If you were looking for a conclusive ending…then you haven’t been paying attention to Battle Angel Alita. Volume nine, which ends the manga run proper (Kodansha does bundle in an alternate ending of sorts and there are additional entrants in the series that continue the tale), is as furious in its action as volume eight, but while some stories conclude (Den’s in particular), Alita’s is left open. More than that, her story ends on a cliffhanger as she literally explodes to end the series.
I wonder what the readers thought of the ending when the series was originally published. In 1995, the Internet was exploding but resources were scarcer. One might talk about the ending in a newsgroup or on some other forum, but there was no Reddit or comment boards, and likely no long explanation written on a blog by an Alita aficionado. Still, the signs are there in the story that Nova’s violent blow to Alita wasn’t the end—cyborgs, including Alita herself, are destroyed all the time in the series, but further, by the end of the run, Alita still feels like an adolescent trying to discover herself (and she still doesn’t know much about her previous life).
The pacing of the story is unusual in this way—not only does Alita not achieve an epiphany (at least not one greater than several others throughout the course of the run), her long isn’t given anywhere near the treatment it needs. As a cyborg, her apparent age remains the same, even as those around her grow up—added to that her mysterious background (explored further in the sequel series), which could reach back decades (or even longer) and you have a main character who is much older than she seems. That’s almost necessary in this type of tale, however, for as with many science fiction stories involving androids or cyborgs, Alita asks the question of what makes us human and demonstrates that the answer to it can’t be found in a month or two (or even the better part of a couple decades); it must be found in a journey that stretches many years.
I love that trope. I love seeing the story of Haley Joel Osment’s David stretch thousands of years in Spielberg’s underrated masterpiece, A.I. And I love knowing that similarly, Alita’s tale isn’t done—it began far before the point at which we as readers are dropped into it, and will extend far past it. I love that idea, because it’s a most epic way of describing my own journey into humanity.
I totally get Alita. As a teenager and then again as a young adult, I felt like I had my life figured out. There were struggles for sure, but the pride with which I approached life (and to be honest, with which I still too often do) can be staggering. I was so like Alita in my teens and twenties, making poor decisions which affect me later on because I lacked experience, I lacked wisdom, I lacked humility. The Alita we see at the conclusion of the manga has those things in far more abundance, but does that make her mature? Maybe. But perhaps a better of way of aging her is to say she’s just entering adulthood—after all, that’s how I feel about myself these days as I look at my past with some regret and to my present with an understanding of just how little I know (while still laughably approaching life with self-righteousness). Paul talks of the Corinthians receiving milk like newborns, rather than solid food—when I was like a younger Alita, I thought of myself as having passed that stage. Now as an older Alita, I see myself as maybe, just maybe, starting on solids.
But instead of regret at maturing so slowly, I see the future as something exciting, as an opportunity now to be an actual grown-up, to make use of my faculties and see where this adventure takes me. And as with Alita, I know my story isn’t over—no, far from it. It’s only beginning.
Thank you for joining us in our series through the Battle Angel Alita manga! We’ve finished our volume-by-volume look, but we’re not quite done yet. The live-action Alita: Battle Angel film releases on February 14th, and this week we’ll be bringing you our thoughts on Robert Rodriguez’s (and James Cameron’s) vision of the series.