After a 4 year wait, (at least here in the West) Battle Angel Alita is back with the final arc in Mars Chronicle. The series, created by Yukito Kishiro, seemed to have run its course.
The first series, simply titled Battle Angel Alita (Gunnm in Japan) is a masterful piece of work which is an essential sci-fi read. Over 9 graphic novels we follow the adventures of Alita, a young cyborg girl who is discovered broken but with her brain intact by Dr Daisuke Ido. Ido is delighted with his find and takes Alita to his home and repairs her. Over time there develops a father-daughter bond but Alita has amnesia and is unhappy as she wants to find out more about her mysterious past. Over time she learns that she knows the powerful 'Panzer Kurst' fighting technique and enters the Motorball Tournament, a Running Man style gauntlet filled with cyborgs and other mechanical marvels. Over the course of 9 graphic novels Alita learns more about her past and the unfair society she lives in.
The original series peaks with the fifth graphic novel, Angel of Redemption but the rest of the series is still very high quality. The series continues for another 4 graphic novels and Angel's Ascension is a stunning conclusion to Yukito Kishiro's gritty cyberpunk masterpiece. In the end Alita finally discovers the ghastly secret of Tiphares, saves the floating city and the Scrapyard from destruction and finds love.
When I first read the series I loved the ending and thought that Kishiro had tied up the series wonderfully.
Then it was announced that the series would continue as Kishiro felt that the story wasn't finished yet. In a redux Last Order continued from Volume 9 of Battle Angel Alita, but diverged from the original ending. It ignored the transformation of Ketheres into a nanotechnological space flower, Alita's subsequent transformation into a flesh-and-blood human girl and her reunion with Figure, her love. Instead it takes place after Alita is killed by a doll bomb in the final volume of Battle Angel Alita.
Last Order is 19 graphic novels long and begins when Alita is resurrected by Desty Nova's nanotechnology in the floating city of Tiphares. The city's dark secrets are brutally exposed, but it turns out to be a small part of a complex world. Going into space with new and old companions alike, to look for her lost friend Lou Collins and to find out more about her forgotten past, Alita is caught up in an interplanetary struggle between the major powers of the colonized solar system. Along the way, she forms an alliance with three of the Alita Replicas who have now begun to think for themselves, an unsavory superhacker, and Nova himself when she enters the Zenith of Things Tournament (Z.O.T.T.), a fighting competition held every ten years. During the course of the story, more background about the setting of Battle Angel Alita that was not disclosed in the prior series is revealed, such as how the Earth emerged from a cataclysmic impact winter that wiped out most of the population. The series ends as Alita’s friends all converge to find out what happened to her after the Z.O.T.T. ending and roots break out across the solar system. The last two graphic novels act as an epilogue, showing us the lives of Alita’s friends as well as a final reveal of the protagonist that hinted at more to come...
From the sound of it Last Order sounds like more of the same and then some, but the story was extremely slow moving and the fighting so excessive that it actually ground the plot to a complete halt several times and over multiple volumes of the graphic novels. Many of the volumes were a chore to wade through as we were introduced to new characters and then told overly long back stories that no-one was really interested in. The final two volumes were especially disappointing for long term fans of the series, who had been following Alita's adventures for over 24 years.
There was a brief hiatus as Kishiro collected his thoughts but in 2015 he announced he was returning with a new Alita series, exploring her origins on Mars.
With Battle Angel Alita: Martian Chronicles I hope Kishiro regains his mastery over telling a griping, savage, brutal story expediently. I loved the first 9 graphic novels as they were brilliantly executed; moments of extreme violence were interspersed with deep introspective philosophising and beauty. With his expanded character roster and overwrought world building in Last Order I believe Kishiro lost sight of the story and heart and that was to the detriment of the series. There was no sense of urgency that made us empathise with Alita’s plight to find out who she was and where she came from. I am extremely excited for the Martian Chronicles but also cautiously optimistic. Here's hoping it finds Kishiro back on track and Alita back in fighting for form. A review will soon follow so keep updated!