So, after 28 years we have reached the final arc of Alita’s story in Mars Chronicle but has it been worth the wait? I've spoken at length about how the initial 9 graphic novel run of Battle Angel Alita was one of the finest sci-fi tales of all time but the sequel, Last Order, was meandering and overlong at 19 graphic novels. So, does Mars Chronicle return the series to greatness or does it end on a whimper, continuing the downward trajectory with a creator past his best and out of cohesive ideas?
Well, we will have to wait a while to find out but I've read the first graphic novel of the Mars Chronicle, which has been finally translated from the Japanese some 3 years after its initial release, and based on this novel the last arc shows signs of promise.
The novel begins by taking us back to Alita's origin as a young orphaned 80% cyborg child named Yoko living on the war-torn surface of Mars. Yoko and firm friend Erica are brought to an orphanage and start to make friends after a hostile start with young Queen Ninon. The town comes under attack by an army and a battle ensues. All that Yoko and Erica know is destroyed and their friends are killed. It’s exquisitely paced and dramatic, as well as tragic and heartbreaking as the frequent deaths are accompanied by genuine pangs of loss and heartbreak. It’s a real skill for the author to have the reader empathise with some of the characters, who we may only have had the briefest of introductions to.
As this is a flashback to Alita’s origin, we know that she and Erica survive, which removes some of the tension, but Yukito Kishiro ensures that no-one else is safe so anyone can die. He also cranks up the mystery behind how Alita learnt her Panzer Kunst skillset and through the political intrigue on Mars, created an interesting multi-layered story.
The original run of Battle Angel Alita is one of my favorite manga ever. Last Order was a sprawling mess which lost its momentum but still had some great ideas. Mars Chronicle could be a return to form; the setup is all there, a child prophesied for greatness, an alien landscape which is hostile and strange, and the promise of closure at finally finding out who Alita/ Yoko actually is and why she fights in the legendary martial art style. The first volume of Mars Chronicle is good but not extraordinary but I am pleased to be back in the Battle Angel Alita universe, I just hope it keeps its focus and provides long term fans with the closure they want and need. After what will be probably over 30 years I so hope Kishiro sticks the landing of this often masterful series.