What do you picture in your head when you hear the word, “outsider”? I immediately think of the film adaptation of The Outsiders with its cast of cool looking dudes, the very image of rebels. And on the other end of the spectrum, I also think of those that don’t well fit into society, who are perhaps a bit awkward or whose interests aren’t mainstream (otaku included)—so the exact opposite of that first image: the uncool.
I was never quite in either of those categories, but the idea of being an outsider still rings true to me, if not as a way of life, certainly in portions of my own journey. I was never part of some maligned group, not really, but I’ve certainly felt like no one understands me. I’ve felt like I don’t have a group of people around me who are true friends, who truly get how I feel and actively try to support me.
Alita feels this way, too—in fact, an entire chapter in volume four of Battle Angel Alita is entitled, “Outsider.”
Alita uses this status as motivation. I don’t belong—so what? I’ve never belonged, and that’s what makes me me! It’s not a bad strategy, the whole “me against the world” type of thing, especially for an elite fighter / athlete. But if you go too far down that road, you miss the point. Alita sometimes does travel that path, but she wises us to reality, which is this—Alita is most definitely an outsider, and in the most discouraging of ways.
Jashugan, her rival in Motorball, is similarly an outsider. Though popular and beloved, his strength far surpasses those he plays against. Physically, he’s also in a unique situation, traveling the lonely road both of champion and brain-enhanced being. Companionship also alludes him—the only people close to him are his sister and his mentor, and he realizes that the earlier can no longer accompany him, and after being instructed by his sensei to kill his sister, that he can no longer be a disciple of the latter.
Being an outsider is to be lonely, and with loneliness comes pain. But even outsiders can come together and form community, and in doing so, find a “place” in the world—though when that happens, are the members of such a group “outsiders” anymore? While society at large considers them so, they now have a place where they belong.
But what happens when community doesn’t exist for you, as is the case with Jashugan and Alita? Or what happens when it fails, as it has for me?
Well, Alita and Jashugan show what happens—the earlier, as strong-willed as she is, is discouraged and lost, and the latter becomes fearful and loses hope. We as humans are made for community, so when it doesn’t exist, or when its broken, we are unfulfilled, and in many cases are left feeling hopeless.
As Alita moves forward, though, there is a glimmer of hope. She is searching for something or someone out there to show her that she’s not alone. Because as it is with us all, being on the outside can only motivate you for so long—being on the inside, having authentic community—is what we need to thrive.
Join us next Friday as we jump into volume five of the Battle Angel Alita manga!