I already knew Alita: Battle Angel was going to be a contentious film. It’s a live-action version of a cult anime classic. That alone was going to open it up to criticism. Also: Robert Rodriguez cast Rosa Salazar in the title role (more on this later). But the movie decided not to help itself by giving us possibly the worst version of an on-screen android I’ve seen in some time.
WHY, ROBERT RODRIGUEZ!? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS? WHY THE BIG ANIME EYES?
Certainly, people had opinions. Very funny opinions.
In the wake of that 'Alita: Battle Angel' trailer, seems like a good time to collectively remember this iconic demon child. pic.twitter.com/ORAaHeXwZC
— Adam Chitwood (@adamchitwood) December 8, 2017
I don't know what I was expecting from this movie but these eyeballs were not it https://t.co/zBNd5czOtr
— Clara Mae (@ubeempress) December 8, 2017
Battle Angel Alita (2018)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez pic.twitter.com/YhSNc0AvGB
— Perry@Training for KiT Jan 5-7 (@experimilk) December 8, 2017
behind the scenes snapshot of alita: battle angel pic.twitter.com/l9uaB5SWeO
— SungWon Cho (ProZD) (@prozdkp) December 8, 2017
The Alita: Battle Angel IRL anime eyes are truly horrifying. Some styles only work when drawn. pic.twitter.com/esrguGBshR
— Joshua Wittenkeller (@TheJWittz) December 8, 2017
The only good things to come from this trailer is 1) seeing Mahershala Ali stunt in bada$$ shades-and-suit combo:
— N'Gai Croal (@ncroal) December 8, 2017
— Yoshi Sudarso (@yoshi_sudarso) December 9, 2017
I must agree with Sudarso, these are some bold choices. And when you make bold choices, you’re bound to divide people. However, I’m definitely on the side that does not get these eyes.
Now, one argument that can be made, I suppose, is that the film is really trying to impress upon you how fake Alita is. To put it another way, other films have people playing androids; in this film, the actor is just a body for the special effects to play on so the film can loudly exclaim how androids exist in an uncanny valley. I get it. But do I like it? No.
The main reason is because anime eyes are strange when they’re taken literally. I get Rodriguez wants to be different with his film and make a more creative mark (maybe to separate himself from the many bad American live-action anime films there are), but he might just have shot himself in the foot with this stylistic choice.
Anime eyes are the Japanese interpretation of American cartoons, which of course feature big eyes. As Carli Velocci wrote for Waypoint:
[T]he distinct anime style as we know it today can be traced back largely to one person. Osamu Tezuka, widely considered to be the “godfather of manga,” was heavily influenced by Walt Disney and Max Fleischer, the creator of Betty Boop. He was said to have been particularly obsessed with Bambi, which he watched over 80 times. If you even just glance at Betty or early Disney characters like Bambi, you can see the resemblance with anime. Both feature characters with oversized heads and large, expressive eyes.
Tezuka went on to create the precursor for modern-day anime: Astro Boy, the story of an android that fights crime. The main character is the epitome of this art style, with large, expressive eyes that carried over to his multiple incarnations. It debuted in 1963 in Japan and has been recreated multiple times since.
I feel like Rodriguez understands this and that influenced his decision to have Alita’s remain huge–he wants to remain true to the character. But is this the way to do it? When anime eyes mesh with the real world, the result is what we’ve got here–something that looks really off-putting and, strangely enough, more cartoonish than the original intention. Like, looking at Alita interact with her human counterparts, it’s only too easy to see where the computer ends and the physical begins.
Also, if Rodriguez really wants to be true to the character, wouldn’t it have made more sense to cast a Japanese actress instead of a Latina one?
Hear me–I am all for Rodriguez’s M.O. of casting Latinx actors and making their stories front and center. That aspect of Rodriguez’s filmmaking has been why I’ve seen it for his films as a whole. I also respect that he’s bringing Latinx acting talent to Alita: Battle Angel. But this also seems like another case in which good intentions miss the point. Similar to how The Martian had black and white actors playing Asian characters, Alita: Battle Angel has the main character–a Japanese android–played by a non-Asian actor. Granted, this remake is more of a “retelling” as it were, since multiple minorities are represented in various roles and minorities are still the driving forces of this film, both in front and behind the screen. However, this could have been an opportunity to truly pay homage to the film’s Japanese roots and cast an actress of Japanese descent in the role. Just my feeling about it.
As it stands, I’m still heavily interested to see where this film will go and how it’ll be treated the closer we get to its July 20, 2018 release date.
What do you think about this film? Give your opinions in the comments section below!