When the Alita: Battle Angel film released in 2019 directed by Robert Rodriguez with James Cameron producing and staring Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz, it was meant to be the opening chapter in a brand new franchise adapted from the hugely popular classic manga series Gunnm. Unlike many previous adaptions of manga greats for Western audiences, the film garnered mostly positive reviews from critics, with the popular aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes score of 61%, but it rather immediately became a cult hit among fans to say the least, which is quickly noticeable from the 92% score from the audience on the same site.
Due to the film’s relatively slow box office performance, pulling in just over $400 million worldwide during its theatrical run, a sequel remains a tossup about two years later rather than a sure thing as many would have hoped despite impressive at home sales on digital and Blu-Ray. There are many fans who are still fighting to make their voice heard and bring a sequel to Alita: Battle Angel though, and they have had an enduring sense of momentum in focusing on being a positive force for a story beloved by so many. You may have heard of them before…
They are the #AlitaArmy.
Their mission seems simple, to show their love for Alita franchise and help convince the powers that be that a sequel is in fact warranted. But their passion is undeniable. Their online presence has generated a lot of hype for the potential sequel and even some debate about the misuse and mischaracterization of the fandom, but remains focused on simply bringing more and more fans into the franchise to enjoy it. We wanted to learn a little more about the Alita Army campaign, what their goals are, and what the future of the franchise could look like with rumors swirling of a potential Alita project going to the Disney+ streaming service and more. So we sat down with longtime fan and Alita Army organizer Ray Duell for a deep dive into everything you need to know about the Alita Army.
Check out the full interview below…
Comic Watch: First, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about the Alita Army with us here at Comic Watch. Can you begin by giving our readers a little background on yourself and how you got started in this fandom?
Ray Duell: Thank you for inviting me to represent the #AlitaArmy to Comic Watch. We love interacting with news sites to get the word out about what a great IP Alita: Battle Angel is, get more people to experience the movie and manga, and build the positive fanbase to campaign for sequels, and now prequels.
I’m a Science graduate from Sydney, Australia. I’ve worked in research, and supporting teaching at a local University for several decades (so yes, no longer a young man). I’m a big fan of Sci-Fi, Cyberpunk, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Horror. I’m a writer of both novels and RPGs, and am currently looking into a career change into IT and editing (video and copy). We’ll see how that goes.
So, I began reading the Battle Angel Alita manga (translated from the Japanese Gunnm – which directly translates as ‘Gun Dream’) when the first graphic novel hit Australian shores in 1994. I was instantly hooked. The amazing artwork, the way Kishiro-kun showed movement in his action panels, absolutely amazing. And the depth of the story! I’ve seen nothing like it before or since. Well, that was a little over half my life ago, and I’ve read and reread the manga in bursts ever since. Seeing it’s still being made right now, over 30 years after it began (Kishiro-kun began drawing the manga in 1990), there is still new material to enjoy.
In 1995 I discovered the Battle Angel Alita OVA, a translated anime consisting of 2, 30-minute episodes covering material from the first 2 manga volumes of the Original Series (the 3rd series is the one being written now). I still have the VHS tape of it, although I can only watch it on the DVD I have of it, or on YouTube (both are there – watch the UK dub for best results).
I hadn’t looked at fan groups for the manga or OVA online. Just didn’t occur to me, I guess. But then the movie Alita: Battle Angel (ABA) came out, and I was blown away. I had to share my experience (and the 9 other times I saw it in cinemas after that) with others who understood, so I looked for Facebook groups. I found 8 of them (there are more now) and joined them. I was convinced to join the ‘dark side’ (Twitter) by December 2019, and the same month, a motivated group within the fandom decided to start doing what came to be known as the Radio KAOS (a reference from the OS manga) YouTube Live Stream, which just celebrated its first anniversary. Being a chatty type, I ended up being the host, and have led the discussion in most of the 47 episodes we had in the first year (I have an understudy now, so I get some weeks off – yay!).
CW: The Alita Army has had a significant presence online, garnering attention and keeping the fandom behind Alita: Battle Angel thriving. What can you tell us about how the origins of the Alita Army and its intended purposes?
RD: The #AlitaArmy, as the fandom has come to be known, coalesced on both Facebook and Twitter (but also spread over Reddit, Discord and Instagram) in February 2019. Fans, realizing that the box office take for their new favorite movie was struggling, decided to begin a guerilla marketing campaign to try to undo the damage that bad reviews and limited advertising had caused to movie-going numbers.
At the time, I had joined a Facebook group called ‘Alita Battle Angel’s Army,’ where we worked on ways to get more people along to ABA. About the same time, the fans on Twitter were doing the exact same thing. @MisterJinxToast, on March 18th, coined the term ‘Alita Army’ on Twitter, and it soon became #AlitaArmy, which we have been known by ever since.
After ABA’s theatrical run, the #AlitaArmy then worked to keep it current by any reasonable means possible, both online and IRL, that would promote the movie to new viewers, keep the Blu-Rays selling, and ‘shake the cage’ as I put it, over at Disney. We saw raising funds for charity as an important part of this, and since its formation, the #AlitaArmy has raised over $16,000 for various charities, from Open Bionics, to Feed the Hungry, to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. And, of course, we wanted to share our love of the franchise and the amazing characters, creating great art, memes, edits, songs, fanfics, home-brew collectibles and anything else we could conceive!
CW: Much of the attention of from those in this fandom is focused on pushing for a sequel film to the 2019 film Alita: Battle Angel directed by Robert Rodriguez. Why do you believe there is such a devoted following for this adaption of a manga classic?
Um, because it’s really good? Seriously, ABA is so respectful to the source material, well filmed, fantastically animated by WETA Workshop, the sound design is top shelf, the soundtrack by Tom Holkenborg is to die for, the acting is top notch, and it is arguably the best 3D production in the history of cinema thus far. But beyond all that, it’s the empathy you feel for the lead character, Alita, thanks to the greatly refined script (nearly 2 decades will do that), the amazing portrayal by Rosa Salazar, and the mind-blowing work on the digital character of Alita that really draws you in, and leave you wanting more!
CW: The Alita Army most recently got a boost from CineMark’s campaign to return Alita: Battle Angel in theaters during a pandemic which gave the fandom some momentum. Would you say this move to return the film to theaters was successful even amidst a pandemic?
OK, I think you are putting the cart before the horse, here. It was the #AlitaArmy who tweetbombed @Cinemark and @RegalMovies with #ReReleaseAlita on October 1, 2020. After 2.5 hrs and nearly 8000 tweets, both @Cinemark and @RegalMovies came back saying ‘we hear you, #AlitaArmy.’ Regal announced the next day they would run a limited rerelease Alita: Battle Angel on October 30th, and then the day after that the chain shut down across the USA. That was a blow to our efforts, but then Cinemark, AMC, Marcus, Harkens and CineMagic chains all announced limited run rereleases of ABA. The idea was first floated by one of our members who is very busy with work, so he doesn’t have a lot of time to be online and involved in things, but he’s quite the ideas man, is @DMrkunst on Twitter. He suggested it back in May of 2020, but it didn’t get much traction due to the worsening pandemic. However, a few months later, the consensus was it was a better time to try to get people going to the cinemas again, not only to get Alita back into the spotlight, but to get people out to support the floundering cinema industry. And the cinema chains agreed.
While the general public were too cov-shy to go to the cinemas in significant numbers to fill cinemas, all those #AlitaArmy members who were near enough to a cinema showing the movie to get there rushed out to see it. Some had joined the fandom when Alita came to home streaming, and so had never seen Alita the way she was meant to be seen, on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system available. They were all rightly blown away, and the hardcore members of the fandom increased their cinema watch-counts by up to as much as another dozen.
While the rerelease didn’t pull in the ticket sales we had hoped, it did generate responses from James Cameron, John Landau, Robert Rodriguez, Rosa Salazar, the official ABA twitter account (which had been dormant for over a year), and
20th Century Pictures, which put out a fantastic new poster for the rerelease. If only they’d used that one originally! I’m sure it was noticed by Disney as well, who should now be more aware of the demand for the IP in the community. Also, the good news is that following all the safety procedures, none of our membership who went out to see Alita in the cinema around Halloween last year reported contracting the virus in the period after the cinema visits. So anecdotally it appears if you follow the Cov safety guidelines, you can safely go to see a movie in a regularly cleaned, socially distancing cinema.
CW: As we see the entertainment industry shift towards an emphasis on digital streaming series rather than traditional theatrical releases, where do you see the future of the Alita Army fandom focus being?
This is a difficult one, and it has the fandom split on the best response. On one hand, I’d really like to see Alita: Battle Angel become a saga on the big screen. The 3D and amazing visuals need that big screen to really go off properly, while the fantastic audio makes good use of cinema Dolby Atmos. But on the other hand, getting the sort of budget to do the sequels justice on the big screen might be beyond the reach of producers, post-pandemic. We might all end up staying in because cinemas are scarce, and blockbusters on the big screen even more so.
That could leave us with a limited series, much like Mando, hopefully with the same level of production. I also hope that by the time they did get around to it, the cost of a fully-CGI-rendered main character would have dropped, as technology and methods improve.
You can’t beat that cinema experience, however.
CW: This campaign has held up for quite a while now and there seems to be a sense of organization behind the Alita Army that is rivaled arguably by only those behind the “Snydercut” of Justice League which has been criticized for its toxicity in fandom. What do you feel like has helped the Alita Army to not just keep pushing forward but also do so with enduring positivity?
What you should realize about the #AlitaArmy is that it is basically organized chaos. There is no one leader. There are influencers, who do a lot of the speaking, and quite a bit of the regular organizing, but basically anyone who has an idea that stands up to a bit of cross-examination is welcome to run with it, and make an event out of it. We have DM’s that have been going for 1.5 years or more, now, where everything that pops up to do with Alita is discussed, from polls, to posts, to trolls, to news reports, and Disney announcements to Rosa’s Instagram posts. We discuss it all, looking for the angles to promote the movie, the IP, the sequel agenda, to do good works, and to have fun with fellow fans while we are doing it. Then someone with the skills and experience needed (or the daring if it’s lacking) to make that idea a reality gets in and organizes it. The process really is inspiring to behold!
Now, I’m not going to tell you that it’s plain sailing every day. There are differences of opinion, thrashed out arguments, and sometimes the need to remind some folks why we are doing this. We are here for the girl. Alita. So she gets her sequels and her story is told in high fidelity sight and sound.
We had some issues early on with toxic critics, and some people joining the fandom to use it as a platform for counterculture. But those critics soon swept on to the ‘next big thing,’ and the activists, getting no purchase in our fandom that really cares about the IP, soon moved on. Those that stayed were the ones really drawn to the character of Alita, her story, and what she could teach us. If I had to use one word to describe Alita and her journey, it would be ‘perseverance.’ She fails (quite regularly in the manga), she gets back up. She never really loses – she either wins or she learns (one of the benefits of having a cyborg body, you can be repaired). We knew that’s what we had to do. Be in for the long hall to get more Alita.
But one of the most surprising and gratifying parts of being in the #AlitaArmy fandom is that the story of Alita tends to attract decent people. It is people with a good heart that find the story so endearing (says something about the critics, eh?). And that is the basis for why the fandom, in general, is so positive and giving – it is in their nature. It’s the reason I’ve spent countless hours in the past year on Radio KAOS. I do it because the #AlitaArmy is worth it. They are great folks.
CW: What are your recommendations for fans who also love Alita: Battle Angel and would like to participate themselves in the Alita Army?
We see at least several people a week, usually on Twitter, tweeting out to the void ‘I just watched Alita: Battle Angel! Why did I sleep so long on this movie? It’s awesome!’ Well, we find these posts, and give them the links to the Alita Sequel Petition (close to 170 THOUSAND signatures now), the #AlitaArmy website, and get them to follow the Army Twitter account. If they are interested, they can watch the Radio KAOS stream or the more laid-back ‘Alita stream’ that is on the day before, or come on them, if they have things to say and discuss about Alita. If they are artists, we prompt them to draw Alita art, if they are writers, why not write your own story about her? If they do edits or make memes, music, 3D modelling, physical modeling, plushies, T-shirts, ink, you name it – use that skill or interest in the cause of Alita. If they are super motivated, and want to invest the time, they could eventually become part of the crew that put together the streams, or be in a think tank to come up with IRL ways to advertise Alita.
The thing about the #AlitaArmy is there is no playbook. You do what you can to support the IP, and you enjoy the content. We just ask you do it in a way that doesn’t ruin someone else’s day.
CW: If you could put the goals of the Alita Army into a brief elevator style pitch to get as many supporters as possible, how would you describe it?
Becoming part of the #AlitaArmy is the natural progression for anyone who has really connected with the story of Alita: Battle Angel and wants MOAR! The #AlitaArmy wants everyone who likes sci-fi, cyberpunk, strong, relatable characters, and good storytelling to watch Alita: Battle Angel, preferably multiple times (it is that good – I’m on my 31st watch and those are rookie numbers!) and then use every method at their disposal to respectfully campaign for sequels. And when that sequel is announced, tell everyone about it, and when it’s released, get yourselves and all your friends into those post-pandemic theatre seats to blow that box office up!
CW: Finally, are there any upcoming events or releases fans of Alita: Battle Angel should be looking forward to and what are some of the most popular social media accounts available to follow to stay up to date with the Alita Army?
As we are coming up on 2 years since the (original) theatrical release of Alita: Battle Angel, and we’ve already had the home media release (which was very good, having a package in most countries that had the 4K, 3D and standard versions included), AND a limited rerelease in the US in 2020, the dance card is now rather reliant on new content. There have been rumors circulating for about 6 months now of talks in the back rooms of Disney to do with a streaming prequel series, and the hints of sequel talks don’t seem to be going away either. While Robert Rodriguez is strengthening his ties with Disney through a guest directorship of an episode of the Madolorian during season 2, and his announced involvement with the upcoming ‘Book of Bobba Fett’ limited streaming series that should be releasing at the end of this year, until something Alita related is announced from the Mouse House, or the IP magically moves to another studio, the #AlitaArmy will keep doing what it’s doing. Keeping the Alita: Battle Angel movie current in peoples’ minds, keep extoling the virtues of this wonderful and somewhat overlooked Cyberpunk classic, and creating our own ‘supplementary content’ while we respectfully campaign for sequels and a prequel series.
If readers want to keep up with #AlitaArmy happenings, the best way to do this is to follow @AlitaArmy on Twitter, check out alitaarmy.org, join the big Facebook groups, or check out the /alitabattleangel Subreddit, or the Alita Discord servers. You could also check out the Alita Stream, hosted by Muscogee Creek and Angelus on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5WcA1CChQPyhmuzBm7xuEQ) or catch the Radio KAOS Live Stream on the #AlitaArmy YouTube channel, (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKye_khkTsDiAM8oOIXQ3Dg). We have nearly 50 live streams recorded there, and a new one going out live most weekends. Also, in the ‘Channels’ tab on the Army YT channel, you can see a long list of other YouTubers that produce Alita content.
So, there are many hours of Alita related entertainment out there. The #AlitaArmy is vibrant, healthy, and we are not going anywhere. We intend to finish the mission, secure the sequels, and have fun doing it.
Why not join us?
And there you have it! If you haven’t watched the Alita: Battle Angel film or read the Gunnm manga, what are you waiting for?! Dive in today! Special thanks to Ray for sitting down with us providing such comprehensive insight, the Alita Army Facebook page as well as on Twitter for the images and support, plus all the fans who just want to show their love for powerful storytelling. That’s what it’s all about.
Finish the Mission, Secure the Sequels & Have Fun Doing It: An Interview with #AlitaArmy Organizer Ray Duell
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