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Battle Angel Alita: Last Order vol. 19

September 23, 2014

My experience in reading the previous volume of this title left me concerned for its future.  What had once been a dense, thoughtful, sci-fi martial-arts extravaganza had apparently turned into a fairly simple sci-fi adventure story.  Then it was announced that mangaka Yukito Kishiro was ending the series and I thought that “Last Order” had flamed out in much the same way as the original manga had.  Given that he had started this series to give “Alita” the ending it deserved… the news struck me as being more than a little depressing.

However, word soon emerged that Kishiro was working on a new entry in this series.  This was recently confirmed with the announcement of “Battle Angel Alita:  The Martian War Chronicles” starting in Japan next month.  So what we’ve got here isn’t the end of Alita’s story.  In that case, what exactly do we have here?  One big exercise in deck-clearing.

I’m honestly grateful for the existence of “Last Order” as it not only did away with the disappointing ending of the original “Battle Angel Alita” series, but took it to new heights in the process.  Yet this setup also had this series taking on a lot of baggage as well.  Alita’s quest in Ketheres was defined in a large part by her desire to restore her friend Lou back to life, but this eventually became a secondary concern with the intrigue surrounding the machinations of Agda Mbadi, the Zenith of Things Tournament (ZOTT), and the many interplanetary agendas that were at play in the city.  Then you’ve also got the supporting cast from the previous series still stuck on Earth with nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs in the meantime.  This includes Figure Four -- the supposed love of Alita’s life.

That’s a fair amount of baggage to deal with.  It also became increasingly clear as the series went on that Kishiro really didn’t have that much interest in dealing with it.  The man had a story he wanted to tell and it didn’t involve any of these people.  This normally would’ve been a big issue for the series, but this was a rare case of a creator’s new material being more interesting than his old stuff.  I was perfectly content watching Alita grow in power and character during her ascent in the ZOTT and having these plot threads from the previous series fall by the way was only a minor nagging concern.

However, you have the fact that Kishiro has devoted almost two whole volumes to the fate of Figure Four, Doc Ido, Koyomi, and company clearly indicating that their fates were more than a minor issue to him.  Were I a betting man, I’d guess that the mangaka’s acrimonious move from Shueisha to Kodansha served as a kind of impetus for him to give the title a fresh start.  New publisher, new series (after all the old stuff has been dealt with first).

Knowing (or at least inferring) all this makes the story here go down a whole lot easier than I’d expected it would back when I read vol. 18.  I won’t say that it’s a great wrap-up, but there’s more depth and variety to the story being told in this particular volume.  After surviving the destruction of Farm 21 (and the subsequent trial regarding their involvement), Figure and Ido make their way to the scrapyard just in time to witness the results of Kaos and Vector’s efforts to build a railway to the floating city of Tiphares.  Newshound and busybody Koyomi comes along for the ride as well, after squaring things with her old man.  While their exploration of the city should be a momentous occasion, they soon find out that Desty Nova is up to his old tricks with karma, nanomachines, and flan.  However, that’s nothing compared to what’s waiting for everyone in Ketheres as there’s a new boss in charge of things up there.

In terms of closure, all of this is reasonably satisfying.  Parts of the story, such as when Sechs shows up, still feel a little rushed and Kishiro only makes an effort to give a handful of the cast here proper sendoffs.  There is some nice fanservice as we see Ido in his old hunter getup, and even if Nova’s game with Kaos is ultimately superfluous to the main narrative, it’s still incredibly tense and a welcome reminder of the games the scientist liked to play in the original series.  What we’ve got here isn’t great, but the execution is solid enough to get by.  Maybe I’d have felt differently if I was actively wanting to see all these characters again.

The most interesting thing about all of this is how much it draws from that original, rushed, ending that Kishiro gave the original “Battle Angel Alita” series.  Not only is Koyomi a photojournalist now, her dad even wound up with the “tank tread” cyborg body we saw him with then.  We even get a brain-damaged version of Nova (several of them in fact) who plays a key role here as well.  Most familiar is the climax where we find out what Alita did with her original brain.  I’m not complaining about the last bit or any of this.  Where these bits just felt tacked-on in the original, now they have room to breathe and develop properly.  I also like how Alita’s solution solves the whole “Figure Four as the love of her life” thread while still allowing her to head off to Mars for the new series.  Kishiro gets to have his cake and eat it too, in that regard.

If this was the true ending of “Battle Angel Alita,” I’d be plenty depressed.  Spending nineteen volumes undoing the ending of the original title to give us more fleshed-out version of his original tacked-on ending would’ve seemed like an enormous waste of the mangaka’s time.  As it is not, I can look forward to the new series as it focuses on Alita herself and not any secondary concerns like, “What’s going to happen with Lou’s brain?”  It’s a fresh start for a creator who delivered a sequel that was ultimately more accomplished than its predecessor.  After that, I’m ready to find out what these “Martian War Chronicles” are all about!

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