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Battle Angel Alita, Vol. 9: Angel's Ascension

Battle Angel Alita, Vol. 9: Angel's Ascension - Yukito Kishiro Overall series rating: three stars.

Alita is a crazy ride through a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk world with hints of everything from Bladerunner to rollerderby. For some strange reason, I couldn't help but be reminded of an old Nintendo game called Basewars where you could build robots and buy parts in a crazy violent version of futuristic baseball. I loved the start and the premise. Doc Ido, a cybernetic physician discovers the intact brain of a young girl in the Scrapyards under the floating city of Tiphares and slowly and lovingly brings her back to life. The girl is amnesiac, and the story begins as one of personal growth and identity - a struggle between trying to find out your past and being defined by the actions you take in the present. The science in this science fiction story is pretty innovative and creative, and for the most part stays within the realms of possibility. The best part is the mystery of it all. Where did Alita come from? We get super cool fragments of memories that come to her of being trained in super elite fighting styles (that stirred up my love of Kung Fu flicks) that are slowly revealed through her battles. Alita grows; first assuming the career of a bounty hunter before facing a personal crisis that forces her away from the only life she knows and into the dangerous arena of Motorball. The games are fun, brutal and exciting and Alita continues her journey to self-discovery. Kishiro dutifully doles out fragments to keep you interested and guessing.

Around midway through, the whole thing fell apart for me. After the Motorball episode, the story shifts into preparation for the finale and all the revelations by revealing and focusing in on a mad Tipharean doctor named Desty Nova who's running ghastly experiments and may have been the secret hand responsible for some of the nasty going-ons during the first few chapters. Several time skips, bad dialogue, unappealing one-dimensional characters and the introduction of a love interest that I just couldn't quite wrap my mind around later the story begins to wind down and in the last volume we begin to get some answers. I couldn't escape a feeling that the volumes six through eight were pointless filler, which of course they're not. They introduce key elements and "milestones" (which felt more like a checklist of loose ends) before Kishiro could really lay out the truth because that truth would leave too many questions otherwise. It's a poor job of explaining away the story. The problem is, Kishiro turns a character driven story into some multidecade-things-blow-up-a-lot-and-people-get-decapitated-a-lot-epic that just doesn't resonate as well as the first half.

On a positive note though, I did thoroughly enjoy the final "revelations" of Alita's past and the backstory of the world that Kishiro created. It's imaginative, visually striking and just plain cool science fiction. This series could have been incredibly poignant, nerdily cool and intriguing from a scientific standpoint, but for the whole "Tuned Agent" arc. It's easy to see why so many people are after a live-action adaptation of this story. It would definitely be good fun at the movies if someone like James Cameron gets his wish and gets to make it.