After defying the lowest of expectations, the live action adaptation to Gunnm, or Battle Angel Alita, has been met with critical acclaim from critics, fans, general audiences and Yukito Kishiro, the original creator himself! So, what distinguishing quality made the franchise a success? Please allow us to explain!
Themes of Identity (Having Positive Influence)
Throughout the duration of Gunnm, Alita’s (or Gally in the original Japanese version) search for her identity has been a consistent theme, and that is initially seen through the people she encounters from the very start of the series. As portrayed in all iterations, Ido, a scientist/hunter-killer, just simply finds her in a junkyard and fixes her up. Upon fixing Alita and rebooting her, naturally, she has no memory of her past and the series explores the theme of identity from numerous angles as she starts from a clean slate.
As Gunnm progresses, Alita is trying to rediscover and redefine herself based on the new lease on life Ido has given her. She shares a father/daughter relationship with Ido and they genuinely care for one another. Thanks to Ido’s positive influence, she wants to do good by being a hunter-killer of renegade cyborgs like him (after demonstrating that by muscle memory, she’s a master of Panzer Kunst, a lost cybernetic Martian martial art, which becomes the first clue to who she used to be before). Even when she wants to know who she was before she was resurrected, Alita does find the time to discover who she wants to be with her present life.
Even if she does discover who she is, the real question is which life will she choose? The life she has now? Or the life she had before? Or for better or worse, was she the same before she was resurrected? Or was she significantly different? If so, how does she deal with that? While Alita’s situation isn’t something that happens in everyday life, the series finds a way of making it relatable and makes you think in a way of what defines a person.
As she participates in a world where violence seems to be the problem and solution, readers and/or audiences see more clues to her identity, and how it creates her inner conflict. She’s good at what she does, but the problem is why chooses to be a hunter-killer (then later a motorball player, a lounge singer, a secret agent, and so on)? Does she really want to be like Ido? Does she genuinely want to help the people suffering in Scrap Iron City? Or does she really enjoy the thrill of the fight? All of these conflicting feelings are meant to represent who she is after Ido fixes her, and who she was in her past.
Due to initial Alita’s mental/emotional state upon fixing her, Ido tries to force her to be something akin to a normal teenager (though she is 3 centuries old), and doesn’t want her involved in his world of killing people. Due to her resurrection giving her the mental capacity of a teenager, the story allows more flexibility in solidifying her development from a more organic approach (and because the Japanese love teenagers being heroes because youth symbolizes freedom). Early on, we that she is capable of thinking for herself and that she wants to take control of her own life, and Ido gives her his blessing that she should be responsible for her own life after she tells him that she’s not his doll.
A Hero to the People
Like many works of sci-fi, Gunnm largely portrays class warfare. The elite live in paradise in the sky, while regular folk live on a ground ruled by thugs and mobsters. However, even when you see the lost paradise in the sky, the series further portrays more class warfare as the citizens there still live like sheep. When you’re forced to live in poverty, in one way or another, you still need a hero and Alita manages to fill that role beyond being a hunter-killer.
When Alita becomes a motorball champion, her accomplishments allows her to be recognized as a hero to the people of Scrap Iron City. In comparison to other competitors, she’s small and cute. Her design makes her the classic underdog and her achievements against cyborgs on steroids serves as a simple and yet effective symbolism as to how if you work hard and show determination, all things are possible no matter what your background is and you can defy the system.
Final Thoughts (SPOILERS)
When Alita learns of her past, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. While she solidifies her new life as a hero, she eventually learns that she previously perished as a villain and the state of the world happens to be her fault due to her being a notorious terrorist from three centuries prior (ok, it was never her intention to destroy civilization but it just happened that way, and she was manipulated)! However, this leads to a very complicated aspect to exploring identity in Gunnm; does her past, no matter how dark it is, really define who she is now?
As you can see Alita’s journey is a reincarnation/resurrection/redemption story. The revelations to her past relate to the classic argument of, “hey, it was a long time ago! Get over it!” Granted that it was, but due to people are still being affected by those events, it’s very complicated to really define how Alita should take responsibility for her actions and how she deals with them. Thankfully, she embraces who she is now and does everything she can to redeem herself. The fact that she starts from the bottom and overcomes adversity in just about every definition of it ultimately shows that her true identity is that of a hero to regular folks of Scrap Iron City, and the friends she made and lost along the way.