Warning: MAJOR Spoilers Follow For Alita: Battle Angel.
Alita: Battle Angel is finally ready to hit the big screen, but how much has changed from the original manga and anime? James Cameron has long held an interest in anime - he's repeatedly sung the praises of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 adaptation of Ghost In The Shell - and quickly fell in love with Battle Angel Alita (AKA Gunnm) after being introduced to it by Guillermo del Toro. He first spoke of adapting it into a movie back in 2000 and he developed the project side by side with Avatar. He would go on to co-write a 186-page script and pen over 600 pages of notes, but Alita: Battle Angel fell by the wayside when he began development on Avatar.
Once he committed to writing and directing four Avatar sequels, it seemed he would never get around to Alita. When Robert Rodriguez asked what the status of the movie was, Cameron decided to hand the project over to him instead. The resulting film is very much a merging of voices; it’s very faithful to creator Yukito Kishiro’s work while implementing Cameron’s love of tech and worldbuilding with Rodriguez’s kinetic action style. Outside of video game movies, live-action anime is one of the trickiest subgenres to pull off and is littered with duds, from Fist Of The North Star to Ghost In The Shell. Alita: Battle Angel manages to sidestep a lot of the issues that plagued past adaptations, creating a credible futuristic world populated with likable characters.
Naturally, Alita: Battle Angel couldn’t be a straight adaption of either the manga or anime and instead pulls elements from both while adding intriguing additions of its own. The original manga ran for nine volumes while the anime consisted of two OVAs, titled “Rusty Angel” and “Tears Sign.” The anime is a faithful adaptation of the first two volumes of the manga, but the story and characters were condensed for the sake of brevity. Let’s take a look at the source material and see how close Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel conforms to (and deviates from) it.
- This Page: Alita: Battle Angel Character & Story Changes
- Page 2: How Alita's Movie, Anime & Manga Are Most Different
Alita Has A Different Backstory In The Manga
One of the key differences between the movie and anime is that Alita’s past is barely touched upon in the OVA. The anime features no flashbacks to Gally's (Alita's Japanese name) past battles on Mars, no mention of the lost martial art of Panzer Kunst and she doesn’t recover a Berserker body from a downed ship. The Alita found in the anime rarely reflects on her origins, but Alita: Battle Angel focuses on how her past will come to define her future.
Alita’s backstory is greatly fleshed out through the run of the manga and later spinoffs, revealing her real name as Yoko, her part in the Terraforming Wars that take place centuries before the main story and her training in Panzer Kunst. Alita: Battle Angel hints at this past but leaves much of it vague, presumably so it can be explored further in future sequels. The movie also presents a different backstory for Alita’s iconic Damascus Blade. In the Battle Angel manga, it took the form of two separate blades attached to her wrists during her Motorball games and was later shaped into a single sword. In the movie, it’s the primary weapon of rival Hunter-Killer Zapan (Ed Skerin) and she takes it from him following their final confrontation.
In terms of personality, the movie and anime are more or less in sync. Both present Alita as cheerful, determined and somewhat naïve about the world she lives in, though when she gets angry she’s prone to destroying property/enemies. The main difference is the presented age, with the anime making Alita more youthful and (initially) naive.
Ido's Relationship To Alita Is Altered In The Movie
Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Ido is very similar to his counterpart from the manga/anime in that he’s a kindly scientist who becomes a surrogate father to the title character. What's different (aside from Waltz' version appearing older) is how that relationship blossoms; in Alita: Battle Angel, Ido had a daughter named Alita who was killed by a rogue cyborg (our Alita is given her name and body), making the relationship considerably more protective - whereas Ido never fully approves of Alita becoming a Hunter-Killer in the movie, he accepts it pretty swiftly in the anime.
Ido's ex-lover Chiren (Jennifer Connolly) is a character made from the anime (not the manga) but her function in the movie is virtually identical; she works for crime boss Vector in hopes of being sent back to sky city Zalem. Alita: Battle Angel considerably fleshes out her backstory, while her and Ido's daughter informs her later choice to help Alita escape with Hugo. Chiren’s bleak fate is also recreated from the second anime, where Vector keeps his promise to send her to Zalem – or at least her organs. However, this reveal is more emotionally charged in the anime since its Ido who confronts Vector, not Alita.
Another alteration involving Ido is the origin of Alita’s Berserker body. In the Battle Angel movie, its Alita who recovers it from a downed ship, but Ido initially refuses to transfer her to it; it’s only after her first cyborg body is destroyed in battle does he complete the operation. In the manga, the Berserker is Alita's first body, recovered by Ido during a past expedition. There’s no explanation for what her body comes from in the anime, with the suggestion being that Ido built it himself.
Alita: Battle Angel's Grewishka Is Three Different Manga Characters In One
The Battle Angel anime introduced the character of Grewcica, a giant cyborg who is a composite of two similar villains from the manga named Makaku and Kinuba. This character is renamed Grewishka (played by Jackie Earle Haley) for Alita: Battle Angel, and folded with a third villain.
In the anime, after the first encounter, he becomes Chiren's champion to take down Ido's little girl, with the pair fighting in an arena-like setting where Alita bests him immediately. Grewcica's fleshed out a little more in the movie - the clawed hand comes from a Motorball racer rather than being something Chiren simply adds - becoming a proper secondary antagonist; he survives much longer as protection for Vector, filling the role of another cyborg from the manga named Zahriki. Other than that, it's a rather faithful take.
The movie also borrows the moment Alita paints under her eyes with the blood of a stray dog Grewishka kills from the anime; in the manga, she slicked water from the sewer on her face instead.
Zapan Is One Of Alita's Deadliest Enemies (But Not In The Anime)
Ed Skrein plays rival Hunter-Killer Zapan in Alita: Battle Angel, a character who will be familiar to fans of the manga. The movie's take on Zapan is faithful to the manga, where the cocky hunter tries to humiliate Alita in a Hunter-Killer bar and being embarrassed when she beats him in a fight. Rather than face her directly, he instead frames Hugo for murder and mortally wounds him, attempting to force Alita to kill him herself. In both the movie and manga, she overcomes this by cutting off Hugo’s head to satisfy a bounty on him – but keeps Hugo alive by connecting his head to her life support system. Zapan notices this, but when he tries to interfere, she slices his face off in retaliation.
That’s the end of his role in the movie, but in the manga, the two would become fierce enemies, with Zapan becoming a serious threat when he gains a Berserker body. On the flipside, he barely appears in the anime; he makes a wordless cameo in the first episode and confronts Hugo in part two, killing his accomplice but giving up the chase when Hugo gets away. For the rest of the anime, his role is filled by another Hunter-Killer named Clive Lee, who mortally wounds Hugo and is subsequently killed in battle by Alita.
Vector Wasn't Written Originally As A Villain
In the Alita manga, Vector is the top broker of illegal parts in Iron City and is a recurring character throughout the series. While he’s certainly shady in his dealings, in both the anime and Alita: Battle Angel he’s a flat-out villain.
Vector (Mahershala Ali) misleads both Chiran and Hugo into thinking they can reach Zalem if they work for him, only to betray them both. In the movie, he also sets up Alita to die during her Motorball match, leading to her seeking revenge on him. This confrontation plays out differently in each medium. The manga has Alita and Hugo confront Vector in his office, but following a fight between Alita and Vector’s bodyguard Zahriki, Hugo runs off in despair when he realizes he can never reach Zalem. Alita lets Vector live, and the two encounter each other again years later. In the anime, it's Ido who confronts Vector and, following the reveal of Chiran’s death, he fights with the bodyguard and Vector dies after he’s impaled on Zahriki’s claws. Finally, in the Battle Angel movie Vector is stabbed by Alita, but while literal puppet master villain Nova is controlling his body.
Nova Isn't In Anime Alita's Story (Yet)
Nova (played by Edward Norton in a top-secret cameo) is entirely absent from the anime, with no suggestion anyone in Iron City is being influenced by Zalem. In the movie, Nova is glimpsed numerous times during Alita’s flashbacks, and he periodically takes control of Vector and other characters to deliver sinister monologues.
In the manga, Desty Nova is a morally dubious scientist who specializes in nanotechnology and has conducted numerous inhumane experiments. While he initially seems to be a villain, the relationship that develops between Nova and Alita is more complicated than that. Alita: Battle Angel sets him up to the major antagonist of the next movie and only hints at the abilities seen in the manga.
Page 2 of 2: How Alita's Movie, Anime & Manga Are Most Different
- Alita Battle Angel (2019) release date: Feb 14, 2019