Cyberpunk Week: Escape From Scrap Iron City: Battle Angel (1993) - Reviewed

Cyberpunk anime has always maintained a state of popularity with anime fans with films such as Akira (1988) and Ghost in the Shell (1995) becoming breakout hits. There were a lot of smaller more obscure titles that came out between these flagship titles and Battle Angel was among one of the most underrated releases.

Battle Angel is known as Gunnm in Japan and is based on a manga series created by Yukito Kishiro. It also goes by the name Battle Angel Alita depending on which translation you are watching. ADV Films handled the translation of the anime OVA episodes and uses the original Japanese names for the places and characters. VIZ Media used different names for their translation of the manga, for example changing the female cyborg's name from Gally to Alita. Changing names to be more palatable to American audiences was a common practice during the early days of anime translation in the West. For the purpose of this article I will be using the ADV Films translation as that is the one I have access to.

The world of Battle Angel is dark and gritty and takes place in Scrap Iron City, a place that is literally a dumping ground for garbage from Zalem, an affluent floating city located in the clouds. A cyberphysician named Ido comes across the battered but still functioning body of a female cyborg while scrounging in a dump for parts and decides to transfer her head onto a new body. She calls herself Gally and works with Ido at his practice, helping him fix damaged cyborgs along with a young human boy named Yugo.

Class warfare is a common theme that runs though the cyberpunk genre and it's the main catalyst for many of the character's motivations and actions in Battle Angel. Yugo is obsessed with leaving Scrap Iron City and going to Zalem because he imagines it to be some sort of paradise. Gally is infatuated with Yugo and wants to help him achieve his dreams even though it means that he might leave her behind. Each character has a myopic point-of-view that hampers their ability to make logical decisions and in the end it has tragic results for everyone involved. People want what they can't have and sometimes it blinds them to the love (or even danger) that might be right in front of them.

Gally is na├»ve and caring but she also has a brutal warrior side that eventually rears its head. Since she is a cyborg she is incredibly fast and powerful which makes her a formidable opponent in battle. The fights scenes have fluid and kinetic animation thanks to Madhouse Studio, which was in its heyday in the '90s. There is also a lot of gore and violence with some nudity smattered around. Gally's character design is fantastic and I love that she isn't overly sexualized. She's rugged yet beautiful and her large expressive eyes convey a lot of emotion. Battle Angel carries an air of melancholy the entire duration and has one of the most bittersweet endings of any anime from that period. There are only two episodes, so it does feel a bit rushed and could have used some additional time to develop the characters.

Kaoru Wada's synth score is great and it has a strong recurring theme that brings the show together. I also love the ending theme Cyborg Mermaid (that would be a cool band name) because it's one of those catchy heartfelt ending ballads that were so popular back in the day.

The DVD release for Battle Angel is a bit pricey and hard to find, but it well worth owning for fans of classic anime. In 2018 there is a live action version coming out directed by Robert Rodriguez which was originally supposed to be helmed by none other than James Cameron. It remains to be seen if it lives up to the manga and the anime version.

-Michelle Kisner