Let’s take a moment to talk about a good story. I am of the opinion that what makes a good story can at times be purely subjective. Now, there are some important things that should probably be adhered to when looking at a story, such as plot consistency, character development, and a defined sense of “why should I care?” But mostly, what makes a good story depends on the interests of the reader, their background, relationship to the characters, etc. A good story for one person, might make a terrible story for another. Sometimes, it might be hard for someone to explain why they think a story is “a good story.” It might have a certain appeal or spark certain emotions that resonate with the reader or viewer. It could just “suck you in” without you even realizing it. Hopefully you’ve experienced stories like this.
The story we will be looking at today fits this mold — for me at least. I like it. A lot. And I can’t really put my finger on as to why, yet. I will try not to let this bias change how I view the story in relation to the ideas of transhumanism that we have been discussing and if compassion is apparent in the main characters. But honestly, this could be why I like it so much. It is a perfect example of what we have been exploring in this series. Page after page drips with the implications of transhumanism and what it really means to be human. I’m excited to get into this one. So without further ado, let’s hop in.
Many a book or movie (or really any form of media) have been recommended to me by Some Guys I Know from in and around the Airship. I always enjoy these recommendations, and a lot of them have been and will be used in past and future posts.
Gunnm, or Battle Angel Alita, was one of these recommendations.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of checking out this story, here’s a little background:
Gunnm, or Battle Angel Alita (as I will continue to call it throughout) is a manga written by Yukito Kushiro and follows a cyborg female named Alita (or Gally in the original Japanese versions). The stories revolve mostly around a city known as Scrapyard in a postapocalyptic, cyberpunk-ish setting set 500 years or so in the future. Alita’s head and chest were found in a dumb by a man named Daisuke Ido. He was able to revive and rebuild her. At the beginning of the story, she has no real memory of her past, but her subconscious does remember how to be a bad ass fighting machine. The rest, to quote the manga, is “destiny.”
The question of the presence of compassion within the emotional capabilities of the main character is answered within the first couple of chapters of the first volume, and then over and over again throughout the manga.
To make a long story short — Yes, compassion is present. And very much so. In fact, you could say that it is in a way overtly part of the story. Even the last chapter of the first volume is titled “Compassion.”
First, Alita seeks to protect those around her. Be it Ido, or a stranger she doesn’t know, she has an idea of right and wrong and acts upon those ideas. At times when someone like Ido is in danger, she acts in order to save him. This is how she realizes her abilities for fighting. To look at this skeptically, if we think about a “computer” for a mind, this could simply be a program called “protect”. But the dialogue involved with her actions and the way in which she doesn them leads me to believe that it is done out of compassion, and not programming.
It is also important to note that from what I can tell being a couple of volumes into the story, most cyborgs still have their human brains intact. This makes it pretty easy to show that compassion can still exist despite being mostly made of artificial materials. Whether this is true for Alita, I have still yet to find out. This is a story I want to see through to its end though, so expect more about it in the future.
The second reason that I believe Alita shows humanity has less to do with compassion, and more to do with a nod back to a book we looked at earlier, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? You see, Alita dreams. Not just the dreams that we think of occurring when we sleep, but she also has aspirations. Alita is on a journey to figure out who or what she is, and what that means exactly.
She also loves, and acts upon that love. This is actually part of the main story arch of the second volume. She makes a lot of decisions and does a lot of things to help the ones that she feels strongly for. I don’t want to reveal much more of the story out of fear of spoiling something that I highly recommend for others to read.
Finally, to help drive this point home, we can look at the last chapter of the first volume — ”Compassion”. This chapter features the climax to the arch of Volume 1 and a showdown with the main antagonist of the story. In this battle, even with all of the terrible things that the antagonist did, Alita is able to seek understanding of him, and even acts upon that understanding, making that last step from empathy, to compassion. To quote the manga once again, the battle and its outcome moves her to tears, “by something she can’t exactly explain.”
I would like to reiterate that I am only about two volumes deep in this story, and that there are possibly (likely) many more examples that can be used to support that Alita has the capacity for compassion. I HIGHLY recommend this manga if you are a fan of a good story, cyberpunk, cyborgs, or anything along those lines. Expect a full review on the series when I finish it.
Thanks for reading. Until next time…
- The Bookkeeper