Earlier this year, Hollywood finally broke the curse of making terrible live-action adaptations of anime with Alita: Battle Angel – the American remake of Gunnm aka Battle Angel Alita. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron, Alita: Battle Angel followed Alita’s rise from a forsaken robot to the greatest cyborg warrior of Iron City.
Being an adaptation of both the manga and anime, Alita is overflowing with references and visual tributes to the beloved cult source material that many people would miss on their first viewing. Now that the movie is available on video and streaming, here are 12 things you may have missed while watching Alita: Battle Angel to look out for.
Alita’s first opponent and kill is Romo, a cyborg with bladed hands who’s also the weakest of Grewishka’s gang. Romo is portrayed by stuntman Derek Mears, who is better known for some monstrous roles that cover his face.
Two of Mears’s most famous monster roles are the Swamp Thing in the canceled streaming show and Jason Voorhess from the Friday the 13th reboot. As of now, he’s the ninth actor to portray the famous slasher killer. He was also the super-villain Dwarfstar in The Flash, where he framed Big Sir for murder.
Right after dispatching Romo, Alita faces Nyssiana, who previously lured Dr. Ido into the dark alley. The mantis-like assassin is portrayed by Eiza Gonzalez, who was recently seen in Hobbs & Shaw where she portrayed Shaw’s femme fatale associate Madam M.
Gonzalez is an actress and singer who’s best known for starring in popular Mexican soap operas. Previously, she took up the roles of Darling in Baby Driver and Santanico Pandemonium in the televised remake of From Dusk Till Dawn. She inherited the latter role from Salma Hayek.
Alita: Battle Angel has a lot of high-profile cameos, including Jai Courtney who appears as one of the Motorball players being repaired on in the pitstop. Best known for being Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad, Courtney’s character Jashugan may play a larger role in a hypothetical sequel.
Jashugan is a major character in the manga’s Motorball arc, most of which is being saved for a tentative sequel. Of Alita’s many Motorball opponents, Jashugan – who is hailed as the greatest Motorball champion of his time – is the only one she truly respects as a rival and equal.
When Alita drops by The Kansas Bar, she sees a host of Hunter-Warriors who all laugh at her call to war against Grewnishka. The only one to answer is McTeague, a hunter who uses a pack of cyborg dogs to do the killing.
McTeague – based on Murdock from the manga – is played by frequent Rodriguez collaborator Jeff Fahey, making this his third appearance in the director’s works. Previously, he managed a gas station/barbecue joint as J.T. in Planet Terror and the devious political advisor Booth in Machete.
Midway through Alita: Battle Angel, Dr. Ido reveals that his daughter was inadvertently killed when a rabid Amok – a cyborg junkie – ransacked his clinic for drugs and painkillers. Amok is also portrayed by Casper van Dien, who is best known for being the hero of Starship Troopers.
Casper van Dien portrayed Johnny Rico in most installments of the Starship Troopers franchise, with his time in the original movie recognized as the highlight of his career. He also took up the role of Johnny Cage in the web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy.
In a previous life, Alita was referred to as “99” and was a member one of the feared Berserkers – the United Republic of Mars’ (URM) deadly shock troopers from The Great War. Her commanding officer was Gelda, who is last seen fighting alongside Alita in a flashback.
Because Gelda is a CGI character, it’s easy to miss that she’s being portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez. Best known as Letty in the Fast & Furious movies, Rodriguez is one of the most recognized actresses in the action genre. She also took up the role of the revolutionary Shé in Rodriguez’s Machete films.
Alita: Battle Angel ends with a cryptic shot of a scientist living in Zalem, who’s shown to be watching and controlling the events of the movie. This man is none other than Dr. Desty Nova, the central antagonist of the Alita manga.
Portrayed by Edward Norton in a cameo, Nova is the mad scientist who created most of Alita’s cyborg enemies. Driven by his futile quest to define good and evil (aka Karmatron Dynamics) through science, Nova is willing to put people’s lives at stake just to get the next variable in his equation.
In the manga, Iron City was built in what remains of Kansas City. It also sits under the space elevator connecting the Scrapyard to the floating city of Zalem. Geographically speaking, this is inaccurate since a planetary elevator should ideally be built near the equator.
It’s for this exact reason that James Cameron moved the city Alita calls home to Latin America. This explains why the cinematic Iron City is defined by old Spanish colonial architecture and is found near a rainforest. The city’s original location is referenced through The Kansas Bar.
Though he’s not the main villain, Grewishka is still a gigantic and intimidating force of nature who Alita takes a while to defeat. For curious viewers, Grewishka does exist in the manga and anime but as two separate entities.
The most obvious inspiration is his name, which is derived from the anime’s first main antagonist Grewcica. His appearance and initial purpose are based on Makaku from the manga, where he also threatened to turn Alita into a living pendant. A major change is his employment as Vector’s chief thug, since he originally answered to Desty Nova.
Even Alita’s Berserker Body wasn’t impervious to all the punishment she took throughout the movie, which could be why she wears a new body by the movie’s end. In the manga, Alita has a separate body that’s exclusively used for Motorball while her Berserker Body is saved for combat purposes.
However, her third body also allows her to channel blue plasma fire into her Damascus Blade – something only hinted at with her Berserker Body. This is a feature that she constantly used in fights when wearing her Imaginos Body, which was crafted by Desty Nova.
Given the number of chapters and spin-off materials, it’s simply impossible to adapt all of Battle Angel Alita or Gunnm into one film. This is why Alita: Battle Angel does its best to condense the manga’s characters, themes, and major events into a two-hour runtime.
For example, Alita originally spent entire arcs as a Hunter-Warrior and a Motorball champion. She does both in the movie, but her bounty hunting job was overshadowed by her athletic career. Whole subplots were also omitted to focus the story, losing the likes of McTeague’s/ Murdock’s hatred of Zapan and Desty Nova’s direct involvement.
It would be an understatement to say that Hollywood doesn’t have the most glowing reputation when it comes to adapting manga and anime to live-action but Alita: Battle Angel is the exception.
Not only is it considered to be the best American anime remake, but series creator Yukito Kishiro – who disowned the anime – absolutely adores it. He’s seen the movie more than once, finding something new in each viewing of what he calls “the greatest movie in the world.” He even created new artwork for the movie’s release, depicting Rosa Salazar in his manga’s classic style.