Starring (voices): Miki Itô, Shunsuke Kariya, Kappei Yamaguchi
In the far future, a young cyborg is rescued from a scrap heap. With no memory of her past, but possessing incredible fighting skills, she begins working as a bounty hunter and develops a friendship with a boy who dreams of living in a utopian city that hovers in the sky.
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Among the hubbub around the fifteen year odyssey that was the production of Avatar, some may still recall another project that has been a passionate dream of James Cameron for many years now. Time and again he has talked of directing a live action version of Gunnm, an Anime and series of Manga better known to Western audiences as Battle Angel Alita. It is not hard to understand the appeal of the material to Cameron: set in a dystopian future where Earth has become a global slum and those who can afford it live in giant cities floating like satellites in the sky, it promises a visual feast to a man who has spent a career pushing production technology to its limit. Add to that cyborgs, numerous multifaceted characters and a strong yet sensitive female lead, and you have the foundations of a sci-fi action flick to rival The Terminator or Aliens.
The film focuses on a young cyborg girl called Gally. Found in a scrapheap by talented "cyberdoctor" Daisuke Ido, she is revived and repaired. With no memory of her previous life, Ido acts as a surrogate father, trying to guide an innocent Gally through a violent, unforgiving world. The Earth itself has been abandoned by those with the means to live in giant flying cities. It is in the shadow of one such satellite, Zalem, that Gally finds a community eking out an existence, surviving on the waste that is tossed down on them from above. In this wasteland Gally proves to be an exceptional fighter, becoming a bounty hunter.
The theme of Gunnm is growth; Gally begins the film as a blank slate, unsure of herself, a child in appearance and mentality. It is through her exposure to the destructive environment around her, as well as her interactions with Ido and a boy named Yugo, that she matures. Her relationship with Yugo is especially touching - as her human nature overcomes her cybernetic body, she cannot help but fall in love with the young dreamer whose goal is to live in Zalem. Headstrong, a child pretending to be a man, Yugo's denial in the face of this impossible dream can only end in tragedy for all concerned. Gally’s journey opens her eyes to the reality of the world in which she lives, yet she clings forever to the hope that things can get better.
However, Gunnm is more than just a character study. Like all good Anime, it is able to combine dark drama with excellent action sequences. The animation throughout is superb, the speed and brutality of Gally's battles with the dregs of society jumping out of the screen in a heady mix of balletic poise and bloody death. The world around these characters is filthy, infused with dark, earthy colours and neutral tones. Unsurprisingly, Zalem is depicted from below as a paradise, but it is only when you get closer that you realise the sharp thorns on this rose.
The voice acting is of high quality, with even the English dubbing proving better than expected. Gally's innocence, Ido's world-weary sensibilities and Yugo's internal confusion are wonderfully conveyed, while most of the supporting characters are of an equal quality. This is a production that received much care, though this sadly did not equal great box office success. Which is a terrible shame - this Anime only covers the first two books in the Manga series, meaning there is still a rich vein of work from which to mine. Perhaps, when James Cameron finally does get around to his live-action version, we will be granted an even greater insight into these wholly interesting, strangely relatable characters.