The Curator of Schlock #263 by Jeff Shuster

Alita: Battle Angel

I liked it. 

I’ve got nothing prepared this week. Digging up schlock from decades upon decades of film is hard work. I took a break and went to movies, went to check out the latest James Cameron milestone, Alita: Battle Angel. Not that James Cameron directed it, that duty fell to Robert Rodriguez, but whatever. I’ve liked his movies, too. He directed Planet Terror, a movie that spoofed that much-revered classic, Nightmare City. Without Planet Terror, there may not be a Museum of Schlock, so kudos.

But Alita: Battle Angel isn’t schlock, but perhaps it has schlock origins? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines schlock as “of low quality or value.” Certainly Japanese animation was at one point considered to be of low quality or value. Maybe it was because Japanese animation studios toiled under greater budgetary restraints than that of their American counterparts. Maybe it was because they didn’t hit the number of frames per second that their American counterparts strived for. Maybe it had something to do with anti-Japanese sentiment that was still rampant in the 1980s, a holdover from World War II. I used to hear the term “cheap Japanese cartoons” being tossed around when I was a kid, no doubt intended to discourage kids like me from watching Robotech or The Mysterious Cities of Gold. It didn’t work.

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But being into Japanese animation was strange. Heck, being an adult who was into American cartoons was considered strange, but being into exotic cartoons from the Land of the Rising Sun? Forget about it. There were no fandoms back then except for Star Trek fans. No conventions or cosplay–except for Star Trek fans. I didn’t have Internet access until 1995. There was no connecting with people of similar weird interests. You got little exposure to things outside of the mainstream, having to rely on word of mouth and friends brave enough to fork over money for expensive VHS tapes featuring the latest in state of the art Japanese animation. One day, a friend loaned me a VHS tape titled Battle Angel Alita.

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Battle Angel Alita was what was known as OVA in Japan. It’s an abbreviation for Original Video Animation. This was animation produced solely for those purchasing it on VHS or Laser Disc. These were usually limited series featuring animation of a higher quality that what was made for television. OVAs are notorious for being unfinished. In just two 30-minute episodes, Battle Angel Alita introduced me to a teenage girl cyborg fighting for justice and survival in a scrap-heap city lorded over by a city of elites that floated above them in the sky.

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I think it was after Titanic got released that James Cameron said he was going to make a movie based on a Japanese comic book titled Alita. While I appreciated that Cameron was a fan of this underground comic, I never expected this project to get off the ground. Never in a million years did I expect an adaption of some VHS Japanese animation I borrowed from a friend in the mid 90s to be turned into a movie with a huge budget, state-of-the-art special effects, and an all star cast. And the movie is great, the best blockbuster of the year. Stop reading and go see it. I want a sequel.

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And we will be covering anime features from the 1990s for the rest of this month. Until next week.


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Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.