Saturday, January 18, 2014

Valentine's Day comes early

If I'd had any foresight I would have timed this for Valentine's Day, but I really do want to get cracking on the Battle Angel reread, so let's just pretend I posted this about a month later.

Alita's amnesia left her with a grasp on all the fundamentals of walking, talking, and so on, but her emotional development is pretty much reset to zero.  In volume 1 she relearned how to fight, and in volume 2 she relearns how to love.  Alita and local odd-jobs guy Hugo meet-cute during one of her bounty hunts, but can two crazy kids make it in a cyberpunk dystopia?

No, no they can't.

This volume is our first indication of how chameleonic Battle Angel will get; the series kind of shifts premise every so often (opinions may vary on how organic this is; I always thought the transitions were very natural) and this is a pretty surprising break from the sustained martial-arts violence of the first book; there's no big set-piece fight, it's much more about drama and worldbuilding. When fights do break out, it's not an acrobatic kung fu spectacle, just messy murder. It's hard to say Hugo actually deserves his fate, but he was in fact a clear and present danger to the public, being perfectly willing to mug random people and pry out their spines.

And yet, in the ridiculous dystopia of the Scrapyard, where life is so cheap Zapan kills at least two people for no other reason than feeling embarrassed by Alita, he's still more sympathetic than pretty much anyone but Ido.  Hugo lives in the gutters, looking up at the stars-- but Tiphares is blocking the view, literally and metaphorically looming over everyone.  We still don't know much about it by volume's end, but we do learn just how its policies make the Scrapyard the horrible place that it is.

Hugo's childhood didn't turn out so great, but Alita's second one is coming along all right. At this point we have zero idea what mental age she "should" have, and we won't get an answer for quite a while. Her amnesia really isn't a mystery to be solved, it's more a device to make the series a coming of age story, and it ends up covering quite a lot of character development. At this point, she's a love-struck teenager, sitting around sighing, and trying really hard not to come on too strong (literally; she has a whole Clark Kent routine going on trying to hide the fact that she's a combat-spec cyborg). It's worth noting that Kishiro dials back the detail of his style for the goofier moments in this volume; I don't remember him doing this again later, but then I didn't remember it happening here.

Speaking of character development, Zapan showed up briefly in the first volume, but he's much more central to this one.  Despite his petty, vicious thuggery here he actually ends up being one of my favorite characters, but I'll come back to that in a couple volumes.  For now, I just want to note that Kishiro is very good about unexpectedly making minor characters important. 

Let's close out with some random thoughts.  This lorem ipsum text appears to be in Hebrew, which is interesting considering the Jeru-Zalem naming scheme that the English translation replaced with Kabbalah.  I don't think now is quite the right time to talk about the religious references in the series, but while I'm thinking of it, "Zapan" is meant to be "Xaphan", I think.

The anime adaptation stops at the end of this storyline.  It's been quite a while since I watched it, all I recall are the changes they made to be more self-contained.  Poor Zapan is pretty much just a cameo!

The word "Lycanthropazine" has stuck with me ever since I read this volume.  (It also reminds me of a certain part of Samurai Flamenco...)

Exposed brain tally: 2 smashed, 2 intact (1 extra intact one on the unflopped's table of contents!)

Edition changes: The unflopped rerelease again has a handful of rough sketches, a page on the laws of the Scrapyard, and another one diagramming the law enforcement Netmen.  More importantly, it starts with the end of the Makaku battle, and ends on a cliffhanger, with one chapter of Hugo's arc still to come (a chapter which ends up missing quite a few sound effects that were in the flopped version, during the climb).  I pity anyone who came into this series late and ended up with a mixed set of books...

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