The trailer for the upcoming James Cameron produced and live-action take of Alita: Battle Angel lit quite the spark of curiosity among fans of all movie genres. The Anime legions in particular have posted numerous videos across every social media platform to give their own takes on why 1993’s Gunnm (aka Battle Angel) is so very important. The diatribes in these videos can be summarized in comparisons to more well known anime classics like Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Akira (1988). But they also seem to, as expected, plead with viewers to watch the original and bathe in its superiority.
Is it worth it?
Hiroshi Fukutomi’s Gunnm does particular things that both Ghost in the Shell and Akira gloss over. It’s certainly not as cryptic as Akira is (cue both “wtf was that ending” and “ending to Akira explained” comments) but, rather, Gunnm uses a pervading sense of innocence and naivete to offset the dark, futuristic dystopia of Iron City. Ghost in the Shell and Akira chose to pound home how bleak the future of Japan is and they also evolved their main characters via godhood realizations into becoming incredibly finite. More specifically, Akira realizes he is unequaled and, therefore, tells you he is god and inexplicably disappears with the end credits. It’s both a “fuck you” to the viewer as well as a stark moment where everyone should have realized that the film team had painted themselves into such a small corner that there was nothing else they could do with either the plot or character. Similarly, once Motoko in Ghost in the Shell is exposed to all the wonderful horrors that can be accomplished through the internet, she shrugs it off and declares that the future is truly unknown. It could have been as sarcastic a statement as Kubrick’s “I was cured” in his A Clockwork Orange finale, but its more of a plea to see the bleakness of technology as a glass-half-full situation. Like Akira, Ghost in the Shell places the chore of finding and retaining positive conclusions solely on the audience (as homework) but there’s little else that can be done to expand Motoko’s character. This is why every Ghost in the Shell series and film afterwards is in a new, slightly different reality. A concept that DC and Marvel have recently put into overkill usage to the point of annoyance and labeled a “Multi-verse”.
Gally, who will evidently be called Alita in the live-action Battle Angel, is not by any means a finite heroine. In complete contrast, Battle Angel only runs 55 minutes and serves as a brief moment where Gally is discovered in a trash heap of cybernetic junk, revived, and naively (or perhaps foolishly?) decides she should help a boy named Yugo achieve his goal of making it to Zalem. Zalem is a bastion of the elite, rich and entitled that hovers above Iron City. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Elysium stole this exact plot in 2013 and cast Matt Damon as its own male battle angel. Unfortunately, it made the mistake of showing the audience every little detail of Elysium. One of the best things about Zalem is that the audience never sees what it looks like, let alone what the inhabitants truly are. It leaves this “grass is always greener on the other side” metaphor to the viewer’s imagination. As a result, the Battle Angel universe has a lot more infinite features to potentially create intrigue with- though a poor live-action version, such as Elysium, that decides to unnecessarily cover every detail could just as much sink this potential.
Regardless, Gunnm (aka Battle Angel) is a perfect little package that serves as an example of film thriving when less is more. Whereas Ghost in the Shell would provide sequel after sequel with burdensome philosophic discussions rather than balanced action and story telling, and Akira would be reformatted into the Matrix, Gunnm will retain its status as a hidden gem. If the live-action version is decent, then that hidden gem status could be upgraded through the marketing that follows.
Currently, Gunnm is available to watch in its entirety below on YouTube. It’s a classic anime in that it respects the audience and doesn’t waste time with the frivolous. The simple plot, characters, and setting are all heightened by its strong build to its even stronger, uncompromising, and wrenching finale. Gunnm is a more worthwhile and rewarding film than the more compromised Akira, Elysium, and Ghost in the Shell. Watch it for yourself now and witness: