Very few Hollywood sponsored live-action anime adaptations were as good as producers hoped they would be, but legendary director James Cameron may be the man to break the bad streak. For the longest time, the Titanic director has been set on adapting the manga Battle Angel Alita to the big screen. And after years of waiting, his dreams may finally be coming true.
Battle Angel Alita is a cyberpunk manga series from the '90s created by Yukito Kishiro. Set in the distant future of the 26th century, Battle Angel Alita follows amnesiac cyborg Alita as she tries to regain her memories while living her day to day life as a bounty hunter. It was later adapted into a two-part OVA (Original Video Animation) that became a hit in cult circles.
Alita: Battle Angel
Cameron's interest in Battle Angel Alita began thanks to another filmmaker, Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro. According to Cameron's long-time producer Jon Landau, del Toro introduced Cameron to the manga when he felt that the guy behind The Terminator movies would appreciate Battle Angel Alita's bleak and futuristic tone. Guillermo del Toro's hunch proved to be true, and Cameron immediately acquired the rights to the manga's live-action adaptation after being enamored by the world of Battle Angel Alita.
Now titled Alita: Battle Angel, James Cameron's adaptation was good to go but for one thing: large-scale CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) was in its infancy during the early 2000s. Before moving forward with Alita: Battle Angel, he decided to first experiment with the technology in his blockbuster spectacle Avatar: a movie that went on to shatter box office records and expand into a five-part franchise.
Development of Avatar's four upcoming sequels forced James Cameron to step away from the Battle Angel director's chair. While he stayed on board with Jon Landau as a producer, James Cameron handed the creative reins to Robert Rodriguez of Grindhouse and Sin City fame. With Rodriguez on board, you can expect a cool and trashy punk aesthetic to replace James Cameron's grandiose and epic signature style. His Alita: Battle Angel will still be based on James Cameron's script which is expected to condense the manga's first four volumes.
Cameron is no stranger to expanding movies into franchises, and the few sequels he had a hand in became so successful that they almost eclipsed their predecessors. From Aliens to Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the upcoming Avatar franchise, James Cameron proved himself more than capable of improving on an already good movie. Should Alita: Battle Angel prove to be a success, James Cameron can be expected to draw inspiration from the source material's story-rich follow-up series for cinematic sequels to Alita: Battle Angel.
Alita's journey of self-discovery is continued in its sequel manga series, Battle Angel Alita: Last Order and Gunnm: Mars Chronicle - which has been confirmed to be the finale of the character's story.
Alita's Angels And Demons
After successfully auditioning for the role, Rosa Salazar is expected to take the lead role of the female cyborg bounty hunter. To get what could be her breakout role, Salazar had to audition against other up and coming actresses like Maika Monroe from It Follows and Zendaya, who is set to be the next Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. Salazar was last seen in The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials as Brenda, a character some fans considered to be the movie's dark horse.
The second most important role in the Battle Angel Alita mythos is that of Doctor Dyson Ido, the cybermedic expert who brings Alita back to life at the story's opening. If things go as planned, Christoph Waltz may play Alita's human ally and close friend. This could also be nice a change of pace for Waltz, who has been typecast in villainous roles ever since his breakout performance as Colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds.
The American Anime Question
As exciting as the prospect of a Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron cyberpunk movie may be, Alita: Battle Angel is expected to throw more fuel into the already heated debate about the need for live-action adaptations of anime. Even if Alita: Battle Angel is just about to begin shooting, eyebrows were raised when the main characters were confirmed to be played by Westerners instead of Asian talents. For some, adapting a Japanese story without offering any of the lead roles to someone from Japan is beyond questionable.
Unlike previous adaptations, there is a capable level of talent backing these upcoming live-action films. Aside from Alita: Battle Angel, audiences can expect (hopefully) decent American versions of Death Note from Netflix, Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson, and even Pokemon from the company behind Godzilla and Pacific Rim. While most adaptations of anime and manga from a decade ago can be generalized as cynical cash grabs, the same can hopefully not be said for these coming movies. Not just because they have yet to be released, but because they're being made by people who care about their source material.
Alita: Battle Angel is set for a 2018 release date and a lot could happen until then. As we wait for more details, it would be wise and fair to let the project develop on its own terms. Whether or not the movie will acknowledge its Japanese roots and how it will address this delicate issue has yet to be seen - and the most we can do is hope for the best.