Battle Angel takes the first two books of its respective manga series, chops the stories down to their foundations and splices them together to make an arguably superior rendition of the franchise. This might not sit well with hardliners who vehemently despise alterations in what is already considered a sublime work of dystopic cyberpunk fiction, but when is change ever met without resistance? Battle Angel is as grim, disturbing, and unrelentingly violent as its manga predecessor, and our sympathy for Gally, the tragic hero, is compounded by the fact that her cries for mercy are no longer mediated through comic book speech bubbles, but have become audible and grating and visceral.
Gally, doing what she does best.
Gally (known as Alita to Western audiences) is little more than a cybernetic head and torso when she's discovered by Ido, a cyborg mechanic who happens to be roaming an expansive garbage heap. Upon awakening her from her stasis sleep and granting her a new body, Ido quickly grows fond of Gally and treats her as the daughter he never had. Gally doesn't remember anything of her former life and so the story is relegated to a coming-of-age tale, albeit with some brutal experiences that would damage the psyche of ordinary people. That's because Ido and Gally's city, the Scrap Yard, is little more than "a disgusting cesspool of humanity" that must cater to the needs of Zalem, the floating city above that feeds off of the factory labor from the surface world. The only way to survive in the Scrap Yard is to fight, and the amnesia-plagued Gally happens to be an instinctive killing machine much like Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne.
OVAs are often the proving grounds for manga that eventually become full-fledged anime series. According to Wikipedia, Yukito Kishiro, creator of the manga, didn't care too much for an anime adaptation of Battle Angel, an unfortunate fact considering the anime does an excellent job of branching away from its source material just enough to function on its own. The OVA's story is self-enclosed and with no conspicuous plot holes. Characters who are introduced early on, such as Gally's boyfriend Yugo, or Ido's former partner Chiren, are introduced as minor players but eventually contribute to the story in unpredictable ways. The plot is surprisingly thorough for its seventy minute runtime.
The animation for Battle Angel was handled by MADHOUSE, Inc. Personally I find MADHOUSE's animation to be a tad inconsistent when compared to other studios like Production I.G. While MADHOUSE rarely does terrible animation, their work often borders on being acceptable at best, sometimes mistaking stylishness for quality. Battle Angel is pretty much a summary of all the above statements.
In the Scrap Yard, you either get rich or die trying.
As far as music goes, while there are two soundtracks dedicated to the OVA, only a few songs were actually in the anime; the most prevalent theme in the show is the sentimental "Gally's Theme" for touching and romantic scenes, although the music itself isn't too interesting or innovative. My personal favorite is simply titled "Action", a fracas of percussion instruments played in taiko drumming style. For viewers who are into a more ominous Blade Runner/Mass Effect musical style, the theme "Infinity" is awesome. The music overall functions as background accompaniment for the drama that ensues if nothing else, almost in obligatory fashion.
There is one issue with the anime that people may find problematic: where did Gally get all of her radical powers from? Considering the fact that Ido didn't reconstruct her for combat purposes, why is it that she can shoot plasma beams from her hands? Being able to do martial arts is a matter of memory and strength, but no amount of exercise will teach me to fire plasma rays. Anyone who has read the manga knows that Gally only gets those abilities after her first body is wrecked in a fight and Ido gives her a combat chassis afterwards. But maybe that issue can be overlooked by viewers unfamiliar with the manga.
Battle Angel isn't perfect, but it's good. It has a 7.4 rating on both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. The plot is a bit rushed for time, losing some potential for deep emotional investment in what is actually a decent story. The vignette-like nature of the story can be seen as a negative to some audiences, but Battle Angel wraps up so neatly that, if you're not interested in reading the rest of the manga series, you can at least walk away satisfied.
The years between 1980 and 2000 were awesome times for science fiction fans...
Ido and Gally.