Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol.1 Lays the Groundwork for Better Things to Come

Yukito Kishiro’s First Volume is an Underwhelming, if Welcome, Return to the Universe

Comics Reviews Yukito Kishiro
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<i>Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle</i> Vol.1 Lays the Groundwork for Better Things to Come

STL070528.jpeg Last year, Kodansha Comics re-released the entirety of Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita, initially as an digital exclusive through comiXology before presenting the series as a set of deluxe omnibuses. First published in 1990, the manga follows the story of Alita, an amnesiac cyborg salvaged from the depths of a trash heap by a kindly physician named Ido who nurses her back to health. Eking out an existence in the dilapidated sprawl of the Scrapyard and thrust into battle against a rogue’s gallery of psychotic killers, criminals and megalomaniacs, Alita rediscovers her long dormant memories of the Panzer Kunst, an advanced martial art thought to be practiced by only the deadliest of cyborg combatants. From these humble beginnings, Alita sets forth on a personal journey of self-discovery through the post-apocalyptic wastes of North America, culminating in a quest to rescue the entire human race from the brink of extinction.

Throughout the initial five-year run of the series and the subsequent 14-year stint of its sequel series Last Order, Battle Angel Alita has been driven by several defining questions, the most pertinent of which being that of Alita’s own identity. Before she was the savior of humanity, before she became the “Battle Angel,” who was she? Who was Alita before Ido rescued her from the detritus of the Scrapyard, and what were the events that brought her there in the first place? For fans of the series, Mars Chronicle represents the final piece to Battle Angel Alita’s last, most enduring mystery.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Interior Art by Yukito Kishiro

Set in the year 2329, over 200 years before the events of the original series, Mars Chronicles follows the story of Yoko, a cyborg orphan stranded in the crossfire of a massive proxy war waged over the future of the red planet. With only her fast-made friend Erica by her side, Yoko is rescued from certain death by a mysterious Panzer Kunst soldier named Gelda before being handed off to an orphanage in the border town of Mamiana. When the orphanage is attacked by an army of mercenaries searching for Yoko, it’s up to her and Erica to shepherd the children safely out of harm’s way.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Interior Art by Yukito Kishiro

More coda than prequel, Mars Chronicle is perhaps the least approachable entry point for prospective readers new to series, with much of the first volume’s crucial expository details having been peppered throughout the initial chapters of the preceding series, Last Order. As such, Mars Chronicle is intended strictly for existing fans of the franchise, with little if any explanation offered aside from a perfunctory blurb on the back cover. Kishiro’s penchant for fastidiously detailed settings and action scenes, though present, has diminished sharply in the recent years. While the series’ signature balance of disarming peace jarringly punctuated by moments of indiscriminate violence and destruction is still on display, the results on the page read like a diminished return of the series’ more harrowing and memorable moments. Very little of anything of significance occurs in the first volume of Mars Chronicle, with the near-majority of principal events designed to move Yoko and Erica from the temporary respite of Mamiana into what one can only presume to be more substantial developments in the second volume.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Interior Art by Yukito Kishiro

To put it frankly, the initial chapters of Mars Chronicle suggest that this series is more preoccupied with explicating events and details that Battle Angel Alita fans were already familiar with than it is with telling a compelling story on its own. All the pieces are there—a mysterious child predestined for greatness, a strange and alien new world whose mysteries may yet lend clarity and further depth to the original series. However, the first volume of Mars Chronicle stands as an underwhelming, if welcome, return to the Battle Angel Alita universe with the possibility of yet more promising revelations waiting over the horizon. At this point, you’re better off just going back and reading the original Battle Angel Alita manga. You won’t regret it.