It’s hard to end a story, especially one that’s become so successful that it has perhaps gone on longer than the author originally intended. This happens all the time with manga and anime—overbloated plots, meandering storylines, and too many characters often contribute to such failures. After two mediocre volumes, Battle Angel Alita is sitting on the edge of all these concerns as it speeds into its closing run, but surprisingly, volume eight is exciting, focused, and moving steadily toward one big conclusion that trumps all the more minor concerns of the manga, as it asks, “Who is Alita?” and more personally, “Who are we?”
Alita’s long journey nears an end as she tracks Desty Nova, seeks to reunite with Ido, and watches to see how and if Den will bring about a revolution that destroys the barriers between Zalem and the people below. Much of this is left for the final volume, but the one event that I cared most about, Alita’s meeting with Ido, happens in volume eight. It’s a surprisingly low-key moment—not some over-the-top, violent confrontation that we might expect to be arranged by the disturbed Desty Nova, nor a sentimental free-for-all with tears and embraces. Ido is living a peaceful life, one without memory of Alita—and it’s become time for both to move on.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Ido gave life to Alita when she had lost it once, when she was in the scrapyard and destined to be trashed forever. Moving on means moving past that emotion, but for Alita, it’s also a physical thing. She is thrown into a mind trip of a battle when she, growing ever closer to freeing herself from Zalem’s grasp, must fight more advanced replicas of herself. As she grows closer and closer to losing the battle with one, and losing her life, Alita ponders: Is she machine? Is she human?
Her thoughts about the internal struggle, man v. machine, are almost poetic in a most cyberpunk sort of way: “At times, the two grind against each other in a way that drives me mad!” Oh, Alita, I’ve been there—and I don’t mean with with cybernetic limbs.
I spent my bible study times last month taking that difficult trek through the book of Romans, Paul’s magnum opus, and was struck by a passage that reminded me of Alita’s struggle, and my own: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:14-15).
Alita desperately wants to be human, to feel human, but she is inhibited by her lost pass, her mechanical insides, her inhuman ability, and by what so many others are telling her. She wants to be human, but she feels and acts like a robot. I’m sometimes the same—I want to be something more than what I am, more than simply human, but I often fall back into the same old patterns. I become that “robot,” grinding my gears as I exhibit impatience, ungrace, and all manner of other sin. I don’t want to be robot, and yet I act that way.
But Alita comes to a conclusion of which I need reminding as well: “I have to be myself.”
Although that statement might sound like new age mumbo jumbo, there’s truth inherent in it. Alita clings to the very human feelings of worry and desire, and in doing so, is reminded of what she’s meant to be. She’s not simply a robot. Alita’s self is far greater.
In the middle of the fight, in the middle of the worry or stress or mundanity of life, I forget who I am, too. I live like a robot, like the slave that Alita has become, forgetting that I’ve been freed to be something more. Having been given life once and once again, Alita and I both cry out for something more than the actions we all too often exhibit. Our souls demand it, for the truth is clear: We were never meant to live like robots.
This is it, guys! Join us this Friday as we go through volume nine and finish off Alita!