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The original 9 volume arc begins when a famous cyber-physician named Dr Daisuke Ido rumages through the garbage of the floating utopian city, Tiphares, looking for any discarded body parts. To his disbelief he unearths a living female robot head and shoulders. Upon awakening the damaged body he realizes it has forgotten everything, so he names her Alita until her memory returns. He soon finds enough body parts for her legs and arms. Oddly, he goes out every night and comes back in the morning.
One night, Alita follows Ido, and finds him lying in wait, with a 'rocket hammer' for what looks like a normal woman. Thinking him a murderer, she attacks him, only to discover that the woman in question is a crazed killer. Alita realizes her mistake and is apparently defenceless. As the murderer closes in for the kill, something awakens in Alita, who attacks with a legendery fighting technique called Panzer Kunst. It turns out Ido is a bounty hunter for the 'factory' which pays people to take out killers in place of an organised police force. Alita is determined, against Ido's will, to become a bounty hunter.
So begins the tale of Battle Angel Alita (or Gunnm in the original Japanese). The books follow Alita's life as an orphan turned bounty hunter who will, through direct or indirect actions, change the world. Her thirst for knowledge through battle is a futuristic tale of growth and destiny, one which hits every nail to absoloute perfection. Alita is one of the greatest manga characters ever created - at once humble, haughty and determined, she's also vulnerable and flawed. What series creator Yukito Kishiro has created is the ultimate female messiah - while strong and willful, she's also feminine, a trait that many modern day heroines seem to lose.
The artwork is truly staggering. Not a single line ever seems out of place, and while looking back at the original book compared to later offerings the style does seem a little rougher, it nevertheless captures every expression, every piece of scrap and every bloody clash with almost photographic clarity. It's simply beautiful.
The characters within the tale, which takes place over 15 years, are also unforgettable. Ido and Alita may be the main acts, but the mercenary Zapan, champion Jashugan and his sister Shumira, not to mention the awesome Desty Nova are some of the best supporting cast to be put to paper. Nova in particular is an insane treat, and his machinations drive much of the book forward.
Simply put, Alita is essential reading for any manga fan. It's humour, drive and compassion put most other books to shame, manga or otherwise.