The much-anticipated Alita: Battle Angel film is an ambitious adaption of a cyberpunk manga classic. The movie is based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm, which was published between 1990 and 1995. The film was co-written by Avatar’s James Cameron and directed by Sin City’s Robert Rodriguez.
Cameron was reportedly a fan of the original manga, and he planned to adapt the series for over a decade before finally realizing his dream in 2019. Robert Rodriguez later joined the project and helped bring the gritty cyberpunk universe to life.
Cameron and Rodriguez managed to captured Yukito Kishiro’s original vision in a remarkable way. The film is already making waves in overseas box offices, and it could potentially earn $500 million at the box office. The following list is a brief comparison of the Alita: Battle Angel movie and the Gunnm manga, so it will contain spoilers for both.
10. ALITA’S NEW LOOK
In the original Gunnm manga, Alita was a powerful cyborg with a mysterious past. She used several different android bodies during the series, including the imposing Berserker form and her purple Motorball body. Alita’s face was always very realistic and human-like in the manga. Readers might only notice Alita’s robotic hands or neck at first glance.
However, in Alita: Battle Angel, Alita still uses several different android bodies, but her face is noticeably non-human. The director chose to focus on Alita’s large eyes to capture the Uncanny Valley effect and continuously remind viewers that she is not human. Alita looks like a real-life manga character, so the effect is surprising at times.
9. A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Iron City is the heart of Alita: Battle Angel’s futuristic world. The floating city of Zalem looms above the metropolis, supported by a futuristic tower. Iron City, also known as the Scrapyard in the manga, is the bright, bustling heart of the film. The film version of the city is somewhat different from the manga version. Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron’s version of Iron City is full of sun and color. Iron City resembles Latin cities like Panama City in the film. Even though many important scenes take place in a scrap yard, the world of Alita: Battle Angel isn’t a dystopia. Alita travels through the city with a sense of discovery and wonder. Dazzling, dangerous Motorball scenes also bring the city to life.
8. DR. IDO
Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Dyson Ido is one of the most important characters in Alita: Battle Angel. He is a cybernetic physician who helps repair the damaged cyborgs he finds in Iron City’s scrapyards. Dr. Ido gives Alita a new body and takes her under his wing in both the manga and the film. His manga counterpart is named Daisuke Ido. Both versions of the character are also bounty hunters and former citizens of the floating city of Zalem. The movie also showcases Ido’s famous rocket hammer from the manga. Dr. Ido’s story differs a bit in the movie because he is not a main character in every arc of the manga. However, the Alita: Battle Angel movie is only based on the first four volumes of the manga, so several plot lines and characters were not adapted for the film.
Nyssiana is a cyborg assassin who ruthlessly pursues Alita in the Alita: Battle Angel film. She is a film-original character and resembles a minor antagonist who appeared in the first volume of the Gunnm manga. Nyssiana’s character and role were fleshed out in the film. Her movie design is similar to the half-human mutant in the manga, but she resembles a deadly praying mantis with cybernetic claws in the movie. Nyssiana is partners with Zapan, a canon hunter-warrior who also battles Alita in the manga. Their dazzling fight scenes also show off Alita’s natural martial arts style, which is called Panzer Kunst in the manga. This fighting style is closely tied to Alita’s mysterious past.
6. AN ONGOING TALE
Alita: Battle Angel feels like an origin story in many ways. The plot moves at breakneck speeds, but careful attention is also paid to the world building and to Alita herself. A large part of the original manga was the mystery of Alita’s past, and the film includes several hints that the cyborg might have a violent history. Robert Rodriguez noted that Alita’s struggle is universal. She’s trying to find out who she is and what her original purpose was. The Gunnm manga has several sequels, and the story is still ongoing. Alita finds out that she was originally from Mars and that she was the only surviving member of a battalion that was tasked with the destruction of Zalem. These developments occur later in the manga, but several are revealed in the 2019 film. The movie also ends on a cliffhanger and could include some of the later material from the manga.
Edward Norton’s surprise appearance as Desty Nova in Alita: Battle Angel was one of the biggest surprises in the film. Desty Nova is a mysterious figure who is central to the final arc of the Alita: Battle Angel film. He possesses several bodies during the film and appears to Alita in flashbacks. Nova is also a major figure in the Gunnm manga, and he becomes the main antagonist of the story. Nova is a mad genius who specializes in nanotechnology. He also operates on several characters who later battle Alita.
In the film, Nova is still power-hungry, but his ambitions seem more political. He is far removed from most of the movie’s plot and action until he reveals himself to Alita near the end of the film. Nova ruthlessly pursues Alita’s cybernetic core and heartlessly kills Hugo, so he will be a central figure in any upcoming sequels.
Hugo is a human boy and scrap-dealer who captures Alita’s heart in both Alita: Battle Angel and Gunnm. In the manga, he is obsessed with Zalem because his brother wanted to reach the Sky City, but his family is not emphasized as much in the film. Hugo also acts as Alita’s guide and introduces her to Motorball early in the movie, but he did not focus on the sport in the manga. A different bounty hunter kills Hugo in the manga, but his revival as a human-cyborg hybrid occurs in both versions. Near the end of the movie, Hugo attempts to climb up the tube to the Sky City, but he falls to his death. Hugo’s tragic ending is similar to his fate in the anime. His death motivates Alita to continue her Motorball career in the manga and her quest for revenge in the movie.
Chiren is Dr. Ido’s ex-wife in the Alita: Battle Angel film and the anime. She was not in the original manga, but her role in the movie follows her storyline in the anime OVA (original video animation). She first appears as a villain under Vector’s control and spends most of the movie planning to kill Alita.
However, she disobeys her orders and helps Alita keep Hugo alive after he is killed by Zapan. Chiren also helped Alita in the anime, awed by the cyborg’s love for Hugo. Even though she was not in the manga, Chiren’s sympathetic role in Alita: Battle Angel closely matches her anime-original appearance.
James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez brought the futuristic sport of Motorball to life in the Alita: Battle Angel film. Motorball is similar to roller derby and Battle Bots competitions, but it’s far more violent and deadly. This gladiator-style sport is the main source of entertainment in Iron City. The competitors all target Alita, but she pushes forward and uses the sport as a way to gain power, experience, and revenge in the movie. In the manga, Alita turns to Motorball later in the story, and she uses it as a way to distract herself from Hugo’s death. She gives up being a hunter-warrior in Gunnm to pursue the sport. Motorball is central to both the movie and the original novel, and the amazing visuals of Alita: Battle Angel do justice to Yukito Kishiro’s original vision.
1. ALMOST HUMAN
Alita goes through several bodies in both Gunnm and Alita: Battle Angel. She also has a human brain in both versions. However, in the original manga, Alita received a human body. A manga sequel retconned this ending, but Alita always retained her human-like qualities. Her desire to learn more about is a very human trait. She is also motivated by emotions like revenge, anger, love, and joy. Alita might not become human in the films, but the open-ended story could follow many different paths. James Cameron confirmed that he is planning a sequel even though the idea might seem “mock-able”. Only time will tell if a sequel will follow Alita: Battle Angel, but there is plenty of material to adapt, and it’s off to a promising start.