as the best anime movie so far thanks to a ton of work in production design and general script adaptation. The acting is about what you expect from a Rodriguez film though.
At least Christoph Waltz
looks natural with a trenchcoat and rocket hammer no matter who's behind the camera.
I'm so glad you brought up that poster because it's absolutely amazing. I don't think Christoph completely understands why he's holding a giant rocket-propelled hammer, but god bless him for doing it anyway.
I still think the script could have used one or six more revisions, but all things considered it packs a lot of stuff into two hours. And I could've gone for two hours more to be honest! I was having that good a time.
Complaints about anime adaptations tend to fall into a few categories. One is that they chop up the story to fit it into a movie and only highlight specific moments without the required connective tissue, another is that characters or plots are changed, and lastly is that new material is added by Hollywood and no one wants that. I've heard from others that Alita is good because it avoids each of those problems! And I'm sorry to inform all of them that they are wrong.
Yeah! It was interesting to go back and compare the movie to both the manga and the OVA
, which I hadn't read or watched in years. It's doubly interesting because the OVA
actually commits those transgressions compared to its source, while this movie seems to follow the OVA
more closely than it follows the manga.
I gave myself the Full James Cameron
Experience after watching the film. I went and watched the old ADV
release of the OVA
then read VIZ
's manga, because I figure that's the exact way he would have experienced it, and sure enough his movie is a weird unholy conglomeration of both sources that works really well!
So Alita being chopped up in adaptation is nothing new. "Alita" isn't even her original name! But it seems fitting that a story about people swapping body parts would have the parts of its story swapped out and rearranged over and over again.
There are iconic moments from both the manga and OVA
that make it into the movie, and it all fits together because Battle Angel
as a story understands that we're mostly here to see cool shit.
Well, unless that cool shit is dog murder. :(
I'm SOMEWHAT forgiving of the dog murder in the movie but ONLY because it follows up its dog murder with revenge by a pack of CYBER DOGS who serve the best character in the movie.
I love cyborg dog handler man, and he's a shining example of how the script knows where to fit cool details into the movie without breaking up the flow. I had questioned if he was an original character since he doesn't show up in the OVA or the first few volumes of the manga. He actually does show up several story arcs later, but his incorporation into this movie felt seamless. Also the dogs are named GLORY, HUBRIS, VALOR, and FURY. How awesome is that?
Fuck Yes. I didn't even know that he was a character in the manga! Coincidentally, I stopped at about the point where the movie ends. But it's good to have incentive to delve deeper.
Much like the OVA, the majority of the movie is concerned with the stories of the first two volumes (out of nine), but there are so many additions from those later volumes. The best has to be the inclusion of Motorball. It's a damn visual delight.
James is REALLY excited about Motorball. It doesn't show up in the manga until about the third volume, but the movie introduces it as soon as Alita gets up and walking.
I am a bit saddened by the later time skip of her climbing the ranks, since I'd love a sequel where we spend time with characters like this.
Yeah, I did find it funny that, for as much as Motorball got hyped up, we never see Alita in an actual Motorball match—just those tryouts where everyone immediately abandons the ball and tries to murder her instead. That's still cool, but it's not quite the same.
At least her Motorball getup looked appropriate badass in the movie.
I can't believe it's 2019 and rollerblades are somehow cool again.
There are also some things about the early '90s cyberpunk aesthetic that Hollywood will never be able to replicate exactly.
Yeah, the OVA
's aesthetic is still downright beautiful.
Oh, and Hugo is much less redeemable outside the Hollywood version. Cyborg parts are a dime a dozen, but them spinal cords get you the real money. I guess they could fit an F-bomb into the PG-13 cut but not so much this stuff.
Yo, what a good fuckin' F-bomb though.
I'd argue it's up there for best use of the F-bomb you can get in any PG-13 film.
It's a HARD PG-13 too. It's nowhere near as gory as either the manga or OVA
, but they get away with a lot of dismemberment. Just nothing like this:
Or this! Everything that's remotely cheery in cyborg hellworld is pretty much guaranteed to be absolutely horrific in the source material.
To that point, I think one of the best parts of Alita is how it holds up as depiction of class struggle, where the rich literally live in a sky city that siphons all the resources from the surface while dumping its detritus down on the poor. Zalem ain't a subtle metaphor, but these ain't subtle times.
Credit where credit is due for taking that already blatant metaphor and hammering it home by including Nova in the film, as a largely unseen Ed Norton toying with everyone's lives out of rich person boredom. Sure, Motorball is a good way to keep the masses entertained with their own dismemberment, but the real shit is such complete manipulation that the class divide self-propagates from the masses' grief and despair.
Also props for including the amazingly unsubtle "one-way ticket to Zalem" reveal.
Chiren looked much better with her skin and her impeccably coiffed hair.
God, do I miss those kinds of character designs.
Anyway, I think including Nova from the get-go was a smart way to set up later sequels, (and I hope we get them!) but the biggest thing both the movie and the OVA miss out on is Grewishka's characterization. The manga does a lot more than make him a big gross cyborg dude Alita has to fight several times.
Although there is a lot of that!
I was gonna say the biggest thing it misses out on is that Alita met Hugo while fighting a literal werewolf, but hey different strokes.
I definitely would've been fine with less Hugo and more werewolf.
Let's just say I'm glad they kept that tragic climax with the defense ring. I do agree that making Grewishka less interesting by making him a body part collector for Nova instead of just a literal brain eating mutant is quite a feat. I don't think the attempt at his emotional backstory in the manga works very well, but it does also include fighting a deathmatch with a baby hostage so point in its favor there.
It's a crime this was never animated.
Put babies in danger, you cowards!
Grewishka's a great first villain in the manga because he's the purest distillation of their society's ugliness, and the biggest festering symptom of the disparity that dictates their lives. He's a bad dude, but he's part of a much bigger problem that Alita eventually gets wrapped up in.
Also his worm form is super gross and I wanted to see more of him slithering around while quoting Nietzsche.
I appreciate that the film does give a taste of his gross dangling habits, but it's nowhere near enough considering what he can do as a robo maggot. Yukito Kishiro
has some truly weird designs that I would love to see attempted in live action.
Like this floating tiddy robot.
C'mon James! Let's see how far you can push the MPAA ratings. For real though, I hope we get to see more of Kishiro's classic ideas in potential sequels. Like Alita fighting ninjas!
There's also a sword so big that it requires its own truck.
And of course, '90s idol Alita.
Fundamentally, the Hollywood version works because it understands the source's coolness. It gives us a bunch of cool-looking cyborgs tearing each other apart in increasingly bizarre and spectacular ways, and most of the surrounding awkwardness is saved by Rosa Salazar
never giving anything less than 110%. There are warts aplenty, but Alita: Battle Angel
Even if it's the only one we ever get, we've finally got one
Hollywood adaptation that understands the appeal of its anime source. Here's to you, Alita!