Driving the Action: Battle Angel

Okay, for whatever reason, possibly because there’s a live action film due out in a few months, the old manga Battle Angel Alita is getting a kick in the pants these days.

Battle Angel Alita is the story of a girl rescued from a trashheap in a cyberpunk future. Her mad scientist rescuer, Professor Ido, gives her a new, mechanical body (technically, she’s a cyborg), but in it they learn she has Mad Fighting Skills because Reasons. (They are buried in her backstory and don’t come out early on.)



Ido (left), and since this is the anime, Gally.

There are no spoilers here: I’ve only read the first tokuban volume of the manga, although I have 2, 3, and 4 sitting here waiting for me to finish rereading Neon Genesis and to finish NaNoWriMo. (Editor’s note: Finished Eva, started volume 2. Poor Alita.)

BAA was made into two half-hour OVAs, each of which represents one of the first two manga volumes. Since I’ve only read the first volume, I only watched the first OVA, Rusty Angel.

What I found striking was that, while normally a manga volume could yield two or three half hour episodes, they tried to tell the story of the first volume in only one episode. Needless to say, a lot of fine-grained detail is missing…What happened to the baby?…but in large part the OVA is faithful in both style and plot to the original except in one critical regard: because they needed to drive the action, they added a character.

I thought that was an interesting solution to keeping the plot moving forward in what amounts to an abridgement of the story line. Much of the manga volume is occupied by the fight between Alita (she’s called Gally in the anime, which is her “real” name, so I’m going to call her Gally from now on for the sake of simplicity) and Grewcica; it goes on for pages and pages. If it had been given the same weight in the OVA, it would have gone on for about ten minutes (out of 22).

Instead, for the OVA, they invented a new character, Chiren, who is Grewcica’s ally after a fashion.

The Chiren character is an interesting storytelling device in that she acts as a sort of deus ex machina for the antagonist side of the narrative. (Can you believe I just wrote that sentence?) In the manga the story follows Grewcica around as he seeks brains to eat; it establishes his character as both powerful and depraved. He is not a nice man. He appears for a while and then disappears whenever the story goes back to Ido and Alita.

In Rusty Angel, he seeks out Chiren and she feeds him. We still learn that he eats brains, but here he is presented as dependent on Chiren.

Chiren is also seen naked; she provides fan service to the story where there was no fan service before.

At the end then, the climactic fight between Gally and Grewcica is not simply between the two of them; it is between Gally and Chiren, with Grewcica as Chiren’s pawn.

Structurally, that does two things: it sets Chiren up as a single main antagonist, with the presumption that she will continue to throw surrogates up against Gally; but is also cheapens the conflict between Gally and Grewcica which is the climax of the manga. In the manga, Gally defeats Grewcica and it is a triumph; in the anime it is just one step toward defeating Chiren.

I found this change in the story interesting because what it does is change the essential conflict underlying the story. In the original, Gally’s story is the search for the human identity that led to her junkyard existence. In the anime, it’s her fight against Chiren. That not only changes the action (that’s bad, in my opinion) but also drives the action (that’s good, in my opinion).

Chiren is a good example of how a storyteller can use a character to drive the action forward. I’m not going to say the anime is worse because it’s different; it’s just different. And that’s one thing making it interesting. In the manga Gally is internally directed; in the anime, she must focus on Chiren. That speeds things up. That’s something strong characters can do.

It’s fun. Take a look at the two side-by-side sometime.

Later: I let this sit overnight, and I have one more thought this morning: the manga, which ended up lasting for five omnibus volumes, focuses to an extent on Gally’s search for herself, who she was, how she ended up on the trash heap, why she has such mad fighting skills. The creator has made it clear that the anime was intended to be no more than an afterthought.

It looks like the solution to converting a ten volume manga to a two episode anime was to change the meta-plot, from Voyage of Discovery to Overcoming the Monster. Monster overcome? Boom. Series over. That might make the anime much less philosophical, more action-y, less Ghost in the Shell. That’s kind of sad, because it’s a pretty faithful adaptation otherwise. But we shall see.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

3 thoughts on “Driving the Action: Battle Angel

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