‘Battle Angel Alita’ and Yet Another Internet Meltdown

Since the live-action Ghost in the Shell didn’t completely bomb, it should probably come as no surprise that a live-action Battle Angel Alita is now in the works, based on another manga from the same era.

For whatever reason, the movie will run under the less elegant title Alita: Battle Angel.

Sigh.

Ghost in the Shell first appeared in 1989, and Battle Angel Alita appeared in 1990. Both are cyberpunk. Both are set in dystopian futures. Both are ultraviolent, though Alita moreso.

This title comes from before I really got interested in manga or anime, but it so happens that I picked up the first volume of Battle Angel Alita a few months back. It’s a quick read, disgusting but fun, kind of a Japanese RoboCop about a sassy cyborg girl who rips apart cyborg villains with cartoonishly exaggerated blood and guts. It represents an earlier age in manga, a time when Blade Runner and William Gibson were casting long shadows across sf. Similar in concept but without the depth (or pretentiousness, depending on how you choose to view it), it is a sort of poor-man’s version of Ghost in the Shell.

As a rule, American live-action adaptations of manga or anime are duds. It should be no surprise that Hollywood filmmakers are approaching these mediums cautiously, selecting titles that they probably feel are relatively safe, since they’re among the “classics.” In fact, they’re apparently very cautious: word on the street is that James Cameron has been trying to make an Alita movie for around twenty years, but apparently only got the green light just now.

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s anime selections are rather dated: the world has moved on, and the cyberpunk of the ’80s and early ’90s now feels almost quaint. I have a gadget in my pocket as formidable as anything Gibson described in Neuromancer, and I didn’t even have to have major surgery to acquire it.

Looking at the preview, I will say it looks rather generic. Too many similar titles exist now, so that was probably inescapable. The movie is also probably going to be rated PG-13, so the violence will be very much toned down from the manga. Here’s a good breakdown:

What has everyone in my Twitter timeline freaking out is the way they decided to do Alita’s eyes. They actually gave her anime eyes (but refrained, I notice, from giving her ’80s anime hair). I think this is likely to backfire. Cartoon characters look okay with huge eyes, and large eyes can also be used to emphasize characters’ expressions. But when you stick eyes like that on a real-looking person, you head into uncanny valley territory.