How Yukito Kishiro's Comic Gunnm Transformed Into Alita: Battle Angel

Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
It's not every day that a director takes one of the most-beloved manga comic book series and brings it to life on the big screen. In fact, it took nearly 20 years for James Cameron to find someone to transform his script into Alita: Battle Angel, based on Yukito Kishiro's comic book Gunnm.
The movie, out on Valentine's Day, is a gritty, cyberpunk homage to Kishiro's 1990 work that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and follows a cyborg named Alita (Rosa Salazar) as she navigates an unfamiliar world. There are some differences between the movie, Alita, and the manga comics, but the story is largely the same. As in the comics, Alita is initially lost, battered, and hopeless. Dr. Dyson Ido, portrayed in the film by Christoph Waltz, finds Alita's discarded head in a scrapyard and takes it upon himself to "fix" her by rebuilding parts of her robotic body. Slowly, some of Alita's memories come back to her, and she remembers that she's highly skilled in martial arts and becomes a formidable bounty hunter, among other things, as she searches for her lost identity.
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The universe Alita lives in now is violent. Criminals run rampant through the streets, and bounty hunters viciously compete with one another to catch the most prey. For entertainment, bloodthirsty viewers watch citizens compete in a game called Motorball, in which competitors brutally attack one another in gladiator-style battle. Winners, Alita learns, get the chance to go to Zalem, a rich world in the sky devoid of the garbage and carnage plaguing earth-tied Iron City. (The prospect of a better life proves too good for even Alita to pass up, so movie-goers can definitely expect some wild fight scenes from our main star.) While the action in the film is riveting, it's not nearly as graphic or bloody as it is in the comic books (the film is only rated PG-13).
The story's pacing is faster than the comics, as well. The movie combines multiple elements spanning across the comic-book series, meshing some of the timelines and events.
Alita's appearance has also been a major topic of discussion amongst fans. Transforming an illustration into a live-action character is always a challenge for filmmakers, and the decision to use CGI to depict Alita perplexed some. Cameron, however, stands by the choice he and Rodriguez made to make Alita appear less human with the addition of larger eyes and robotic limbs.
"I was intrigued by the technical challenge of a photo-real human character done in CG," Cameron told Den of Geek. "So with the exception of the size of her eyes and her ability to leap further, move faster, things like that, and to be dismembered and still functioning — those are the CG parts of her. But we had to make her photo-real. We had to make her sort of flesh and blood." As for the effectiveness of said CG, well, the reviews are mixed. One complaint is that the character was created in the male gaze, with the result being bigger breasts, too-small waist, and overt sexualization. Leading actress Salazar, however, disagrees and told Playboy she thinks Alita's bodily transformation was appropriate given that she goes from teenager to adult.
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"The creator, Yukito Kishiro, didn't give her these Murakami tits and ass," she said. "Alita finds and is given her new Berserker Body, and it's really interesting because she's going from 14 to 18. That's a whole, formative experience for a woman... She goes from a child-like [figure], a flatter chest, a more proportionate young teen body, to a woman's body." She added that she sees it as "a very natural process."
Changes and all, Kishiro gives the adaptation a thumbs up.
"For the old fans who've been following the franchise and the IP [intellectual property] for a very long time, I think I can safely say that this movie really carries the core and the essence of what was in the original works," he told CBR.com. "I think there's a lot of reason to be excited and to stay tuned for what comes next."
So, does the film match up to the comic series? That's ultimately for you to decide.
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