Manga series Battle Angel Alita first began in 1990 and ran for five years. The sci-fi action series by Yukito Kishiro was well-received by all except Kishiro himself. Since the original run, he has shared that he had to end it in a way he was unhappy with. This is the reason why he returned to the series in 2001 and started up a continuation of the story which is known as Battle Angel Alita: Last Order.
In Last Order, we are presented with Alita as she suddenly awakens, confused as to where she is and what has happened. She knows she is a cyborg and that she was killed – but what led up to this point? Why is she now back among the living? She quickly discovers that the man she thought she killed is the one who resurrected her. Evil genius Desty Nova has brought her back to life for some inexplicable purpose. It’s all very suspicious, but Alita doesn’t let it phase her. Instead, she wonders what has happened in the many years that passed during her death. She needs to know if her friends are still alive and also what her own purpose is.
This soul searching is enthralling because it brings many questions to mind. For one, what does it mean to be human? Alita’s body is composed of primarily synthetic elements and yet she is able to feel compassion and sadness. Others question her authenticity but she strives to find her own truth in a world that has changed. Now, most adults exist thanks to computer chips instead of brains. Those without brain chips are now the enemy because they can’t be controlled.
Over the course of the many chapters within omnibus 1 and 2, there is a great deal Alita has to contend with. She fights to find her friend, to discover the truth, and help others and need. As the plot deepens, she must help with a civil war between brain chip adults and cast away “organic” children. As far-fetched as it seems, there is a great deal of effort put into making these sci-fi fantasies feel real.
The world that Kishiro has created for his manga is massive. If you have never read the original run of Battle Angel Alita then it will likely seem overwhelming at first. With that said, newcomers can feel safe with immediately picking up the omnibus volumes. Put simply, the story may have a great deal of nuance, but it’s easy to get the gist of things early on. As the story continues, characters discuss topics that help to fill in the rest.
Our main protagonist is Alita – previously known as Yoko. Despite the appearance of a young woman, she is a cyborg that houses intense discipline and skill when it comes to fighting. Thanks to her mechanized body, she also manages to have incredible amounts of power housed within her. Even giants fall at her feet. Although she is an undeniable badass, she has other facets which help separate her from other manga heroes.
For example, at one point Alita joins a fighting tournament. It’s during this series of fights that she must assess her motives for fighting. Despite being an incredible warrior, skilled in the ancient art of Panzer Kunst, she is still given a serious dose of humanity. In a way, she is the most human of the cast. No matter her associations with cyborgs and flesh and blood beings she manages to reflect on the importance of life. Of course, that doesn’t stop her from being an impossibly good fighting machine. It just makes her far more interesting than anyone else.
The rest of the cast has their own stories, but serve primarily as anchors for Alita. Early on, she comes across her clones who exhibit completely different personalities. The sixth clone, Sechs, is a hardened battler, who fights for for her right to exist even as a clone. Later, Sechs becomes more of a comedy figure, but is later able to recapture a more interesting narrative thread as the story progresses. As for the other clones revealed so far, they are all about comedy relief and have no backstory to impart as of yet.
There is a whole team of people who are involved in translating and adapting Last Order for the Western audience. The primary translation was handled chiefly by Lillian Olsen and David Ury, with additional translation offered by Ben Applegate. From there, Fred Burke adapted the work. Why might there be a need for a group of people to handle it? One reason might because this series is ongoing and massive. After all, each omnibus is some 600 pages and the series is far from over.
One of the likely reasons has to do with the many references split between martial arts, ancient religions, and scientific theories. All of these items are also explained in detail via Kishiro’s notes in the margins. Without a good team on board, the adaptation of Last Order would have been incredibly easy to screw up. As it stands, everything flows and is explained thoroughly. Nothing seems out of place in English, even if some of the scientific discussions fly over some readers’ heads.
Even if Last Order were judged purely by its narrative it would be a resounding success. What amps it up to the next level is the stunning artwork. Page after page readers are greeted with incredibly detailed and realistic depictions of characters and scenes. It almost seems impossible that the art style doesn’t waver and continues to look so good throughout – but it does!
Violence is depicted as fast and depraved as it needs to be. Death is depicted quite often, and painfully so, with spurts of dark black blood across the page. Much of the strongest art comes during fights, as it is there that we see characters in dynamic poses. These scenes are also not necessarily choreographed so you can even tell who is winning. It’s all about emphasising the dynamic speed and deadliness of all combatants.
Beyond that, the rest of the world is depicted with a determined attention to detail. As much of the story takes place in space, you need sufficiently space-age tech to furnish the world with. From the mangled bodies of cyborgs to the design of space stations, everything looks astonishing. It definitely appears that there was no aspect of Last Order that was allowed to be lesser than the rest.
The Battle Angel Alita: Last Order Ominus 1 and 2 show an incredibly strong start to a manga seires. After only a few pages, readers are easily hooked by the compelling lead character and the dilemmas she faces. Then there are the intriguing people she meets, gripping battles she must fight, and everything else that help pull it into a cohesive package. Even after 1,200 pages you’ll be desperate to know what comes next, as the 2nd book ends on a cliffhanger. In the meantime, either read each chapter as it arrives or wait for the release of the third omnibus.
Publisher: Kodansha Comics