Volume two of Battle Angel Alita takes us to an unexpected place—right into a love story. But being a violent, sci-fi adventure, this love story involves dealing in the trade of human organs, a dream to visit a city in the sky, and a dystopian society where police units and bounty hunters keep order for the sake of industrial development, not for the preservation and sanctity of life.
After fighting a bounty, Alita runs into an adolescent named Yugo, who dreams of traveling to Zalem, the city in the sky far above. She is immediately attracted to him, though Yugo doesn’t seem to think much of Alita either way—he’s focused on his dream, which he intends to achieve through a promise by gangster Vector, who will send him there for ten million units of currency. Originally part of a ten year plan, Yugo has approached the ten million mark in a third of that time, due in part to his hard work repairing equipment (including pieces at Ido’s clinic), but in greater part because of the side work he’s doing for Vector, attacking cyborgs and stealing their spinal columns, which are then sold by Vector.
The story is engaging, in part, because Yugo is very likeable, a kid that’s easy to root for—but he’s participating in something really, really bad. He doesn’t see it as such, though—he never kills the victims (soothing his conscience by placing anonymous calls to Ido to help them get repaired) and is otherwise totally blinded by his dream.
When I was about Yugo’s age, I remember running my own little scams. Ever having the sweet tooth, I would bring the same plastic cup to the local pizza joint by my high school every day and fill up with a soft drink, having paid for the cup once but using it over and over again. My thought process was, “Local Pizzeria rips us off with how much they’re charging for a little syrup and carbonated water, so I’m just getting back my fair share.” That justification worked for my adolescent mind because it fed a deeper desire I had to put one up on everyone. I lied, cheated, and stole from institutions as well as classmates, friends, and family, to get ahead. The god of my life was me, and everything was for me—it made no difference how I treated anyone or anything.
Yugo has some of that justification going on in his worldview, too. Fed by a tragic backstory and the same poverty and classism that drives others in the story, Yugo doesn’t see anything wrong in his actions—the dream tops everything and everyone else. All other people are just potential sacrifices to be burned up at the altar of his pursuit of Zalem.
As the volume progresses, Alita starts to learn of Yugo’s double life and begins to question what she should do. It’s a conundrum for her—like the stories of young women getting caught up with bad men (although the reality is that Alita is badder than them all, in a manner of speaking), Alita has to consider whether she’ll become a criminal by being both an accomplice and breaking the hunter-warrior law, or if she’ll bring in Yugo’s head. How the web of deceit can spread! Yugo’s actions, already affecting innocent victims, now bring in another innocent.
I’m reminded of an even worse deed I committed at the same restaurant I mentioned earlier, one for which I could very well have been arrested. One day, in the arcade area, I noticed friends getting free games at a machine. What had happened was that the collection area for change had been left unlocked, and they kept taking quarters from it and playing games on the house. What a very teenage boy thing to do! Devious me, however, took it several steps further and pushed my hands right into the change and shoved a couple hundred quarters into my pockets—I stole approximately $50 that day. Other friends saw me and did the same—my actions tempted them as I opened the door for their theivery.
Lies beget lies. Theft begets theft. Murder begets murder. Sin begets sin.
Yugo’s misdeeds put him in mortal danger—the manga shows the distance between a normal human’s power, even one as sly and athletic as Yugo, and that of the dangerous hunter-warriors like Alita, who is forced to make quick decisions that will affect her life and Yugo’s after the bounty is placed on his head.
As volume two ends, the story has yet to wrap up—but it is headed in a direction that will challenge Yugo to confront his sin, to see if Vector has even been telling the truth from the beginning. It’s very possible that Yugo will still be unrepentant should he discover the entire operation was a lie, but my feeling is that someone with his kind of heart will open his eyes, no longer blind to his misdeeds.
In my story, just as with Yugo’s, I got caught, and a similarly unexpected way. I hid my change away in a container in my bathroom. One morning, while greedily counting the quarters (cue Gollum caressing the One Ring), the container slipped from my hand and dropped to hard floor, making a loud symphony of sounds as the quarters crashed onto the hard tile and collided with one another. It felt like The Matrix or The Predator, with multitudes of gun shell casings replaced by currency. My mother heard the commotion and came into the room, discovering the mess—her assumption was that I had been stealing from her over many months. I was too afraid to tell the truth, that her son was indeed a thief, but the kind that was stealing from a business rather than from her.
I didn’t return the money—our guilt doesn’t always drive us to fix our problems, at least not immediately. But my sticky fingers, which took magazines, toys, candy, and all sorts of things in addition to money, never stole anything again. It would take years for me to have a true change of heart, one driven by love rather than fear, but that moment still changed my action, and as I suppose will happen with Yugo should he survive, the scales were lifted from my eyes. Indeed, when once I was blind, now—bereft of my false justification—I could see.
Join us as we discuss one volume of Battle Angel Alita each Friday as we get closer to the premier of Alita: Battle Angel movie on February 14th!