Battle Angel

The sprawling shantytown of Scrapyard exists – quite literally – in the shadow of the floating city of Zalem. The inhabitants of Scrapyard eke out a living salvaging usable items from the tons of debris discharged from Zalem to the ground below. One day, brilliant cybermedic Daisuke Ido finds the head and upper torso of a cyborg in among the tonnes of scrap; miraculously still alive, he takes the remains back to his lab, where he is able to revive the cyborg and provide it with a new body and reconstructed face and head. The revived cyborg – which Ido names Gally – has no memories of her past or how she came to be part of the refuse dumped by Zalem. Gally continues to live with Ido as his ward, and consequently meets Yugo, a young man who repairs the wind turbines that power Ido’s medical facilities. But Ido is not what he seems: driven by an overwhelming desire to make his way to Zalem, by night Ido is a “spine thief”, luring cyborgs into ambushes so that he can remove their human spines, part of a lucrative trade in body parts from the Scrapyard to Zalem.   Thus, he hopes to save enough credits with which to buy his way into the floating city, which he imagines to be some kind of paradise. Likewise, Ido has his own secrets: as well as being a cybermedic, he is also a Hunter-Warrior, a bounty hunter who tracks down and kills criminals with a price on their heads. But unbeknownst to Ido, Gally has been following him during his night-time forays; and when one fight against a pair of particularly brutal criminals goes wrong, Gally intervenes, displaying incredible fighting powers which neither she nor Ido suspected she possessed. Gally thus determines to become a Hunter-warrior herself, and earn enough credits so that she and Yugo – with whom she has fallen in love – can start to build a life together. But Gally and Yugo have very different images of the future; and when their star-crossed romance intersects with the consequences of both Ido’s and Yugo’s illicit activities, everything Gally has ever desired comes under threat…

Based on the acclaimed and successful manga by Yukito Kishiro (which also formed the source material for the Robert Rodriguez-directed 2019 live action film Alita: Battle Angel) Battle Angel was produced by studio Madhouse and premiered in 1993. Animated in a classical hand-drawn style that will be familiar to viewers of Akira, Demon City Shinjuku, and Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, this OVA is undoubtedly an anime oddity. A fully self-contained story, it nonetheless has so many unexplained elements, and so obviously fits within a wider narrative arc, that it is also incomplete, a fragment of a much bigger tale. This in turns seems to be a reflection of Kishiro’s admission that, at the time of production, he was too busy with other projects to pay the development process much attention and had no real desire for an anime adaption in any event. Nonetheless, the story Battle Angel tells is coherent enough in its own right, even if the story arc is somewhat linear and there are no great surprises within the denouement. Nonetheless, there is some development in the characterisation, especially with Gally, and this in turn enables the injection of emotional depth, particularly toward the conclusion. With a run-time of just under an hour, Battle Angel is undemanding both in terms of viewer commitment and intellectual engagement; by the conclusion, however, one cannot but help be left with an abiding sense of “what if” and what might have been possible if the production circumstances had been different. There is, afterall, just enough in Battle Angel to hope that, one day, a properly attentive reboot – either as a series or as a feature – might be forthcoming.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.