Battle Angel [Gunnm] Anime Review
Hyper Future Vision Gunnm 銃夢
Hyper Future Vision Gunnm (Ganmu)
US Release By
2 32-minute episodes
1993-06-21 - 1993-08-21
Scrap Iron City is a rusty hive of scavengers below the mysterious floating city of Zalem. Among the residents is a kind and highly skilled cyber doctor, Ido. One day, scavenging the mountain of scrap dropped by Zalem, he finds what's left of a young cyborg girl--and she's still alive. He rebuilds her body, and, since she has no memory, gives her a name--Gally--and a new life as a sort of daughter for him. However, Ido isn't quite what he seems, nor is Gally, when she discovers that her calling is to become a Hunter-Warrior--a bounty hunter for The Factory--which she inexplicably has the skills for. But Scrap Iron City is a brutal place, and before long she and the hardworking young lad Yugo are trapped in the web of corruption of Vector, a Factory boss, and Chiren, an old flame of Ido's.
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Gunnm (or Battle Angel, if you prefer) has everything you could ask for in such a short OAV series--gorgeous art, engaging plot, nuanced storytelling, and characters as developed as the compact runtime allows. Based on the opening parts of the lengthy manga series by Yukito Kishiro, the only disappointment about Gunnm is that there isn't more of it. Though the series never resorts to lengthy exposition or unnecessary narration, the characters feel fleshed out beyond their basic stereotypes--the good doctor, the kid with a dream--and it clearly establishes the world as a decaying, corrupt place ruled by greed, inequity and the darkest parts of human nature. This is contrasted with bits of humanity and hope in the face of despair, and while the story is not uplifting, it does make its point. The visuals are simply beautiful--in particular the polished linework faithful to Kishiro's manga--as is Kaoru Wada's terse musical score. A quality Japanese voice cast supplies the finishing touch.
In all, whether you call "Rusty Angel" and "Tears Sign" Gunnm or Battle Angel, the pair are a masterwork among OAVs. Whether you like cyberpunk, dark action, or sci-fi drama, it is a singularly well crafted series that comes with my highest recommendation.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Gunnm has everything you could ask for in such a short OAV series--gorgeous art, engaging plot, nuanced storytelling, and characters as developed as the compact runtime allows. Based on the opening chapters of the post-apocalyptic cyberpunk action manga by Yukito Kishiro, the only disappointment about Gunnm is that there isn't more of it.
The US release of the anime is dubbed "Battle Angel" after VIZ's alternate title for the manga, which I refuse to use (though I admit it's not at all inappropriate). The animated version only retells a compact part of Kishiro's sprawling epic, yet manages to feel self-contained and conclusive at the end without seriously altering the plot. The tightly-written story is neither oversimplified nor confusingly dense, so it can be enjoyed entirely on its own, or as a more reserved retelling of the manga.
In fact, the animated version makes some improvements on the somewhat more action-oriented original. In particular, the manga is perforated with exaggerated and extremely graphic violence, and although the animated version is by no means stripped of its violent edge, it omits some of the more overdone bits of action and gratuitous gore.
The writing is appealingly concise; the motivations of the characters and the how and why of the world are never explained in great detail, but both are clearly established. Brief conversations and simple, wordless gestures explain more than enough without resorting to narration or unnecessary exposition.
Gunnm's setting--cyberpunk with a Mad Max twist--is vividly established as a decaying, corrupt place ruled by greed and inequity and rife with violence, despair, and the darkest parts of human nature. The series' message, though, is a sort of optimism--the dreams, kindness, and humanity that survive even in this unforgiving environment.
To this end, it offers a small but well-developed cast of characters. Gally, a cyborg without a past, is more than just a stock amnesiac--she has a girlish charm and humanity, but at the same time a gritty determination and a hint of unnerving bloodlust hiding inside. Yugo, likewise, is the kid with a dream, but with a much darker edge than most characters of the sort; pursuit of his dream is a driving obsession overriding even morality. Ido and Chiren provide a much more mature mirror of these same divisions; Ido stands at the fringe of morality but refuses to give up his humanity, while Chiren has been driven by bitterness and the dream of escape to justify debasing herself.
The visuals are beautiful. The character design and art closely match Kishiro's angular style and detailed linework--some of the finest-looking cel art I can think of, and, if anything, better than the art in the early manga chapters. I also consider Kishiro the master of hair, and that style is carried through into the anime version, with a lifelike attention to volume, texture, and individual strands. The backgrounds are similarly rich, from the dense, decaying cyberpunk streets of Scrap Iron City to the fantastic vision of Zalem looming in the blue sky above. The use of light and color is memorable; the mountains of scrap at the center of the city are often shown in the rusty oranges of sunset, time spent on the rooftops above the city, which are used to symbolize hope, is warmly lit by bright sunshine, and the dangerous streets below are usually covered in heavy shadow. The animation is the closest thing to a weak point, in that it's merely good in contrast to the otherwise exceptional visuals. The frame rate is more than sufficient, but most of the character animation isn't impressive.
Kaoru Wada's terse musical score fits the production perfectly. Action scenes are paired with driving industrial percussion, while emotional bits are matched with a simple, haunting flute piece. The most dramatic scenes, notably, are usually left to stand on their own, which allows the subtler visual cues and nuanced voice performances to stand on their own, without embellishment--a tactic that works quite well. The melancholy rock song "Cyborg Mermaid" that serves as the end theme (the episodes have no opening sequence, or eyecatch for that matter) is somewhat different in style, but it feels like a fitting punctuation mark in both mood and quality.
The Japanese voice acting is the final component of the near-perfect picture. Miki Itoh gives Gally both her girlish innocence and fierce growl, and handles the emotional drama with force and believability. Chiren, voiced by Mami Koyama, is the other noteworthy performance--mature and nuanced. The other two major characters are also handled well--Kappei Yamaguchi sounds appropriately youthful as Yugo, and Shunsuke Kariya (in his first and only anime role, so far as I know) makes for a slightly baritone but otherwise acceptable Ido. The remaining characters are considerably broader--the omnipresent Shigeru Chiba gives Vector's voice an appropriately menacing sleaze, but the variety of monstrous cyborgs are generic roaring maniacs.
I haven't listened to ADV's dub; their subtitles (the same are used in all releases as of this writing) are light on the cheesy one-liners, but take some liberties with the details.
In all, whether you call "Rusty Angel" and "Tears Sign" Gunnm or Battle Angel, the pair are a masterwork among OAVs. Whether you like cyberpunk, dark action, or sci-fi drama, it is a singularly well-crafted series that comes with my highest recommendation.
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The blend of cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic setting is a little unusual, but the creative world of Iria is similar in many ways, and the Armitage III series and movie are also somewhat similar, even though the setting is a lot "cleaner." There's a lot less cyber, but the bleak future vision also shares just a bit with the very dark and tragic Now and Then, Here and There.
Notes and Trivia
Gunnm is based on a seinen manga series of the same name by Yukito Kishiro. The manga was hugely popular in Japan, and the complete story stretches out over 9 volumes. The two episodes of the animated version only summarize the first volume and the beginning of the second. The manga version is available in English from VIZ under the title "Battle Angel Alita."
But the story doesn't end there; Kishiro had gone on record as saying that he wasn't really ready to end the story of Gunnm when he did. As a result, he later wrote a couple of side-stories, an RPG was produced based on the might-have-been continuation, and he finally took up work on an "alternate timeline" sequel that ignores the end he wasn't ready to write and continues the story. This version, "Last Order," is also available in English from VIZ.
The original title of the series is written out in English as "Hyper Future Vision Gunnm," although it is accompanied by the kanji for "gun" and "dream." Ordinarily these characters would probably be read "juu" and "mu," but the notes show that the first character is intended to be read like the English word "gun," hence "Gan-mu" would be the phonetic title. The two episode titles, Rusty Angel and Tears Sign, are also in English.
The naming confusion kicks in because VIZ, when they originally translated the manga version, changed the names around quite a bit--the series was retitled "Battle Angel Alita," Gally was renamed "Alita," and the city of Zalem was renamed "Tiphares," to name a few major changes. Although AD Vision went with the original names in their translation (the subtitles would have seemed rather odd if they hadn't), they marketed the two-OAV collection as "Battle Angel."
In an interesting side-note, "Zalem" may have been intended to be "Salem," as maps from the manga indicate the city is located on the site of Kansas City in the US Midwest. Also, for those wondering, the large-hatted Hunter-Warrior is credited (in Japanese) in the production notes as "Mushroom Man," no doubt in reference to his funky headgear.
For those interested in some interesting stuff about Gunnm, check out Yukitopia, Yukito Kishiro's personal website. There's a full English version (plus Korean and Chinese sections), and it's loaded with info about his works, comments, a step-by-step tutorial on how he produced some of the cover art for the manga, fanart, contests, and more. Neat stuff.
Battle Angel was one of ADV's earliest releases, and stood out as being somewhat different than most of their early "skin and action" catalog. Although their subtitle script takes some significant liberties with the specifics of the dialogue to "read prettier" in English, the basic meaning remains unchanged and it is light on the cheesy one-liners and unnecessary profanity compared to many of their other releases of the era.
Even the early VHS releases included some special features; there were notes about the production and the history of the Gunnm OAVs, and they included production sketches after the video. Those early VHS tapes also did something neat with the credits: the original text on the left, a translation on the right, and the song subtitles in the space left at the bottom. Too bad ADV didn't continue this style--I think that this is the best method I've seen for handling multi-lingual credits.
Shunsuke Kariya, who voices Ido, is a veteran live-action TV and movie actor. Gunnm is his only anime role to date, although he did appear in the Japanese dubs of a couple of movies and one TV series--amusingly, supplying Tom Selleck's voice as the title character in Magnum P.I.
A live-action adaptation by James Cameron is, reportedly, in development as of 2011, although details are scarce and, as with most Hollywood projects, there are no guarantees of when or even if it will hit theaters.
US DVD Review
ADV's DVD--an early release--is decent, but rough around the edges. The video and audio transfers are just fine, and the menus give access to some stills and production sketches. No problems there. My complaints are that the subtitle script is exactly the same as the ancient VHS release, which while acceptable isn't nearly as literal as it could've been, and some of the notes included with the old VHS release are nowhere to be found. The credits are also mildly annoying--the English dub credits, with hard-coded subtitles for the song, show by default, but the credits for the Japanese version are available in an alternate angle. The annoyance comes from the fact that you aren't automatically switched to this version when you select the subtitled version in the menu (you need to do it manually), and there are no song subtitles in it (though they aren't terribly accurate anyway).
I'm not sure if the more recent re-release corrects any of these issues.
About a 16-up on account of mature themes and bits of graphic violence.
Violence: 3 - The violence is sparse but quite graphic in a few spots.
Nudity: 2 - One brief scene in each Episode.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - The same scenes, mostly implied.
Language: 2 - Some expletives.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Note: Character names in parentheses are the original pronunciations.
Gally (Garii): Miki Itoh
Ido: Shunsuke Kariya
Yugo (Yuugo): Kappei Yamaguchi
Chiren: Mami Koyama
Vetor (Bekutaa): Shigeru Chiba
Grewcica (Guruishika): Ryuzaburo Otoma
Rasha: Shinshirou Nitta
Gonz (Gonzu): Kazuhiko Kishina
With: Kazuyasu Sogabe, Naoki Makishima, Nobuo Satouchi, Tomoko Maruo, Takumi Yamazaki
Creator: Yukito Kishiro
Producers: Joichi Sugita, Kazuhiko Ikeguchi
Production Producers: Masao Maruyama, Yuji Takoe
Director: Hiroshi Fukutomi
Screenplay: Akinori Endo
Character Design, Exec. Graphic Director: Nobuteru Yuki
Director of Graphics: Futoshi Fujikawa
Art Director: Hidetshi Kaneko
Sound Effect Director: Yasunori Honda
Director of Photography: Hitoshi Yamaguchi
Music: Kaoru Wada
Music Produced By: Soichiro Harada
Main Theme: Cyborg Mermaid
Lyrics By: Masumi Yanogawa
Music By: Tsukasa
Arranged By: Akira Yamato
Performed by: Kaori Akima
Avaliable through KS Records (CD Stock #JSCA29005)
Available in North America from Section23, previously ADV, under the title "Battle Angel" on bilingual DVD (the ADV DVD was out of print and hard to find for a while before a more recent re-release). Was originally available on subtitled or dubbed VHS, or subtitled CAV LD. RightStuf has the DVD in stock at last check.