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  Battle Angel Alita Tears rusty angel
Year: 1993
Director: Hiroshi Fukutome, Nobuteru Yuki
Stars: Miki Ito, Shunsuke Kariya, Kappei Yamaguchi, Mami Koyama, Shigeru Chiba, Koji Totani, Kazuyuki Sogabe
Genre: Action, Animated, Science Fiction, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  10 (from 1 vote)
Review: If you think a dystopian sci-fi anime about a teenage, kung fu cyborg babe can’t make you cry, you’ve obviously never seen Battle Angel Alita. Known in Japan as Tears Rusty Angel: Gunm, Yukito Kishiro’s multi-volume manga made it to the west with heroine Gally rechristened Alita; perhaps in reference to pioneering, Russian sci-fi epic Aelita (1924). The anime runs a mere fifty-four minutes, yet ranks among the most thoughtful and poetic of its kind.

Garbage rains from the flying utopia of Zarem upon a bleak, future Earth. Foraging for scrap, genius inventor Doc Ido discovers a centuries-old robot girl he swiftly rebuilds into his surrogate daughter: Alita, an elfin beauty with super-strength, acrobatic kung fu skills and other extraordinary powers, but no memory of her past. The world has degenerated into a mechanical trash-heap inhabited by monstrous cyborgs, cruel samurai bounty-hunters, and impoverished misfits targeted by organ thieves working for the wealthy Zarem elite. By night, Doc Ido patrols the mean streets as a “hunter-warrior”, trying to make a difference. Like any father, he sees his child as something pure and good and wants to shield her from a corrupting world, but Alita is compelled to use her amazing strength to defend the helpless and the innocent. She falls in love with Yugo, a youngster who yearns after a better life on Zarem, and saves the money she earns battling robo-killers every day to help realise their dream. But the system is heartless and tragedy awaits these star-crossed lovers.

Yukito Kishiro expanded his manga into a grand, sprawling epic able to dazzle and infuriate in equal measure, and later hobbled Alita’s status as a feisty action icon by introducing a second, irritatingly macho love interest. Hiroshi Fukutome pares things down to their essence: a sci-fi love story with two adolescent dreamers and a social conscience. Touches of Charles Dickens speckle the narrative, with its shantytown setting, eccentric characters and a story rooted in class conflict, poverty and injustice. At its heart lies some provocative concepts: a super-affluent, rigidly exclusive utopia that literally feeds off the poor, and the selfless, guardian angel who protects the hookers, beggars and street kids society prefers to forget. Wide-eyed, little robo-waif Alita is one of the great anime heroines; pixie cute, fearless and heartbreakingly earnest. Her innocence touches those who think themselves cynical, such as Chirin, the self-serving street doctor who sacrifices herself to give the young lovers a chance at the happiness she lost with Ido.

“I’m not a puppet with strings for you to pull”, Alita yells at Ido, fighting for a chance to express her ideals. The warm father-daughter relationship humanizes the futuristic setting and offsets the stark brutality. Women, children and dogs are sliced to gory bits. Alita fights back with equal ferocity. She punches heads clean off shoulders, performs amazing acrobatic feats that defy the laws of physics, and wields the mighty “Panzer-künst” (Kishiro has a fondness for German names): a supernatural blow kung fu strike that rips hulking mutants apart. The action is fast-paced, furious and relentless. “I’ll stand up for any innocent who can’t defend themselves”, says Alita, but what begins in black and white gradually grows more complex. Naïve, desperate Yugo shacks up with Bektar, a sleazy organ harvester (and dead ringer for Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch!), and is driven to do terrible things. While the film taps the adolescent joys of first love, it also shows how poverty can shatter youthful dreams, and builds to an achingly poignant climax atop a literal stairway to heaven that leaves Alita with nothing except her own, frail self-belief. Beautifully scored by Kaoru Wada, the limited animation features bursts of startling fluidity and Nobuteru Yuki’s designs really bring Kishiro’s childlike characters to life. A classic.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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