A little over three and a half years ago we reached the end of mangaka Yukio Kishiro’s “Battle Angel Alita: Last Order” series. While the majority of the series focused on the title character and the consequences of the intergalactic martial arts tournament she found herself wrapped up in, its final two volumes gave us something completely different. They were more of a deck-clearing exercise to provide a proper send-off to the members of the supporting cast and plot points that had fallen by the wayside over the course of “Last Order’s” lengthy run. It would’ve made for a disappointing ending if I hadn’t known that this follow-up series was set to begin serialization in Japan later that year.
After all this wait, what do we get? The beginning of an extended prequel that looks to show Alita’s earliest days on Mars back when she was a little cyborg girl who had to be looked after by her friend Erica. They’re sent to an orphanage at a time when war is ravaging the planet and while the story thankfully swerves away from an early indication it’s going to be about how the two were bullied there, it dives headlong into an unsparing look at the horrors of war.
When I say “unsparing” what I really mean is “Don’t get too attached to the other girls at the orphanage.” These early chapters of “Mars Chronicle” don’t shy away from depicting how awful combat can be. Making them hit harder is how creative Kishiro gets at illustrating this. Particularly in regards to the the two aged and grizzled combat veterans and orphanage princess Ninon.
The flipside to how affecting Kishiro is able to make these scenes is that the actual nature of the war at hand is left frustratingly vague. We’re told later on that it’s the result of conflicts between the ruling families of Mars and some warlords that have recently sprung up, but that’s all we get. Part of me thinks that Kishiro is going for a “faceless nature of war” vibe with these scenes. Yet the nondescript nature of this conflict runs counter to the detailed worldbuilding that has been a hallmark of both “Alita” series.
There’s still some interesting worldbuilding to be had later on in the volume. After a kindly doctor takes Yoko and Erica away from the battleground we learn more about how Mars has been terraformed and the current ruling structure of the planet. These things also lead into a pretty tense action sequence and some incredibly obvious foreshadowing. Well, it’s incredibly obvious if you haven’t read the previous two series, but it’s hard to imagine a complete newcomer coming into the series at this point.
Let me add some context here: It’s hard to imagine a complete newcomer reading this first volume and coming away with an understanding as to why this series has been so beloved amongst fans all these years. The majority of this volume is efficiently constructed with characters and plot points established with all the smoothness you’d expect from an old pro like Kishiro. It’s just that, scenes involving the horrors of war aside, there’s very little here to surprise a new or old reader. Speaking from the perspective of an old reader, Alita’s childhood on Mars was either flashbacked to or hinted at enough in the previous titles that the thought of a prequel series fleshing it out feels kind of unnecessary. As of yet, “Mars Chronicle” has yet to justify its existence in that regard.
Nostalgia is still a hell of a drug and it’s still nice to revisit the world of “Battle Angel Alita” even if it has yet to offer up any real surprises. Your mileage may vary, but I’ll be hanging around because I expect Kishiro will eventually get back to following up on Alita’s departure to Mars when she exited the main plot of “Last Order” once he’s done exploring her childhood. This volume doesn’t really do anything to try my patience in regards to my wait for that. It’s still hard for me to recommend this to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the title character and the world Kishiro created for her.