A Tale of Two Rita’s

Manga Monitor is a series in which I read any manga series/one-shot to completion, using it as a platform to explore themes such as, writing conventions, artistry and more. Selections are limited to manga which have finished their official release in order to allow for comprehensive discussions.

Today’s Manga Monitor is All You Need Is Kill! ~spoilers~


What I knew about All You Need Is Kill prior to reading it was that it had been the direct inspiration behind Edge of Tomorrow, a 2014 American film staring Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt, which I had seen years before the manga. What I didn’t know was that the manga is in turn an adaptation of the original light novel format the story was made in.

Now that I’ve had a chance to experience the manga, which is touted to follow the story closely and accurately unlike the film, I can say that the most striking difference is in the representation of the heroine Rita.

For those not already familiar with the premise, All You Need Is Kill is a science-fiction series based on the exploits of a soldier who experiences the déjà vu like ability to loop back in time after he dies on the battlefield. Though at first it takes time for him to reconcile the horror of forcibly reliving his death over and over again, he soon adapts to the advantages this brings, being able to remember enemy movements and develop skills all the while attempting to win in the hopes that it might free him from the loop.

It’s a good set-up and which should make it unsurprising as to why it got adapted into a big screen blockbuster production. Though as previously mentioned this came at a cost. Presumably to appeal to a broad viewing audience, significant changes were made to the progression of the battle as well as the ending and aspects of relationship between the main character and Rita, dubbed the “Full Metal Bitch”, who had also experienced time looping.

While I accept that the superhero ‘Tom Cruise saves the day’ ending of the american version was chosen because it was the safe option, the film also takes other steps regarding Rita’s development that criminally sideline her involvement; the true extent to which only became apparent when I read this manga adaptation. So rather than simply have a tale of unnecessary but understandable production changes, we have a Tale of Two Rita’s.

Death is understandably a traumatic thing to have to deal with. None of us really know just exactly how it feels, but the grounding of All You Need Is Kill is reflected and understood through the myriad experiences we have personal loss. It then stands to reason that the most immediate connection Rita and our main character Keiji make is in the suffering they have endured as a result of the loop.

In the manga Rita witnesses the deaths of 1500 townspeople at the hands of extraterrestrial enemy, including those of her closest and much loved relatives. This event breaks her into pieces and informs her decision to join the military. Her reason to live becomes “I will kill every mimic on this planet”. Her one and only chance of finding a way to climb out of the void after meeting a young empathetic Lieutenant, is crushed when when her escape from the loop came at the cost of his life. War becomes the number one doctrine in her life from thereon, and when it is discovered that the war cannot be won so long as both her and Keiji are in the loop together, she wastes no time pitting herself against him. Though she ultimately loses, no regrets or apologies are made for her bloodthirsty attitude.

There is a lot to unpack there, but the thing I appreciate almost immediately is how the story made time to center Rita’s experiences with looping. The trauma she repeatedly faced has committed her to ending the war by any means necessary. If that means killing the only person who can relate to what she’s been through, then so be it. Though Keiji makes the point, it’s implicit that both of them fight to the death because submission would render their past attempts to survive meaningless. The intimate knowledge that whoever won would’ve still honoured the death of the loser is a powerful sentiment.

And herein lies the massive canyon of difference between manga Rita and film Rita. In one adaptation we see a woman shaped by the impact of war, death and constant violence. In the other we see these aspects undermined or otherwise sidelined in service of the male main character saving the day. These changes are disheartening, but I feel the extent in which they altered the story might be lost with broad generalizations. So let’s list them all out!

Manga | Film

Manga: Rita gains lasting battlefield skills as a result of her constant looping. This makes her a formidable force even after she loses the ability to loop. Focus is paid to the invention of the mechanized axe, something she created as a way to get around ammo limitations, and something which Keiji admires and later imitates.

vs

Film: Rita is practically hopeless without the ability to loop. She frequently falls to the most inane things and cannot last more than a few seconds without Tom Cruise Keiji to tell her what to do, and even then she is still seen to be incompetent. No mention is made of her use of melee weapons and nothing is unique about her style of fighting beyond standard training.


Manga: Rita makes a conscious decision to stay with Keiji when he first dies. This is done to provide a touch of comfort in his final moments, a practice informed by her interactions with the late lieutenant. This is then mirrored after the final confrontation, with Keiji in turn waiting by Rita as she dies, respecting how much she has done for him.

vs

Film: Rita turns her back to the enemy and gets distracted looking at him. She dies as a result. When they meet again in another loop, Rita simply takes his ammo and walks away while he slowly dies. Nothing about the way they interact is refereed back to at the end of the film.


Manga: Rita’s trauma throughout the numerous loops influences her psyche. We see how it shapes her decision making, personality and reactions to the events surrounding her. You can clearly trace each action she takes back to a previous statement or battle. Though she never acts like she is reading from a script, there is no “out of the left field” moments either.

vs

Film: Rita’s trauma is sidelined in favour of Tom Cruise Keiji’s feelings. She is always a passive participant whenever the main character decides to feel bad about his predicament. Though she went through the same experience, the story fails to respect this, at most providing a throwaway conversation about her dead lover. This not only keeps her experience with looping locked in a romantic framework, it lacks the same significance her dynamic with the lieutenant had.


Manga: The trauma of both characters is the focus. Ultimately the action is secondary to the true story illustrated in Rita & Keiji’s development. It takes the necessary time to imagine why this process would be emotionally and mentally challenging. When the story ends the war is still ongoing, and that unknowing bittersweet farewell between the pair is meant to be carried.

vs

Film: Saving the day is the focus. Any obvious sign of trauma is mostly glossed over. Our (eventually) brave hero Tom Cruise Keiji is there to do all the heavy lifting. The guns they are a blazin’. The excessive focus on spectacle and happy endings forces all the most conversation material from the original story out of this production.


Manga: Rita is willing to kill Keiji if it means ending the war. Though at first reluctant, he quickly comes to understand and adopt her perspective. Rita is not seen as crazy for taking such an extreme action, and we are not made to judge her for wanting to survive either.

vs

Film: Rita is willing to commit everything to ending the alien threat, even if it will ultimately end with her death. However she does not control the loops, Tom Cruise Keiji does, and he is unwilling to do anything that would result in her death, even if it means going against her wishes. Perhaps most insultingly, Rita is made to seem irrational for wanting him to push on without her.


Some of these comparisons are undoubtedly more striking than others, but the running theme is that the solidified character of Rita, the one with thematic depth and reliability, is streamlined into a bland and unconvincing vessel for the film. Rather than being treated as an equal partner in the loop, she is instead made secondary to the whims of the ‘true’ hero, Tom Cruise Keiji.

What remains of her character in the film is little more than her potential as a love interest. All her badass-ery is seen through the lens of the male main character, who again, frequently has to tell her what to do and when. The fact that the ending has them both live even erases the pyrrhic sacrifice she makes, wiping away the battles she shared with Keiji and returning her to the status of ‘blank state’. Only now Tom Cruise Keiji has all the intimate details of her life which he can ~woo~ her with.

Edge of Tomorrow is the franchise entry I watched first, and I remember not having such a visceral reaction to Rita’s presence in the story. It wasn’t particularly praiseworthy, and part of me is just a tired cynic for ‘badass’ women who are never actually their story’s principal badass, but it didn’t drawn much of my ire beyond a few points. Now that I’ve seen the full breadth of her character in the manga, it has become an immensely disappointing eye-opener.

Though to avoid misrepresenting the manga, All You Need Is KIll is still by no means made to be representative of women. The fact that every female character is introduced with a full body shot posing perfectly for the reader’s viewpoint carries subtly objectifying meaning in and of itself. The conformity to moe and sexually promiscuous constructs about women then passively enforces this viewing. As the specialized mechanic shyly clutches her spanner unsure of what to do with herself, and the camp’s only female chef never exists beyond hitting on the main character; you can’t help but feel the absence of women who do not fit a predetermined image built on the ideals of a predominately straight male audience.

That said, I still respect the importance of Rita as a woman who is explored through both her highest highs are lowest lows. With the knowledge that without her the Keiji we have come to know could not exist. That her suffering is not idolized or fetishized, but simultaneously not forgotten or overwritten. The Rita of All You Need Is Kill is remarkably intelligent, unimaginably powerful and more than just a victim of circumstance. I hesitate to throw out the old “strong female character(s)!” line, because that’s something of a dated term nowadays, but I will say that I have a lot of respect for Rita. I feel she is going to leave a lasting impression on me, and I don’t imagine I would have spent much time thinking about this manga if I wasn’t thanks to her.

What more can I say?


Thanks for reading!

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