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What the Alita: Battle Angel movie does better than the anime

There's been a trend over the past couple of decades for filmmakers to take classic anime features and turn them into live-action productions. Often, that works out poorly and we end up with blasphemous live-action adaptations like Dragon Ball, Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note — the list goes on. On rare occasions, we actually end up with a decent production that people are really into. Alita: Battle Angel is one of those gems. The film is based on the anime, which is based on the original manga created by Yukito Kishiro. Why was this live-action film successful where so many others failed? For one, it actually hews closer to the source material than the anime ever did.

Parts of the movie's story are different than the anime, as you would expect. For one, Motorball is never mentioned in the anime, though it's a major part of the film. It's these little details taken from the manga that arguably make the Rodriguez-Spielberg film the ultimate Alita adaptation.

The movie actually gives us Alita's backstory

The Alita: Battle Angel film focuses on Alita's (Rose Salazar) background in a way that the anime never does. In fact, the anime barely touches on the character's background at all. The movie draws several plot elements from later on in the manga — details about Alita's backstory that are woven throughout the film to build us a more complete character. For example, the flashbacks in the movie that show Alita's past life in which she was a Berserker battling in the warzone on Mars don't occur in the anime, but they're an important piece of canon, vital to setting up the discovery of Alita's identity and destiny.

Likewise, the lost martial art of Panzer Kunst that Alita uses to kick every robotic but from here to — uh — robot Timbuktu was taken from the manga, not from the anime. This fictional martial art was used to set up the whole lost identity storyline after Dr. Ido (Christopher Waltz) sees her lay the smack down on a handful of villains. 

The movie constructs a better villain

The film also constructs a better master villain than the anime. By that, we mean it gives us a master villain in the first place. Sure, the anime still has Vector, Zapan (Ed Skrein), and Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), but none of those guys are really the big bads of Alita's story. That place is reserved for Nova (Edward Norton), the evil mastermind who controls the other villains from his floating home in Zalem. In the live-action film, Nova nefariously brainjacks the lower-tier villains from his comfortable perch up above. None of that happens in the anime. Why? Because in the anime, Nova doesn't even exist. That's right — they cut out the most interesting villain in the whole franchise.

Edward Norton did a better job bringing the character to life than most people probably thought possible when they heard the Fight Club dude was going to be a live-action anime villain. In the manga, Nova kind of seems like a bad guy for a while, but turns out to be a pretty cool scientist who becomes friends with Alita. The first movie only introduces us to Nova the villain, so this turn may still be in store if we ever get that second Alita film we were all promised. Here's hoping.