Sunday, February 12, 2012

Battle Angel Anime Review

Battle Angel
ADV Films
Complete Collection - 1 disc
70 min. - 2 episodes
$29.98 (1999)
ISBN 702727000621
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Hiroshi Fukutomi
Studio - KSS, Madhouse, MOVIC

Synopsis: The floating city of Zalem is a utopia in the clouds.  Scrap Iron City has grown up around the garbage heap of Zalem and feeds from the refuse of the privileged.  Ido is a former citizen of Zalem and a gifted cybernetics doctor now residing among the filth in the city below.  He scrapes together a living by repairing broken cyborgs and one day salvages a cyborg girl from among the trash.

Zalem the floating city
He rebuilds the girl and names her Gally.  She becomes his helper and eventually like a daughter to him.  A boy named Hugo does odd jobs around the city and befriends Gally.  His secret dream is to save enough money to buy his way into Zalem one day. 

The city is a dangerous place with spine thieves and deadly criminals waiting around every corner.  Everyone lives in squalor with the sight of Zalem hanging over their heads.  Ido's disgraced former partner Chiren appears in the city and begs him to help her get back to Zalem.  She ends up working for the cyborg gladiator games and harbors a deep resentment for Ido. 

Chiren will do anything to get back up to Zalem
 Ido and Hugo are both hiding deadly secrets and Gally will sacrifice her innocence to protect the people she loves.  Hidden within her tiny frame is a startling power and she is destined to become a true "Hunter Warrior"! 

Pros: Cult classic, great characters, cool action scenes, decent music, poignant ending

Cons: Only two episodes - too short and too much story crammed into the limited time, disappointing to diehard fans of the manga, English dub is not good
Gally goes berserk

Mike Tells It Straight: My experience with Battle Angel (aka Gunnm or Battle Angel Alita) goes back to the mid-'90s when my art instructor Barron Storey at the San Francisco Academy of Art gave a VHS tape of Japanese anime as a class contest prize.  On the tape was Battle Angel, the Fist of the North Star movie (not the live action travesty), Genocyber, and Tetsuo: The Iron Man.  It blew my mind and cemented a love for anime started with the 1985 airing of Robotech.  Watching this anime again after all those years brought back a lot of fond memories from art school. 

The story is pure cyberpunk and incredibly simple yet compelling.  Gally's character is heartwarming and plucky.  All of the characters are very well done with clear motivations and defining moments.  The ending is still emotionally moving after all these years.  I consider the poignant moments in anime as the true elevation of the medium (particularly the depiction of death and duty in a mature manner - Grave of the Fireflies, Barefoot Gen, and Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket come to mind).  Battle Angel has that depiction and I've loved this story since first watching it over fifteen years ago. 

The eyes of a Hunter Warrior
 It's based on a long-running manga series with its own cult following.  Those diehard fans of the manga will be sorely disappointed by the anime.  I'm pretty sure Yukito Kishiro, the original creator, was not happy with the story translation and another anime attempt has not been made. For years an American film version directed by James Cameron has been rumored and is unofficially expected in 2016.  Cameron is supposed to be a huge fan of the manga and we'll hope he can do the story justice.   

The anime butchers the manga storyline, but is a wonderful gateway to steer people towards the manga and a truly classic cyberpunk series.  I hadn't read the manga and found Battle Angel to be really great.  Imagine how good the manga is going to be.  Check out both, but start with the anime first and you won't be too disappointed.

Classic image from Gunnm - this is the Battle Angel



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