Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – True to the Anime in a Rich World

In my experience, it is bad to adapt anime into live-action films. You either end up with dumpster fires like “Dragonball Z,” or they are passable as with the first “Deathnote” movie. Live-action isn’t friendly to animation, and that runs true in the United States, too. I didn’t think “Beauty and Beast” was good, and I’ve not been a fan of Disney adapting more animation in the same way. Animation has a freedom of form that you don’t get in CGI, or human actors, and that is true here. So the question I ask is, “why did this work for me?” It works because they delved into the lore where the initial anime didn’t. I can see why this was in development hell for a long time, and this time it was worth it.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is a cyberpunk dystopian action film that was adapted from the manga by Yukito Kishiro.The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez (an action director I’m a fan of), and written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. James Cameron was also a producer, and you can see his care with CGI in this.

Alita is a cyborg seeking to discover her. Her adopted father, Ido, brings her back to “life” upon finding her in the wastes below the last sky city of Zalem years after The Fall, a war that devastated Earth 300 years prior. From here she must face multiple threats as she protects the people she loves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Tom Holkenborg does a wonderful job honoring the original anime’s soundtrack. You can hear the “Blade Runner” inspiration, while it also manages to develop a voice and feel of its own. The music captures the sci. fi. epic past, as well as the present desperation of the characters.

The World – The anime touches on a rich world that the live-action film explores more extensively. There are hundreds of years of history. We learn about the war with the Sky Cities, and how Zalem became the last one. We learn about a cyborg military force from Mars, and how they nearly succeed before being defeated. We see the wastes where there is a gladiatorial competition of motorball where the winner of the tournament is rewarded by going to Zalem. I loved this world. It made me want to read the manga, and learn more. I hope this film gets sequels, so they can further explore it.

The Action – The action is amazing. This is a film where you feel every punch. For example, there is a villain who Alita easily beats while defending Ido. He returns later, and it takes all she has to beat him. She loses so much of her cyborg body but fights on. I was never bored during this film. I even thought motorball was handled well, given how they presented the action with so much color, movement and increasing stakes as players tried to kill her. The action is truly one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Ido – Christoph Waltz is wonderful as Ido. He is a scientist, and Hunter-Warrior, exiled from Zalem with his wife, whom his relationship with ended after their daughter was killed. We see him wanting that second chance in Alita as he gives her his daughter’s name. Their arc is him treating her as her own person, and respecting just how powerful she is. She is the protector and he is the “father.” He reactivated her and gave her the cyborg body he was going to give his real daughter. Through a set of Berserker Armor he Ido gives Alita, she discovers her past as a soldier for the United Republics of Mars (URM). Waltz is an award winning actor for a reason and this film is a great example of why.

Alita – Rosa Salazar does a fantastic job as Alita. She is a woman seeking out her past, and also discovering her own humanity as a sentient android. We see her fall in love with and save Hugo, only to later lose him. We see her relationship with her “father” Ido become one of partnership, and family, rather than her being treated like a child. We see her discover what it means to fight the greater fight, as losing Hugo reminds her of the larger fight against Zalem and the man behind the scenes Nova. Nova has been the one manipulating Vector, Ido’s ex-wife Dr. Chiren, and taking all the remains of humans he finds worthy below. You can see why Alita wants to end him, and when she discovers where her fight truly is, it is empowering and also sets up possible sequels.

Implications of the War – From what we can tell the URM lost the war and Earth stayed oppressed by Nova and Zalem. The world of “Alita: Battle Angel” is broken, and the desperation of people makes it so sociopaths like Nova can easily manipulate them into tools he can use to strengthen his city. The war ended but the fact that Alita survives implies that the old way may return, especially if she becomes a uniter of the people below Zalem.

Okay:

Minor Characters – Hugo, Vector, Dr. Chiren and a few others are fine. In the case of Vector, they end up often being possessed by Nova, so we never really learn who Vector is. Dr. Chiren has some good moments with Ido, and her choice to save Hugo is powerful. Ultimately her character underdeveloped. Hugo is okay, I liked him more in the anime because he was a bit more naive. In this film he is more grown up, which makes what he does as a mercenary all the more revolting. He does leave, and it costs him his life, but I felt he needed more development. I didn’t care about him nearly as much as I did Dr. Chiren.

The Promise of Nova – Nova is a powerful force and we know how oppressive Zalem is but we never learn who Nova is. I put him as okay because the mystery gives potential for a compelling backstory, and he could become much more of a threat than he is in this. Edward Norton is extremely talented and plays Nova. There was some missed opportunity in his role. He is a good enough constant threat in the film, and I like that he’s been around since the war with URM. Hopefully his story pays off in sequels.

For any fans of anime or post-apocalyptic cyberpunk sci. fi., this is a film worth checking out. I’ve been wanting to see a solidly good anime adapted to film for some time, and it looks like this time they managed to do it. The acting is solid, the action is great, the story is compelling and it is true to the anime while expanding on it and enriching the world. This film is a great example of adaptation done right.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

“Psycho-Pass” Season 1 – A Masterful Future Dsytopian Anime

Shorewood Blu-ray Ocard

   “Psycho-Pass” is one of the best dystopian, sci. fi. cyberpunk animes I have ever watched since “Ghost in the Shell.” Both go into philosophy, psychology and full development of characters and their motivations. The fact that Gen Urobuchi is the writer of the series helps as “Madoka Magica” and “Fate/Zero” are both amazing projects that he was also the writer behind. Everything I have watched by him has been consistently great and Season 1 of “Psycho-Pass” is no exception.

      The series was directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani and Katsuyuki Motohiro and written by Gen Urobuchi.

    The story takes place in a future dystopia where everyone’s lives are controlled by the Sibyl System that scans the Psycho-Pass of every individual to decide if they are criminals or need therapy. We follow Akane who is a rookie cop on the Public Safety Bureau who works with latent criminal enforces and is pulled into the greater events of the world.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is absolutely beautiful. Production I.G. did a great job designing and producing this show and it flows seamlessly and doesn’t have any moments where the tone is inconsistent.

The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack feels like an 80’s sci. fi. and it is wonderful in how it captures the moments of terror or reflection. Yugo Kanno did a fantastic job.

The Writing – Gen Urobuchi is a fantastic writer and this show is no exception. All of our characters go through arcs and the world where everything takes place in changes over the course of events.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the show and what make it a great. I’m curious how they are going to handle Season 2 given the changes that happen over the course of the show.

Unit One – Unit One are the main folks we follow who Akane is the rookie in. They all have great relationships to one another and change each other in different ways over the course of the story.

The Sibyl System – This system is creepy as it made from the minds of murders and criminals and countless others that work as one God-like Mind. There is a creepyness to it and it’s power and influence over others is to the point that it shapes what careers people take and how justice is met out.

Inspector Nobuchika – The Inspector is a bit unstable and is dealing with the fact that his father was made an enforcer. His arc is making peace with his old man as he eventually finds himself as an enforcer when he is unable to calm his hue and in doing so becomes a latent criminal. He goes through the most loss in this series.

Tomoni Masaoka – He is the Inspector’s old man is one of the best characters on the show. He’s always wresting with the why and is a fantastic philosopher. Sadly he doesn’t make it as Shogo eventually takes him out with a grenade when he grabs it to protect his son. What a great character, he is the wisest of the group and has the greatest influence on Akane.

Kagari – Is the young enforcer who was never given the choice as he was dubbed a latent criminal at age 5. He hates the Sibyl System and the murders he hunts and is the joker of the group. He sadly dies when he discovers the truth of how the Sibyl System runs and what it is. Though his legacy lives on as he is the martyr for the greater truth.

Yayoi – Yayoi has the least development though it is cool how she was once a punk rocker and I love her relationship with Karanomori the tech. She is the bitter perspective within the group and is the calmest. Through the series she comes to respect Akane and trust.

Karanomori – I love this character, she’s my favorite character on the show besides Tomoni. She’s a red dress, a cigarette and has hooked up with most of the folks in the office. She doesn’t care and even though she’s trapped being a latent criminal, finds freedom in how she can help hunt down criminals and in the relationships she forms at the office. She’s super cool and I can’t wait to get to know her character more.

Shinya Kogami – Shinya is the standard bitter ex-cop out hunting Shogo and it’s personal. He decides to kill in the end and leave the system behind and we gather he finally finds the freedom he was always seeking. He’s a bit of a cipher as his being emotionally scarred is so much a part of his identity.

Akane – Akane is the rookie who becomes leader of Unit One by the end of the series as she is trusted enough by Sibyl that they approach her and show her who they are and we see her take control of the Unit as it is falling apart as well as her tactful forms of resistance against Sibyl throughout the series. She’s a great protagonist and I look forward to seeing what she does next season.

The Villains – Besides the Sibyl System Shogo is the main baddie and the different pawns he uses like his hacker friend, a serial killing girl and a man who replaced his entire body with a machine. They are all compelling in their own ways.

Shogo Makishima – Shogo is a great villain. He’s a bit of an anarchist, a bit of the joker and an all around dangerous character who will turn on his allies just as easily as anyone else. He actually hurts the Sibyl System when he destroys one of the member brains. He wants the total collapse of society but is stopped by Unit One. He’s well read, strong and smart and his conversations are some of the best in any anime.

The Philosophy – Philosophy is key to this series as Plato, Descartes and countless other theories of the self are expressed and explored by different characters through the series. This is what really sets it above most other action animes as it doesn’t just focus on one thing but explores so many aspects of what meaning is.

Free Will and Choice – This is a major theme as the Sibyl System decides everything for you unless it believes you’d be apt at different ideas. We see this in how characters are used and how what it means to be a person is explored.

Tyranny and Freedom – This is another theme brought up by the Sibyl System’s existence as it is full tyrannical control and with it stability. Characters are a slave to it and it sees it’s main purpose as making society healthy and happy. The show explores this extremely well through the eyes and thoughts of the Enforcers, Akane and Shogo.

I highly recommend this series, or at least Season 1 of it. If you like Gen Urobuchi work like me this is easily one of his best and I think when I do eventually  re-watch it I’ll discover even more about the ideas, themes and characters than I did before. There was nothing to dislike about this show. But I will give a warning that it does graphic and brutal times so it certainly is not a show for everyone.

Final Score: 10 / 10