Battle Angel Alita: Holy Night & Other Stories Review

‘Four New Stories Never Before Published in English’ that ‘provide insight into key Battle Angel characters and events’ plus exclusive bonus material.

‘Soon to be a Major Hollywood Motion Picture!’ proclaims the slogan on the back cover of this handsome glossy-paged, Christmas annual-sized hardback (it’s bigger than the usual trade paperback) as well as a quotation from James Cameron ‘Just a great, kick-ass story’ which honestly doesn’t inspire much confidence in the recently released film (February 2019) if that’s all the great director (who eventually reduced his role to producer and screen writer on the project) saw in the source material. The real importance of this publication for Alita fans old and new lies in the extras. These include a really useful Chronology at the front and at the end, notes by the mangaka on each of the four stories, the first three dating from 1997 and the last, 2007. It’s a treasure trove of Alita information (titled Gunnm in Japan) delivering both fascinating trivia and vital facts, with the added bonus of Yukito Kishiro’s thoughts on his work and creative processes. The mangaka reveals that in 1994 he underwent ‘an incident’ that left him ‘ravaged in health and spirit’ which almost finished his career. So he created all the first three stories here by himself without assistants.

Holy Night

This story begins at Christmas in the Scrapyard where Doctor Ido is trying to adjust to life in exile. It’s an origin story in some ways as we get to meet Ido’s black cat (whom he calls Alita) – and a foreshadowing of things to come when Ido rescues a childlike young woman from a mecha-like monster on a snowy Christmas Eve. He calls her Carol (after A Christmas Carol) and looks after her. As to who she really is…

Supersonic Finger

Alita is centre-stage here in a story that takes place after she retires from motorball. Kishiro explains that he wanted to create ‘something more bracing and exciting, with lots of action’ and he certainly delivers!

Hometown

Told with hardly any dialogue at all, this affecting little tale follows a Deckman #50 on the loose. (A Deckman is ‘a special cyborg unit installed to undertake a variety of tasks at the Factory.) It uses an organic brain as part of its processor but all human desires and will have been removed.’ The Deckman design has a rather grotesque/cartoonish human-based face with humanoid chubby hands and four feet. The underlying theme, as in all of Kishiro’s Gunnm manga is the Ghost in the Machine: to what extent can a machine with components of a human brain be said to be sentient? This story takes place in a ten-year blank period not covered in the main series when Alita was in the desert, working as a TUNED agent.

Barjack Rhapsody (2007)

This is the only one of the four to have four vibrant colour pages at the start and these make an interesting contrast with Kishiro’s strong, distinctive black-and-white illustrations in the remainder of the collection. The story takes place a few months after Phase 12 of Last Order. It’s about 14-year-old Koyomi who is living in the Scrapyard and her desire to become a reporter. Rumours abound that Master Den has not been destroyed in the Barjack Rebellion – so when Koyomi witnesses a huge armoured warrior, she assumes…

Yukito Kishiro’s distinctive art-style is consistent throughout the these four stories, even though there’s a ten-year jump from the first three to the last. All the ingredients that go into making Gunnma/Alita such a successful, gritty and exciting piece of cyberpunk storytelling are here: the rusting industrial landscapes; the merging of human brains and machines; the massive mecha and the lawless Wild West-style atmosphere that permeates this future society. The large-format allows the reader to study all the details of the post-apocalyptic world in which Kishiro has set his story as well as some of the intricacies of the cyberpunk elements. For anyone who’s already invested in the world of Alita, this well-produced, good-looking collection (translated by Stephen Paul who also handles the manga for Kodansha Comics) is an invaluable addition to their library. For newcomers to the series, howevere, this is not a good place to start – although the detailed timelines are really fascinating and useful.

Read a free extract on Kodansha Comics’ site here.

8 / 10

Sarah

Sarah's been writing about her love of manga and anime since Whenever - and first started watching via Le Club Dorothée in France...

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