Like so many science fiction stories preceding and following it, Battle Angel Alita follows the journey of a robot (or in this case, cyborg) who is learning who she is, and in doing so, is discovering what it means to be a robot and what it is to be human. These kinds of tales excite me, for as I journey along in them, I question those things that mar us as people and consider the hope I have for something greater, and in doing so perhaps learn a little more about myself.
Volume five of Battle Angel Alita leans heavily on these themes, while also exploring motifs for which it only scratched the surface of in earlier volumes. Entitled “Lost Sheep,” the volume contains chapters titled, “Scapegoat” and “Lion and the Lamb.” Biblical allusions unmistakably take center stage here, both surface-level, concerning the battle that occurs between Alita and her nemesis as the people of the Scrapyard pray that she’ll be a scapegoat that appeases the now godlike Zapan, and in something deeper, falling right in line with a battle we don’t see—that among spiritual forces.
The volume begins with Zapan’s reappearance, which at first seems happy. He is living with Sara, a young lady who is caring for the needy, and resisting his desire for vengeance, but in a moment of rage, he accidentally kills Sara and goes on a rampage. Later, he fights Alita and is apparently killed by Sara’s father Murdoch, who has been searching for him for two years to exact his own revenge.
“Lost Sheep” is an interesting title for the first chapter in this storyline—who exactly is this lost sheep? It seems to be pointing at Zapan, though the passage of the Lost Sheep in the Bible, a parable as told by Jesus, gives us more insight:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:3-7)
The parable, one of three “losts” given in that chapter, tells of God’s great love for us. He will travel the dangerous road to rescue just the one and bring it home. Could Zapan be the one sheep? It hardly seems so, as he is set up as one of the series’ major villains. In fact, after he “dies,” Zapan grows even stronger. His brain is rescued by Desty Nova, who connects it to Alita’s original berserker body, and he goes on a rampage, seeking to destroy the title character. Thus begins the non-stop action of the chapters, which grow increasingly exciting as the stakes grow higher and higher and the storyline darker and darker, including a moment straight out of Seven that brings Alita to her knees.
As Zapan destroys the Scrapyard, the people try to force Alita to be a “scapegoat,” a sacrifice that they believe will make him go away. Unable to force Alita to do so, they start begging her, in one scene with knees bent and arms high as if in worship, as the manga quotes a verse from the Bible.
As part of the ceremonies on the Day of Atonement, a goat ritually carried the sins of the Israelite community into the desert, a scapegoat for the people’s sins. Christians consider the ritual prophetic, with Christ serving as the scapegoat for all the people, carrying their sins on the cross, dying in our place, as the goat, too, was left to perish.
Alita states that she has no intention of dying a humbling death, however, and so the analogy doesn’t seem to fit. But there’s a misunderstanding here for neither did Christ capitulate to his enemy, the Devil. While a humiliating, humbling, and painful death awaited him at the hands of the Romans, what occurred was also a spiritual battle of epic proportions. As Zapan feels he has the upper hand on Alita, Satan must have felt the same—the Son of God, after all, was abandoned by his friends and executed by the people he loved! But it was all part of a plan to save humanity which the Devil must not have anticipated. Zapan, too, is surprised at Alita’s conviction, as she tears limbs from her own body to attack the enemy, and has a secret weapon in store that can defeat him.
Alita is that sacrifice that will save the Scrapyard. She willingly went forward to fight her (and their) enemy. And she put up the fight of her life, knowing that death was on the line. She played the role of Christ to the people.
But Alita is also the saved. She is also the sheep, as is Zapan himself.
This battle is part of Alita’s long journey, one that began with her as part of the trash heap, unable to do anything for herself and perhaps lost forever. But through the people in her life, Ido primarily but others as well, she has begun to walk a path toward finding herself, and especially in light of the possibility of being an agent of death in her past life, redemption. Although fraught with mistakes and marred by Alita’s misjudgement that she is doing everything on her own, the journey is a good one, a remarkable sojourn that should have started and ended in death, but is leading toward a hopeful ending.
Her story is still in progress, but it appears Zapan’s has finally ended, and perhaps unexpectedly, it closes on a gracious note. In the seconds before his death, he experiences a vision, one in which he believes that all that has occurred since Sara’s death is but a dream. He experiences some healing through this, and perhaps unfairly, perishes in a hopeful place. It doesn’t seem right, not after all the pain he’s caused.
But it’s an ending we need, for Zapan is so like us. Flailing at and fighting the world, he ended up in a place that at times seems unjust and is at times a product of his own bad choices. But so are we as those who suffer and cause others to. We cannot achieve our own salvation—it can only occur through the scapegoat.
Alita, that scapegoat, is the Lion and the Lamb—a lion who fights Zapan with extreme ferocity, and a lamb who is pure enough to provide salvation for him. The imagery is purposeful and strong and it points to our own story, our own battle, our own need for someone to find us when we have gone astray—and our own need for an Alita, but one who has already completed his journey and made it through perfectly, so that we might be rescued when we’ve made a mess of which we have no other escape.
Join us this Friday as we double up for the week and dive into volume six of Battle Angel Alita!