Battle Angel Alita (1993): Identity, Desperation and a World in Which I Wanted to Know More

    It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an anime, but I figured with “Battle Angel Alita” out I should better educate myself on the world before going in, which lead me to the OVA/Film that was made in 1993. It has been some time since I’ve reviewed an anime and I’m glad I went back to the 90s. The animation is simply stunning and the story is a brutal cyberpunk world with stakes. This story reminded me why I enjoy anime as an art and storytelling form in the first place, and just how much I miss hand drawn animation. I want this art form to come back. Hand drawn work is so underrated. The “Battle Angel Alita” anime is based on the manga by Yukito Kishiro and after watching this film I may have to check it out.

The film was directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi and supervised by Rintaro with the story written by Akinori Endo.

The film follows a Hunter Killer named Ido who finds an android in a Zalem (the floating city above) scrap heep and rebuilds her to be his daughter. He names her Gally and the story follows her relationship with the scavenger Yugo as well as clashing with her father as she wants to become a Hunter Killer and wrestles with her unknown past as she faces off against threats from Ido’s past and Yugo’s present.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Kauro Wada was the perfect artist for creating a soundtrack for this anime. He is able to create electronic reflection and also tension before and during fights. It reminds of me Vangelis’s “Blade Runner.” Both of these artists tap into the desperation of our characters but also their own disconnect as they face impossible situations. Cyberpunk naturally goes with electronic I think. I have yet to see a film that wasn’t at least competent. I also haven’t sought out awful cyberpunk films. I am also certain they exist.

The Animation – The animation is brutal. There is quite a bit of blood from whenever a character kills another. This works. I wouldn’t say it gratuitous because it fits the brutal cyberpunk dystopian world it takes place in. I also love the 90’s animation. You can see all the emotions in a character’s face, which in my experience you don’t always get with the going for stoic minimalist anime. This is a beautiful designed anime, even though it is unfinished in the story.

The Action – The action is brutal. Everything that happens has consequences. We see multiple heroes, villains and random people experience brutal deaths. This is the definition of dystopia and we aren’t hidden from that. The action lingers on kills as whichever character who is witnessing it has it sink in. The film is under an hour but every action that happens gives you time to take in what happens and what loss the character is facing. It is part of what makes this anime good.

Gally – In the just English dub this Alita. The dub I listened to kept her name as Gally so I’ll be using that in this review. She is one of the strongest parts of the story. She is seeking meaning in not knowing her past but also finding reasons to fight and to live. She goes against her “father” Ido to become a Hunter Killer, she loves and loses and she never stops fighting and growing. There is a reason the anime takes her name because drives the story. I wish it could have gotten more, as after the live-action her backstory is fascinating but the anime gives none of that rich lore.

Ido – Ido is her mentor, father and a Hunter Killer. He is the distant father dealing with baggage through most of the film but we see him open up at the end. This was a man cast from paradise/Zalem and the character we meet hasn’t accepted that fully. This is all me reading into his actions, but I don’t think he would have backed up Gally in the end if some part of him didn’t want to return home, especailly after the loss of his love when she was seeking the same thing. We don’t see him express it but the implantation is there is him wanting to return back, at least for revenge for what they did to the person he cared about most besides Gally.

Okay:

Yugo – Yugo is our love interest and I like how his naivety works. He thinks that his stealing cyborg parts will get him to Zalem, when a theme is no one can really get there. He loses his body and hte person he loves because of his obsession with this dream. I’m putting him as okay as the love story was a little fast and I didn’t see the dilemma of him being split between Gally and Zalem. That choice of choosing Gally before he dies should have meant so much more. The dub was good though. I believed he was the idealistic kid in love wanting a better life.

Vector – Vector is the main baddy and he is brutal but we never get who he is working for. Who is paying him? Is he just conning people and that is it? None of these questions are truly answered because the story is less than an hour long. He truly deserved more development. Not a con because at least he was developed enough that I got why people trusted his charm.

The Cons:

Unexplained Zalem – Zalem is never explained. It is implied a civilization might be up there, but in the dub I watched it was vague enough that the defenses could be automated. This was bad storytelling. A clear answer would have given so much more development to Yugo and Vector at the very least. The city is always present in scenes of the cityscape and is the climax of the film but in the end it doesn’t mean anything. This really hurt the overall story.

Gally’s Unknown Past – We never learn who Gally is, not a hint or anything. There was no point to this as even some detail would have given her complexity in the choices she makes beyond being a good person. Ido hints at knowing more but we never learn who she was before she was found in the trash heap. I say this as someone who thought she was one the strongest parts of this hour long long story. The main character needs some deeper development at least. Jason Bourne got more of that in his first film.

For fans of 90’s anime you should check this film out. For how much it is underdeveloped in regards to Gally’s past it gives Ido and the character dreams and conflict in the present a good exploration. This film made me see the live-action adaption, which will be a future review. Besides the animation and action, it worth seeing it for the world the characters inhabit and how they interact with it. This cyberpunk dystopian is brutal and the fact that our characters can choose to be good or are good means something. In this world choices have consequences that give weight to the characters.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solidly good anime, worth your time.

 

Terminator Franchise Retrospect Reviews

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    This is the summer of franchises and this being a movie blog is giving me a chance to explore some of the biggest science fiction franchises, as science fiction is one of my passions. I’m not going to lie that the whole idea of franchises is a bit troublesome. If a story never dies it will eventually run it’s course and run out of ideas. This is one of that the MCU has to worry about especially now too, as it doesn’t matter how many new characters you introduce if the same plots keep getting recycled. But I am not here to rail on franchises as I am at least interested enough to explore “The Terminator Franchise” and later on the “Jurassic Park Franchise” before I see “Terminator Genisys” and “Jurassic World.”

    This Post-Apocalyptic world is a fascinating one, even if the A.I.’s destroying humanity is a tad of an overused trope. In regards to popular culture this franchise started the trope in the public mind and film, which other films would use later. It is also noteworthy for having one of the greatest female action heroes in Sarah Connor.

       This week is going to be focused on the “Terminator Franchise” that James Cameron spawned in the 1980s. In the past I have seen “The Terminator” and a while back “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” was a  favorite film, I am curious if it will still hold up. I have not seen “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” or “Terminator Salvation” yet, but because I am doing this blog will give them a fair hearing to see if they are as terrible as the critics were saying or simply enjoyable as some of my friends said when the films first came out.

       This will be a chance to explore some of the tropes of the series and the characters of Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, especially since “Genisys” is giving us a whole new approach. I will not be reviewing “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” as I just want to stick to the films for this week. I do plan on coming back to the show at some point and giving it episodic review or a review of the series as a whole, or both…depending on how it catches my interest and what people want to see.

     Until that time, I’ll be back with reviews of the films in “The Terminator Franchise” before I end on “Genisys” and rate them from worst to best.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981): Discovering the Reason to Fight for Humanity

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      I hated the first “Mad Max” film but I got to say, after watching “The Road Warrior” I am giving this series another chance. What initially sparked it was a friend requesting I see the rest of the series months ago and after “Fury Road” being released. I plan to see the film soon so I plan on doing the reviews of the other two films of “Mad Max” that I haven’t reviewed. Those being this film here “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome,” both of which I’ve heard great things about and in regards to “The Road Warrior,” it deserves all the praise it has received. So much about this movie works, from the action, characters and the plot which I will get into greater detail later on.

     Here is my review of the first “Mad Max” film.: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/mad-max-1979-stupid-action-with-no-interesting-characters/

     “The Road Warrior,” was directed by George Miller who was also one of the writers. The other writers were Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant. The film was produced by Byron Kennedy.

     The story picks up where the last film left off with the narrator recounting how the Cold War lead to the destruction of fuel leading humanity to become like animals fighting for what little remained. From here we pick up with Max (Mel Gibson) who after capturing the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) who was trying to kill him, learns about a town full of oil. He travels there and after saving a man from The Humungus’s (Kjell Nilsson) gang tries to make a deal for fuel but soon finds himself becoming their protector and having to choose between continuing to be alone or fighting for something beyond contracts.

The Pros: The Stakes – The stakes are high, oil is limited and everyone uses vehicles. The Facility that has the oil plans to escape to bring it North where there is talk of making a new civilized world but they are trapped because The Humungus has such a huge gang. These stakes force the selfish Max and Gyro Captain to think beyond themselves and to see a bigger picture again.

The Action – The action is awesome! Unlike “Mad Max” where they went on forever, the action here only goes on as long as it needs too, if someone is going to get caught or killed they won’t linger on it like in “Mad Max” which leads me to believe that Miller had grown a lot as a director by the time he made this film. The final chase where Max and a few warrior are driving the fuel truck is fantastic though as we see one truck used to devastating affect against a much larger force.

The Story – The story is told by a mysterious narrator recounting the past and in the end we learn the narrator was one of the folks Max saved which changed the character to later become the leader of his people as he was shaped by the events and how the people changed in coming together against The Humungus.

The Characters – The characters in this are all memorable, partially because they are all mad and have been changed radically by the losses they’ve experienced in their lives but also because the actors do a great job with the characters they were given.

Wez – Wez is The Humungus’s Dragon and is a gay villain who is actually threatening! So often in fiction if a villain is implied to be gay or is actually gay they are made to be weak and shamed by those around them. Not Wez, Wez rocks as a warrior and fights to the end. He wins almost every fight he gets into and survives up until he’s fighting a truck on his own. He also has a partner the Feral Kid kills which sets off his vendetta against the Facility and Max to an even greater degree. Vernon Welles does a great job.

Gyro Captain – When we first meet the Gyro Captain he is holding an arrow to Max’s head but is only stopped by Max’s dog. From there he is Max’s prisoner and servant until he proves his own in combat and makes the choice to stay with the Facility Survivors which leads to them eventually making him their leader. His arc is coming to care about more than just those who can get him something like gasoline or sex and in the end he risks it all for strangers which is a big reason he becomes their leader. Bruce Spence gives a lot of depth to this mad character.

The Warrior Woman – The Warrior Women is the main military leader in the Facility and she doesn’t trust Max until Max proves his value. After she doesn’t end up with him, which made me happy. Her arc is learning to trust but that isn’t emotionally manipulated into romance. She dies in the final battle but not before taking out a bunch of The Humungus’s men. Virginia Hey is wonderful in the role and I wish her character had got more screentime.

Pappagallo – Pappagallo is the idealistic though in some ways corrupt leader of the Facility. He wants to lead them North to a better land where they can make a world without dealing with raiders and rapists who own the wasteland. In the end he risks everything for this dream including his life when the Humungus kills him. His con is he doesn’t take no for an answer when Max turns down his dream quite a few times. He shows that he is a zealot and is at least somewhat delusional. Michael Preson brings great subtly to the role.

Max – Mel Gibson’s character actually has an arc in this film! In the beginning he is just after fuel and survival and can’t see anything beyond that. After staying in the Facility though he is willing to risk his life so that they can transport the fuel to rescue. He loses his dog in this and nearly his life to Wez but he never takes things personally. Part of me wonders how much he is able to feel at this point, since the empathy we see him present seems learned. He’s forgotten who he was and only exists as a survivor until the purpose he receives in fighting for others  though he does not stay with them, showing he is still searching for a reason to live for.

The Humungus – Kjell Nilsson is fantastic as this narcissistic madman! He’s the king of rock and roll and the Ayatollah of the Wasteland. He is articulate too (like Bane) for speaking behind a metal hockey mask. He is also dangerous too and he and his forces kill most of the Facility’s defenders in the final battle with the Truck. He himself kills Pappagallo. What an awesome villain. He preys on their fears and is evil and knows it. Also he has a great name. The Humungus is such a great villain name.

The Feral Kid – The Feral Kid is the future narrator who later leads the group. Throughout the film he doesn’t talk and only howls, growls and grunts. Eventually he learns speech in the North though recounts the story. Max was a such a major part of his life and inspired him to fight and lead and through it find his humanity again. Emil Minty does a good job in the role.

The Messages – The main messages were those who control fuel control the world, and that that drive for it makes men savages, which we see to this day. Resources drive humanity into savagery which “The Road Warrior” expresses beautifully through Humungus and his gang and Max and the Gyro Captain. The other message is that other people can give us a reason to look beyond ourselves and that no matter how horrible humanity can be, there are those worth fighting for.

Okay: Backstory – The world is so lived in this wasn’t as big of an issue for me as the characters in their mad forms were compelling already but I still wish we could have got what drove the Humungus and Pappagallo to be who they were.

The Cons: The Soundtrack – The music isn’t memorable at all, I’d call it forgettable standard fair but it left no affect on me.

  This is a really good film and solves a lot of the problems I had with the first film. Max is a compelling character this time, The Humungus is a fantastic villain, the minor characters have quirks but don’t feel like caricatures as they change and grow throughout the plot and there are actual stakes! I cared about what happened to the members of the Facility and what happened Max. This I believe is due to the acting and writing that were so great in this film. Suffice to say I can’t wait to see “Beyond Thunderdome” and “Fury Road” after this.

Final Score: 9 / 10.