Battle Angel Alita lands in Hollywood

Battle Angel Alita (Ganmu, literally “gun dream”, in Japanese) is a manga series created by Yukito Kishiro in 1990. The series was originally published in Shueisha’s Business Jump magazine and two books of the nine-volume manga were later adapted by ADV Films into a two-part anime miniseries titled ‘Battle Angel’ for North American, UK and Australian audiences by Manga Entertainment.

The main character, an enigmatic female cyborg heroine called Alita, will be portrayed in James Cameron’s live-action film adaptation of the original Japanese manga series by American actress Rosa Salazar.

Battle Angel Alita tells the story of Alita (called ‘Gally’ in the original Japanese version), an amnesiac female cyborg, whose intact torso, in suspended animation, is found by cybernetic expert Daisuke Ido on the local dump in the futuristic dystopian city of Scrapyard, which sprawls around a massive scrap heap that rains down from the floating city of Tiphares, that is based in a post-apocalyptic United States in 26th century. Ground dwellers, many extensively enhanced by cybernetics to better cope with their testing life, have no access to Tiphares and are forced to make despondent living in the gruelling conditions of the slum below. Tiphares exploits the Scrapyard and surrounding areas, paying mercenaries (called Hunter-Warriors) to hunt down criminals and organising violent sports, such as Motorball, to keep the masses entertained. Ido manages to revive the cyborg, and, finding she has lost all her memories, names her Alita after his late pet cat. The rebuilt Alita soon recalls that she is an expert in the legendary martial art ‘Panzer Kunst’, although she does not remember anything beyond this. Alita uses her Panzer Kunst skills to first become a mercenary Hunter-Warrior, killing cyborg criminals in the Scrapyard, and then a player in the brutal sport of Motorball. While in combat, she experiences flashbacks from her earlier life on Mars. Later, Alita starts working for the floating city of Tiphares as one of its agents, and is sent to hunt down various criminals, amongst them the mad genius Desty Nova, who first clashes with Alita, but eventually becomes her trusted ally.

Production of the big screen version of Battle Angel Alita experienced multiple hiatuses due to James Cameron’s engagement with upcoming Avatar sequels

Yukito Kishiro’s cult manga series was originally brought to James Cameron’s attention by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Cameron immediately became enamored with the story of enigmatic cyborg heroine and made clear his intention to try and bring Battle Angel Alita to the big screen. He has stated that he wants to adapt “the spine story” of the manga to a feature film, with the same mix of live-action and computer-generated imagery that he recently used to a great effect in his blockbuster Avatar. Because of the considerable extent of the source material, Cameron resolved to limit the film adaptation to the first four books of the original manga series, with a particular focus on the brutal futuristic sport Motorball as depicted in the third and fourth volume of the manga series.

The feature film, from a screenplay by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, will be directed by Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk till Dawn, The Faculty, Sin City, Predators), while Cameron will co-produce the movie with Jon Landau, a veteran co-operator with whom he produced in the past such blockbusters as Titanic and Avatar, as well as a critically well received, though commercially unsuccessful, science fiction drama Solaris. Film producers cast Rosa Salazar as Alita, the titular character, Christoph Waltz as Dr. Dyson Ido, Alita’s mentor and a scientist, Keean Johnson as Hugo, Alita’s love interest and teacher of Motorball game and Ed Skrein as antagonist Zapan. Lana Condor will also appear, starring as Koyomi, an orphaned teenage freelance photographer, while Mahershala Ali, Michelle Rodriguez and Marko Zaror will feature respectively as Vector, Gelda and Ajakutty – all characters involved in the Motorball sport.

Alita: Battle Angel, whose pre-production experienced several delays due to Cameron’s heavy involvement in the Avatar sequels, was shot in Austin, Texas between October 2016 and February 2017, is at the moment in post-production and is currently scheduled for 20 July 2018 worldwide cinematic release.