I was recommended this title by a good friend of mine and decided to purchase this along with Voices of a Distant Star after trading in some anime DVDs I didn't want anymore, and am really, really glad to have seen Battle Angel. My only regret is that I didn't pick that title up in my early years of anime fandom since I clearly remember seeing a VHS display for this at the local Hollywood Video back in the day.
Battle Angel takes place in a hellhole known as Scrap Iron City. Above Scrap Iron City is a much fantasized floating paradise named Zalem. Scrap Iron City is seething with vile criminals, and the most vile ones attack people and take their organs to sell in the black market (particularly spines, which are the most valuable). Due to a lack of police, an organization simply known as “The Factory” hires SIC citizens as bounty hunters, who literally bring in the heads of criminals for cash. Cyber Doctor Ido rebuilds a broken female cyborg and names her Gally. Gally eventually finds a talent for hunting, and falls in love with a boy named Yugo, who on the outside looks like a mechanical repairman. However, things start to look dour when Ido's former partner, Dr. Chiren, tries to “outdo” Dr. Ido in cyborg combat and when crime boss Mr. Vector lures Yugo into a life of crime for the promise of getting to Zalem.
One of Battle Angel's best traits is its characters. The development of them is really well-thought out and they behave in complex, realistic fashions. Gally is a great character because of her intrigue due to the loss of her original memories. However, as the anime goes along, Gally gains awareness of her surroundings and becomes a fully fleshed out character. Yugo is also great because his actions blur the line between good and evil. This is so because Yugo, in desperation to fulfill his lifelong dream to earn enough credits to get to Zalem, resorts to spine-thieving, under Mr. Vector's orders, to earn credits quicker. Even though he resorts to these heinous actions, he's not necessarily a bad person because he's desperate to get a better life and escape from Scrap Iron City. Even some of the “bad” characters like Dr. Chiren are interesting because they don't act in such one-sided, cartoonish manners. We see Dr. Chiren as a villain at first, but as we see her more, she does the bad things she does under the promise for a better life (along with Yugo). On a humorous note, I think Mr. Vector looks like the anime version of jazz and film legend Scatman Crothers.
Aside from the great characters, Battle Angel gives the audience a setting that perfectly matches the mood it sets out to make. Scrap Iron City is a cyberpunk hellhole; seething with crime and an all around ugly appearance, which is appropriate since it is after all, built out of the garbage dumped from Zalem. Scrap Iron City itself is quite unique because unlike most Blade Runner-influenced cyberpunk anime where it often takes place in an overpopulated high-tech metropolis, Scrap Iron City looks like what would happen if a city was built in the wastelands from The Road Warrior (heck, even one of the cyborg criminals bears a small visual resemblance to Wez) with everyday life integrated with Blade Runner-like technology (computers and cyborgs, etc.). The fact that Battle Angel was a low budget production from 1993 also gives it sort of a grainy picture to it as well, enhancing the unnerving mood the unpleasant visuals present.
What I really like about the cyborgs in Battle Angel is that they don't look perfectly “human,” you can immediately tell that they're machines, and it shows the grittiness of Scrap Iron City since they don't have fancy parts to make the cyborgs look like sexual eye candy. Even Gally's body doesn't have the “perfect” look to it since only her head looks “human,” and everything else below looks entirely mechanical. There's even robots shown throughout Battle Angel that look like they were thrown together by random scrap, particularly the robots that work for “The Factory.”
Battle Angel also has several themes going for it, and all of them are incorporated very well into the anime. The most noticeable one is the love theme, which takes place between Gally and Yugo, and the romance itself is pretty sad. There's also themes of freedom, obsession, and following one's dreams all accentuated in Yugo's fixation on leaving Scrap Iron City and getting to Zalem. This is also pretty sad because Yugo is so fixated on his lifelong dream, that he's blind to the good things he already has in life.
Battle Angel has some great, bloody action scenes that add to the overall story and don't seem tacked on to grab the viewer's attention. For an anime with a limited budget, the fight scenes between Gally and several cyborg criminals are really well done. The most notable fight scene is between Gally and Grewcica (main cyborg criminal). Grewcica uses crazy things like extending fingers that can slash and destroy just about anything, while Gally relies only on her agility and strong body to fight the fiend. When Ido confronts Grewcica and one of his minions towards the beginning, it was pretty awesome to see him fight the mechanical monsters because it's not everyday that you see a guy in a black trench-coat use a rocket-powered hammer (with a sharp end, nonetheless) to destroy his foes.
This certainly isnt' an anime I'd let the kids see because while not a constant bloodbath, there's some moments that are pretty gruesome. The most notable example would be prior to the previously mentioned duel, the upgraded Grewcica uses his sharp, extending fingers to slice a helpless dog to death, with blood and entrails being shed in decent detail. There's fleeting nude and sex scenes involving Dr. Chiren and Mr. Vector, though it's only Chiren's body that's portrayed in the nude.
The animation for this is pretty standard for a low budget anime from the early 90's, but I don't have any gripes with this whatsoever because the minor imperfections that exist within the animation give it a charm that anime today horribly lacks. The only real noticeable “cel recycle” is when towards the beginning, when a young woman runs from two cyborg criminals, you see her running and the background looks like its being repeated as she runs. However, I think they partially covered that up by designing that corridor with a semi-repeating structural pattern. The artwork for Battle Angel is quite good since the backgrounds are painted in great detail and accentuate the grittiness of Scrap Iron City. The character art is also well done and makes them very distinct. Another quality product from Japan's greatest animation studio, Madhouse!!
My only gripe with Battle Angel is that they could have made it a little longer since all together, this OVA only runs at about 50 minutes. However, what they achieved in that little time is certainly more impressive than most anime titles that have over ten times the running length but pad most of it out with pointless filler (I'm looking at you, Witchblade). If you want some gritty cyberpunk anime that's intelligent and touching, all while being short yet to the point, then Battle Angel will be a great addition to your anime collection.
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About the reviewer
David Kozak (RabidChihuahua)
I'm a morbid cynic who thinks very, very differently from most other people. Chances are, if the majority says X is the greatest in its category, I'll disagree with that notion, because I tend … more
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Battle Angel, known in Japan as Gunnm (銃夢, Ganmu?), is an original video animation based on the Battle Angel Alitamanga by Yukito Kishiro. The OVA comprises two episodes, Rusty Angel and Tears Sign, that serve as a compressed preview for the manga. They correspond respectively to volumes 1 and 2 of the manga, with some differences. According to Kishiro, only two episodes were originally planned. At the time, he was too busy with the manga "to review the plan cooly", nor was he serious about an anime adaptation. There are no plans to revive the anime. The OVA spawned a memorable soundtrack including the theme song and "Cyborg Mermaid". Although it received a lukewarm reception in Japan, U.S. critics held it to be one of the best anime to be translated and brought to America in the 1990s. Manga Entertainment's UK and Australian version is just a single movie.