'Alita: Battle Angel' Doesn't Understand Why Anime Characters Have Big Eyes


People were made pretty uncomfortable this week after the first trailer for Alita: Battle Angel hit the web. It’s directed by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Sin City) and produced by James Cameron, so a distinct visual style is a give-in. However, the trailer showed off a style that gave viewers a weird sense of the uncanny valley, mainly in Alita’s large, unnatural anime eyes.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/3kpdew/alita-battle-angel-doesnt-understand-why-anime-characters-have-big-eyes


I think on some level they realized they were never going to duplicate the mix of post apocalyptic and ultra-detailed cyberpunk hellscape that is the comic’s setting, and going by the trailer at least they didn’t. I think the closest live action things I think of when I think of Battle Angel are like Hardware or Elysium (which was definitely a bit inspired by Battle Angel to begin with). Also a bit of a letdown considering how great the world-building in the comics is.

I don’t trust Rodriguez to make a good movie out of this but if they want to use the big eyes as a visual shorthand for how she embodies both a relatively vulnerable person that’s also sort of monstrous at times, like a stand in for how fucked up the entire comic’s setting is, I mean it could work when they have to compress all of that stuff into a two hour movie. I’m hoping that since Cameron has been talking about producing this for twenty years that some actual thought went into her design beyond “make her an anime.” The guy’s a huge blowhard though so it’s hard to be optimistic about that. :smiley:

I love Christopher Waltz, but I was kind of surprised he was cast in this too and that they white-washed Ido in general (now Dyson Ido in the movie instead of Daisuke Ido, barf). They couldn’t get Paul Nakauchi or someone?

Like if you’re going to cast a white dude as Daisuke Ido and change his name to Dyson, at least put Kiefer Sutherland in the role since he looks so much like him Kishiro probably used his face in 1990 as a reference for the character.

I noticed they did get Vietnamese-American actress Lana Condor to play Koyomi. Though she doesn’t pop up in the comics til a bit later which makes me wonder if this will be like the Ghost in the Shell movie where it’s a “greatest hits” of iconic stuff from various Ghost in the Shell stories smushed together with the thematic context of those moments lost.

Still, UNlike Ghost in the Shell, Battle Angel is my favorite manga ever but I never found it distinctively, intrinsically Japanese like Ghost in the Shell. GitS’s first comics especially are stories where everything about the makeup of the setting and everything else is inextricably about Japan on multiple levels. Battle Angel was always a little more out there and arguably much more American specifically, a lot of it concerns bounty hunters in a saloon, splattery gore imagery very heavily inspired by RoboCop and The Terminator, etc.

That said, I’d love for this movie to actually be good but Robert Rodriguez…

I remember James Cameron talking about directing this in like 1997. There’s several homages to panels from the comic in his Dark Angel TV series. Though with how that series went it’s again hard to be optimistic. :stuck_out_tongue:

I guess all of this leaves me in a place where I, guess I want to see another trailer for it or something? Right now it’s at “I’ll watch half of it on Amazon Prime in 2020.”

I will take back anything skeptical or bad I have said about this movie back if they somehow work in the opening to one of the comic volumes where it just inexplicably cold opens with her playing a solo on a keytar for like three pages.


It’s good to see Hollywood continuing the long tradition of taking highly iconic Japanese anime and manga rich in subtext and adapting them into overly budgeted generic b-movies with no central theme.


I dunno. I kinda like the eyes.


I’m not even going to bother beating the representation drum for this one. It’s good that no one Asian is prominently featured in this film because no self-respecting Asian actor should attach themselves to this trainwreck. Also Alita’s eyes aren’t even that friggin huge in the manga.


This was a really cool article. I love learning the history behind why something is the way it is


Loved the article and the history.

I’m honestly concerned I won’t be able to handle the uncanny valley in the movie. I’m still not able to sit through Polar Express. I think it’s something I’m overly sensitive to. It may ruin this movie for me and that really bums me out.


gotta come up with another term cause than “whitewashing” when the director is Mexican and a prominent black actor is in it.


I think I need to post this here https://twitter.com/matt_thorn_en/status/940495769282289664


Yeah the myth that Tezuka invented the entire manga style is one that needs to go away. Dude was part of an entire industry of people that were all working along the same aesthetic styles, and even if he was drawing in a way that resembled the Disney comics the rest of the manga world usually wasn’t just directly cribbing from copies of donald duck comics. You can look at his first couple of manga pre - New Treasure Island and see that the visual style he apparently cribbed from Disney is clearly already existing in manga.

Tezuka’s name generally gets slapped onto the aesthetic because a) he wrote a TON of how-to-draw books that basically just taught people to draw exactly like him while discouraging from drawing like his competition (wonder why) and b) he had an ego the size of mount Fuji. When Daicon 3 was shown he was said to have commented that “there were a lot of characters in it…but also there were some that weren’t there” because they’d not thought to include any tezuka characters. He also drew at a completely unreasonable speed so that his work would appear in as many comics as possible.


Huh. Thanks for the post; I kinda wish this was the essay now. This is what people need to read.


Yes this came up on my feed just today. Would like Carli to see this.


Same. Or even someone on the Waypoint crew, so they could possibly do a followup article with corrections.


Indirectly related, this one of my favorite animated things ever and well worth watching, from 1929: