Since the return of Alita, the titular Battle Angel, and her eclectic group of friends, we’ve been treated to a series with a few interesting ideas and a large number of lumbering, slow-moving expanses of non-story overstuffed with oddball characters and fighting so excessive it actually ground the plot to a complete halt several times. The overlong fighting tournament that literally conquered the series and even left out the main character for entire volumes at a time made Last Order considerably less enjoyable and, at times, actually something of a chore to wade through. Usually it was interrupted by either equally overlong flashbacks focusing on characters we the audience were not terribly invested in, or by long, rambling monologues or strings of dialogue that didn’t really seem to be going anywhere. It wasn’t like the original Battle Angel Alita series that had pulled so many of us in back in the day.
Fortunately, Alita herself eventually resurfaced and, after even more excessive fighting (something that is strange for someone like me to complain about as typically I am all about action), more and more characteristics that endeared us to the series began to reappear alongside her and, with Volume 17, things suddenly not only got moving again but actually displayed true plot advancement at long last. Volume 17 was great just for this reason alone, even though some important events were presented and left behind rather more quickly than they should have been, slightly lessening their impact. But that was okay, because the exhausting fighting tournament was finally over and the story was back!
Volume 18, in turn, is as far above Volume 17 in quality as 17 was over 16 and many before it. True, Alita herself is only in the opening chapter before once again disappearing, but this time we’re treated to something so special it makes her absence acceptable. The series once again diverges, this time into a refreshingly fast-paced and plot-heavy side story that, really, is actually a major part of the main narrative, just one we’ve been denied until now. Three very prominent characters from the original series, ones who have only sporadically and briefly popped up in the revived series, are finally given center stage, allowing us to fully reconnect with them and see what in the world they have been up to all this time.
The front cover itself reveals the first of these three: Figure Four, Alita’s love interest and very human fighting extraordinaire. Figure was never given much to do since the series returned, which felt unfair considering the bond he’d developed with Alita before. Now, we not only find out where he’s been but what his role in the story has become. The poor guy goes through utter hell this time around. The changes he’s forced to endure and the flood of half-truths, misconceptions and flat-out lies that bombard him make him run the gamut of emotions in a manner that would break a lesser person. We are immediately reminded of why we like this guy so much: he’s totally human, but also an amazing one who will not be beaten down. In other words, he’s one hell of a guy.
We also are finally treated to the return of one of the most important characters in the whole series, whose actions first got the ball rolling back in the very first volume of Battle Angel. Yes, Dr. Daisuke Ito, that amazing cyber-surgeon and former Hunter-Warrior, is back. Still accompanied by his assistant and caretaker Kayna (the same one who stopped Alita from attempting to revive the broken Ito’s memories the one time she ran into him again, which led to one of the most heart-breaking moments the original series gave us), Ito is still disconnected from the past and lives the life of a simple village doctor, promoting peace and mending the wounded.
For the first time, Figure and Ito actually meet, but due to Kayna’s tenacity, Ito is kept in the dark while Figure tries to come to terms with everything presented to him. Figure desperately wants to find Alita. Kayna wants to protect Ito and have what little happiness she can claim. Ito just wants to keep things peaceful. Due to poor reasoning and very misguided actions, Ito comes to be thought of as Professor Desty Nova in disguise, and from there, well, things get pretty ugly.
Nova, who has had many big moments in both the old series and the new, is actually only barely featured here, but as always he casts such a long shadow that his presence is felt even when he is far away. He plays no direct role in the events depicted here, but most of them happen because of him. The damage he did before leads to further damage. Once again Ito is in danger, and this time there will be no maintaining the status quo. Very much like before.
Most of the time it’s hard to enjoy Last Order when Alita isn’t around, but this is one of those golden exceptions. It’s so great to see Figure, Ito and Kayna again that it becomes easy to get through the whole volume without really missing her. It helps, too, that the writing is so, so much better here than what it has been. This time, attention is not given to characters and situations that are hardly relevant to the story, and rather than drag everything out, author Yukito Kishiro keeps the tempo brisk and in motion. The Battle Angel series finally feels like itself again.
Of course, every volume has only so many pages, and though we at least have some idea of where Ito and Figure will eventually end up, things aren’t exactly rosy. In fact, far from it. The volume ends on a very memorable cliffhanger that makes one wish for the immediate appearance of Volume 19. Without giving anything away, let me just simply say that, for at least one person, the fight may well and truly be over.
If every volume of Battle Angel Alita: Last Order was like Volume 18, fans would have nothing to complain about. Everything that endears the series to us is here, gripping page after gripping page. What a wonderful feeling that the train that was so badly derailed it exploded and disintegrated is now back in one piece and roaring down the tracks again. If the series continues on in this fashion, then perhaps one day we can forgive Kishiro for that mind-numbing ZOTT story arc and pretend it never happened in the first place.