I know my review is late, my schedule didn’t quite work out the way I would have liked, but I’ll be damned if I don’t weigh in on this movie as AICN’s resident reformed weeaboo! Spoilers ahead!
Finally, a decent anime to live action adaptation! ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL blew me away for being just that. Who knew all you had to do was stick to the source material?! It's shocking that they didn't even Americanize any of their names, either.
The story follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), who was found by Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz), in a massive pile of trash below the floating city of Zalem. Ido takes Alita back to his place, where he puts her in a new body, as her cyborg remains were barely a head and a torso remains when he found her. She awakens in her new body with no memories and has to relearn what the whole universe is around her. Alita finds that she is now in Iron City, below Zalem, which is a cyberpunk slum full of shady scrappers and cyborgs out to steal parts from other cyborgs, and no police. (The anime more appropriately called it Scrap Iron City). After rescuing Ido in a fight, she begins to slowly regain her memories of the past, realizing that she was built to be a weapon.
The movie relatively followed the first story arc pretty closely, but more so followed the OVAs than the manga. Just between the manga and the OVAs, they had their differences. For example, Chiren hadn’t even shown up in the manga at that time. I’m only going to bring up the most relevant changes in this review for any point I am making about the movie as to not get too far off of topic.
Honestly, they kept to the story pretty truly, which is amazing. I did not see any really painful differences except for when Ido talks about his daughter, but I think the most painful part about it was just how cheesily they portrayed it. There were a lot of lines and scenes that were god awful cheesy as well. Maybe not near as cheesy as some of the lines in the dubbed OVAs, but still pretty darn up there. SO MUCH CHEESE. I was snorting at stuff throughout, but I enjoy stuff like that when it’s that degree of bad. Kind of like watching an old ROBOCOP movie. Yeah, it’s bad. But still AWESOME.
Speaking of ROBOCOP, the action in ALITA was pretty freaking spectacular. The choreography was fantastic. The CG was strangely either really good or really bad, there wasn’t much in between. I thought Rosa Salazar’s enlarged eyes looked good, but that’s coming from someone such as myself… at other times there were much more fully roboticized cyborgs who only kept their brain and face, and those faces looked like they were just poorly photoshopped onto those bodies. Either they got lazy on less important characters, or there just wasn’t any way to make that design the animators were given to look good in current CG. Either way, it doesn’t seem like there was really an excuse for poor CG when they had a budget of about $200 million.
Let's talk about some things they improved on. Story and character development! In the OVAs it was kind of hard to feel for what was happening with Alita and her friends because things were so, so very rushed. This adaptation gives you the time and reason to care about these characters. It was sad when Yugo/Hugo got "killed", it was touching to see Ido realize that Alita is her own woman and allows her to grow on her own terms. Alita and Yugo/Hugo's relationship felt much more organic in the live action adaptation in the way the chose to portray their scenes together, aside from the cheese.
There is a lot of interest surrounding the character Nova. He was not in the manga or the anime for this story arc, but I think working him in was actually a sort of improvement. By adding Nova earlier on in the story, it created another layer to the world of Alita sooner and made this single arc more appealing overall. And of course, putting him in there made it very easy to set up for a sequel.
What I found to be a real surprise is that Ed Norton of all people is playing the “main overarching villain”, Nova.-- Huh, it's just a wonder why I put that in quotes. Who knows what that means!-- Normally from what I’ve seen, Norton is rather choosy and perfectionistic about his roles, though sometimes appears in not so great stuff. What I am trying to decide on the subject of Ed Norton is whether or not it is a good sign that he agreed to play this role. Even though he played a role in SAUSAGE PARTY, I would like to be positive about it. Perhaps he just liked what he saw in the script for this movie. However, If the script for the sequel sucks, he’ll probably bail. That’s something to keep an eye on.
The live action movie was almost as brutal as the anime/manga. It might have been right up there if there was a lot more blood spurting, but we got to see some pretty intense deaths and injuries anyway. I guess the gore would have upped the rating from PG-13 to R, which probably would have killed the movie in the box office. Though, I will say in the anime we got to see that poor dog explode.
In my opinion: ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is the best anime to american live action adaptation ever. Now, that bar ain’t high, but ALITA is a huge step forward for Hollywood to do anime justice. ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL was good, but it perhaps can become great in the build up process as the sequels come out. There were 9 manga volumes total, this movie covered the first two, so we could get maybe another three movies out of this.
The only anime the manga ever saw was the two short OVA episodes that totaled in about 56 minutes together. It was kind of criminal that more anime wasn't made. According to Polygon, creator Yukito Kishiro said in an interview that he just wasn't ambitious enough to continue the anime because he was too busy working on the manga at the time. Clearly, this was something that was long awaited for even IN JAPAN. The movie hits theaters in Japan this week, and they’re probably losing their minds in anticipation. It’s out now in English speaking countries.
I am feeling positive about the future of ALITA. I’m inspired to re-read the manga and looking forward to the sequels!
Go see it: enjoy the awesome action, the cheesiness, and the cool cyborgs!