Alita: Battle Angel is the first feature-length adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's manga phenomenon Gunnm, known in the United States as Battle Angel Alita. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, the film has already received critical praise for its world-building, which transforms the potentially dense future Earth into an enjoyably bonkers but lived-in setting.
Ahead of the film's nationwide release, CBR spoke with Kishiro at the Alita: Battle Angel -- Passport to Iron City event in Los Angeles about the origin of his fictional universe, what it's like to see his creation brought to life in live-action and, perhaps most importantly, what body part he would replace with a cybernetic replacement.
Alita take places on a desolate future Earth that, following the ravages of a great war, is left more for a scrapyard than a planet. Only the massive floating city of Zalem speaks to the optimism that used to define humanity. That imagery was the first thing Kishiro thought of for his manga, which debuted in 1990.
"For me, the process was I sort of imagined the aerial elevator first, and the city that's floating in the sky," he explained. "Once I got that image in my head, that was the first part of my creative process."
"To be perfectly honest, I really see all these characters and elements as almost a part of my own mind, my own heart," Kishiro continued. "And that's why it's different aspects, all fighting. Really, this is a dramatized version of an internal fight and struggle that I have just expressed in some shape or form. So, the world setting, and kind of everything around the universe, is really just kind of an extension of what those characters would require. And I think this is really like an internal drama."
One of the defining aspects of the series is the melding of grace with brutality. The people enhanced with cybernetic parts can be incredibly destructive and strong, but they also move with such precision that the fights sometimes seem more like a ballet.
"I believe like the martial arts are called an art for a reason," Kishiro said. "There's an element of grace to it. So, with each [moment] of choreography in each scene, I always try to imagine that balance. And that's going to be different for each character. For example, with a non-experienced fighter, you put two of those together and it's going to be a very rough around the edges, a very grudgy fight. Whereas, if someone is very well-trained in the arts, you're going to see more of that side being graceful."
"So very early on, this world setting is based on the idea of cyborgs, and I think in this era of cyborgs there's going to be some degree of merging organic flesh and cybernetic technology," he continued. "So I thought of what type of form would express that merge the best. What came to me was martial arts, and there are many ways you can explore that, as well as Motorball."
Seeing cyborg and robotic parts interact with such mundane realities of life plays a major role throughout the series, and it's something Kishiro admitted with a laugh that he'd considered within his own life. "I mean, take this with a grain of salt, or maybe a bucket of it," he joked. "But if I'm ever unable to walk I was always thinking it would be cool to have [tank treads]. The caterpillar legs."
Seeing the world he created brought to the big screen is something of a surreal experience for Kishiro.
"So, when I was really young, it was my dream to actually become a movie director," he reminisced. "I wanted to produce a movie like Star Wars sometime in my life. But I gave up on that when I became a manga artist. And it took me decades, but in a way, we've made that movie happen."
"For the old fans who've been following the franchise and the IP [intellectual property] for a very long time, I think I can safely say that this movie really carries the core and the essence of what was in the original works," Kishiro said. "I think there's a lot of reason to be excited, and to stay tuned for what comes next. For those who are experiencing it for the first time, I genuinely thought [Alita: Battle Angel] was just a wonderful movie, and hopefully you'll fall in love with the world."
When asked how he feels seeing his film turned into a film, Kishiro said, "I just, I feel super-honored. Honestly."
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor, and Eiza González. The film opens Friday nationwide.