A MARVEL OF A MOVIE: Albeit a few weeks late, both Andrew and D. Bethel have finally seen Marvel Studios’ newest entry into their cinematic universe with Captain Marvel, and they have a lot to say about it. This conversation does discuss SPOILERS for the film, so be wary of listening if you have not yet seen the film.
Gunnm (or Battle Angel Alita, stateside) is a manga and anime with a cult following, deep history, and a rocky path to big-screen adaptation. The manga was written and drawn by Yukito Kishiro over the course of five years and nine volumes. Early in its run, it was adapted into an Original Video Animation (OVA) comprised of two half-hour, stand-alone episodes (based on the first two manga volumes) that were sold together on VHS, initially. In the states, the OVA (retitled to simply Battle Angel) had a large audience due to its emotional story and cyberpunk stylings, and gathered enough of a reputation to attract the interest of James Cameron, who eventually bought the film rights.
James Cameron, who had professed his enjoyment of the manga, was originally set to direct the film adaptation, but he has since left the dusty, rusted future of Battle Angel for the literally greener pastures of Avatar‘s Pandora. In his absence, the directing duties shifted to action auteur, Robert Rodriguez. After years of speculation and anticipation, a trailer has been released:
From the looks of the trailer, a lot of work has been done to keep the visuals true to the look of the manga and OVA, and the plot summary from the film’s website also seems to be holding to the basic story found in the first two volumes:
Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita (Rosa Salazar) is found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens she has no memory of who she is, nor does she have any recognition of the world she finds herself in. Everything is new to Alita, every experience a first. As she learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield Alita from her mysterious past while her street-smart new friend, Hugo (Keean Johnson), offers instead to help trigger her memories. A growing affection develops between the two until deadly forces come after Alita and threaten her newfound relationships. It is then that Alita discovers she has extraordinary fighting abilities that could be used to save the friends and family she’s grown to love. Determined to uncover the truth behind her origin, Alita sets out on a journey that will lead her to take on the injustices of this dark, corrupt world, and discover that one young woman can change the world in which she lives.
Disregarding the nearly twenty year wait since the film rights were purchased where the fan anticipation has done nothing but build, the now-titled Alita: Battle Angel has another hill to climb given the context into which it will be released. Western adaptations of manga/anime doesn’t have a deep history, but, when it does happen, it tends to not do well. However, the most recent attempt, 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, was a cultural disaster as much as it was a box office stumble. Surely, with that still weighing heavy on the minds of fans and producers alike, it seems likely that Alita will be met with severe skepticism.
Optimistically, it has some elements that work for it that actively worked against Ghost in the Shell. For one,all iterations of Battle Angel take place in a far future United States; so, aside from the general appropriation of a story originally written and drawn by a Japanese artist, the wide-scope white-washing that occurred in Ghost in the Shell seems avoidable in this case. In the small scale, the father-figure character from the manga and OVA, Daisuke Ido, has had Austrian-German actor, Chrisoph Waltz, cast in the live-action adaptation; the character has been renamed Dyson Ido, so the criticism can’t be wholly avoided. Second, translated editions of the manga and the OVA have been widely out of print for awhile, so Battle Angel doesn’t have as much presence in the cultural zeitgeist as Ghost in the Shell had with its classic manga, multiple movies and television shows. If anything, because of this, Alita: Battle Angel seems to be in a good position to be released without much fear of controversy.
The manga was brought back into print in English by Kodansha Comics in May of 2017, but it still remains to be seen if the long out of print OVA will see a new release, either on Blu-Ray or on digital services. A re-release seems likely as a marketing move to raise anticipation for the film’s release.
While fan reaction to the trailer has yet to be aggregated here, it’s clear that Rodriguez and his team are making interesting choices that could go either way with fans of Battle Angel and sci-fi movie fans in general. There is the digital deformation of actress Rosa Salazar to make her appear closer to how Alita (or Gally, in Japan) looks in her original representation. Whether this technique is applied to other characters––both main and incidental––throughout the remainder of the movie may be the line between acceptance or rejection of this choice by fans. As mentioned previously, the westernization of Ido by casting Waltz in the role could lead to controversy, but that remains to be seen. Canonically, his character is less tied to the cultural origins of his name in the story and more to the mysterious Zalem (in Japan, or Tiphares in the States; Battle Angel is a veritable totem for how wacky things can get when translating texts for the sake of localization), a city occupied by the wealthy and entitled that ominously floats above Scrapyard, where Battle Angel‘s story takes place. Therefore, Ido’s race-change may be a non-issue, at least within the context of the story.
All that being said, after almost twenty years of being in development hell, it is refreshing and curious to see a property surface from the mire, at the very least. We’ll have to wait until July to see how much of the mud has stuck.
This Boast is framed around Game of Thrones and does not discuss content; so, there are no spoilers contained herein.
I like the Game of Thrones tv show more than A Song of Ice and Fire––the book series its based on––for a variety of reasons. First, each book has a page length that, at this point, can only be measured in scientific notation. At this point in my life, I have taken a firm stance and won’t read books over three-hundred pages (though exceptions can occur)––I’ve got too much else to do and my stupid brain isn’t able to remember that much story. Second (though related to the first), the ten episodes (at one hour each) that make up each season is the perfect amount for me to not only consume and still have time left in my day but to also remember everything that’s going on. I have my quibbles about the show, sure, but on the whole I enjoy it quite a bit.
But don’t tell me to read the books, especially because they’re “better.” Of that I have no doubt. It is a fact that tv shows are terrible books because, by definition, tv shows are not books. However, the reverse is also true.
Nerds’ slavish devotion to source material puts us into a strange quandary––we are super excited that our beloved stories and characters are getting adapted to other media––and, moreover, they’re super successful––but we also become obsessive hair-splitters who feel the need to declare that one version (usually the original) is superior to the other (usually the adaptation). I had to stop doing that because I wanted to actually enjoy these adaptations––especially when they’re good. My first major encounter with this “disappointment” was with Brian Singer’s first X-Men movie. Namely, how characters were shifted around in terms of relationships and ages for reasons that didn’t seem to make sense. The biggest offender in this regard was the character of Rogue who, in the comics, was the same age as most of the main cast and even had intimate relations with Magneto for awhile. For the movie, they basically made her a mixture of Jubilee (i.e., Wolverine’s teenage apprentice) and Kitty Pride (i.e., the new student at the school who is initially wary of being a mutant).
Though I enjoyed the movie because, in terms of general characterization, Singer got the X-Men right, I made sure to note that it differed from the comics drastically (I am proud to say that I never cared about the lack of comic-inspired costumes, however). What turned me around was when I thought back to the X-Men cartoon from the ‘90s––another adaptation I was incredibly excited about. The series was extraordinarily faithful to the comics despite some dodgy animation and I remember being so excited for each episode to start on Saturday mornings that I couldn’t sit still. However, the feeling that dominates my memories of the show is mostly boredom. I eventually stopped watching it about halfway into season 3. It remained incredibly faithful and was even doing some direct adaptations of stories from the comics, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I realized that the show was too close to the comics, that I had already consumed this content but through a different medium––so why would I want to see it on tv if I have the comics in a longbox?
Great artistic expressions are made by artists––that is, people who are adept at expressing themselves in a particular medium. A great comic book storyteller does not necessarily make a great film director or screenwriter (re: Frank Miller’s Will Eisner’s The Spirit)––a great director makes a movie great. If properties are being adapted into other media, I’d much rather see an artist of that medium approach the work so that the adaptation will mean something on its own and to not simply be “the movie version” or “the tv version.” Such requirements diminish the importance of the source material when being adapted. I point to things like the Hellboy movies––the second one, especially, feels right at home in Guillermo Del Toro’s oeuvre. I point to The Walking Dead––both the tv show and Telltale’s episodic video game series. I point to Darwyn Cooke’s Parker graphic novels. I point to Game of Thrones.
All of these adaptations are done right––they focus on making a good example of the medium which is neither a “dumbing down” of a property to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, nor a point-for-point recreations of the originals. They want to make a good movie, game, comic, or television show first rather than just make the source material dance like a marionette. What makes a good book does not make a movie good. A good adapter knows that and works with the ideas, themes, and characters of the source material to make them as viable to the new medium as they were to the original. To do that may require changes, however, but if those changes are made out of the same desire to tell a good story––the same motivation as the original creator––then it should yield good results. Differences don’t make things bad––that’s called bigotry. Differences are just different, and as a fan it’s important to ask why––not just in terms of the story, but in terms of the medium.
The truth is the correlation between adaptations and their source material is more akin to alternate universes than family relationships. They rarely feed off on one another, especially once they get going. The choices one makes neither adversely nor, necessarily, favorably affects the other. They are separate entities and should be viewed that way. I’m sure the A Song of Ice and Fire novels have much more complexity and intricacy in terms of plot and character; I understand that. Game of Thrones, for a tv show, is just as wonderfully complex and dynamic––compared to other tv shows. And though A Song of Ice and Fire fans have been clamoring eagerly for book 6 in the series for three years––a book which will hold much more information and story than the tv show could ever muster––I’m comforted by the fact that I know I only have to wait a year for season 5.