Battle Angel Alita (1990) Review

Synopsis

In the bleak junkyards of Scrap Iron City, Ido, a brilliant cyborg doctor, finds the discarded remains of a cyborg girl that has fallen from the floating city Zalem and builds her a new body. Although she has no memory, she begins to discover some latent abilities that suggest she was more than an average girl. When she decides to become a bounty hunter, she is forced to make a choice between her chosen path and the one she loves.

Review

Battle Angel is similar to movies such as Blade Runner in its rather bleak portrayal of the future. The residents of Scrap Iron City live in a relative wasteland while the monolithic city of Zalem floats overhead. Corruption is rampant, and the advent of cyborg technology has created a thriving black market trade in human body parts. The police are no longer extant, replaced by publicly-funded hunter warriors, bounty hunters who are used to dispense justice against enemies of the state.

Battle Angel doesn’t have a particularly linear plot, nor is it mindless action. There is no real villain or overarching mission. Rather, the story unfolds gradually and becomes more complex as it progresses. Along the way we are shown how the rigid caste system exploits the people in the city for the pleasure of the select few living in Zalem. We also see how people will become ruthless if necessary to pursue their desires.

Despite the small cast of characters and short run time, the film does an adequate job of creating believable characters that viewers will sympathize with.

Although she has no memory of her past and does not seem particularly haunted by it, Gally is equally capable of childlike innocence and cold-blooded brutality. Nothing drives her, yet she still feels a deep need to become a bounty hunter and risk her life. It is unfortunate that her past was not explored more deeply, but the implications are fascinating nonetheless.

Ido lives a self-sacrificial life, guided by his ideals and unwavering convictions. Because of his ethical code, he gave up his privileged life in Zalem, where he was the most respected cybernetics engineer, to become a country doctor of sorts to the destitute citizens in the city below. He leads a secret life as a bounty hunter at night in order to continue to pay his expenses. This is not the life he would have wanted, but it is apparent that he derives a certain satisfaction from enacting justice.

Yugo is a motivated, responsible young man who desires to someday go to Zalem. Unfortunately, his dream ultimately consumed him, and he turned to crime in order to fund his ambitious plan.

Battle Angel has a distinctive visual style, somewhat manga-like in appearance. It uses dark, distinctive lines and heavy shading instead of the light outlines and subtle colors favored by much modern anime. I very much enjoyed its aesthetics, but some may not. Regardless it is well animated and detailed.

The action is frequent and rather visceral in nature. Both Gally and Ido can be rather brutal when necessary, but it is not gratuitous. There was never any confusion as to what was happening during the action, which is a credit to the animators.

Musically, the soundtrack reminds me of the classic sci-fi movies of the 80s and early 90s with a heavy dose of synthesizer. It is not distracting or particularly memorable, but it serves to reinforce the dark atmosphere. I did enjoy it when I made a point of listening to it.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a light-hearted story of a girl with a penchant for violence and destruction, this is probably not the movie for you. However, fans of darker sci-fi will appreciate this intelligently written and designed film. Despite its short runtime, it manages to create a story with suitably deep characters, a convincing setting, and serious drama.

  • Audio: Full of synthesized goodness
  • Video: Detailed hand-drawn style animation
  • Plot: Fluid plot that doesn’t try too hard
  • Style: Convincing dark futuristic setting
  • Characters: Fairly deep, realistic characters
  • Violence: High (blood, gore)
  • Language: Mild
  • Nudity: Moderate
  • Genre: Scifi
  • Episodes: 2
  • Rating: 4.0 of 5

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