Hello everyone! For this edition of From the Page to the Screen, we will discuss All You Need is Kill / Edge of Tomorrow.
The official timeline:
2004: the book, All You Need is Kill, a Japanese science fiction light novel written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka with illustrations by Yoshitoshi ABe is first published in Japan
2009: the book is translated into English and published by Haikasoru
2014: a movie adaptation called Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt is released
2014: a manga adaptation is released in both Japanese and English
Humanity is at war against a race of mysterious aliens called Mimics who have invaded the Earth years before the start of the story. The story follows a male character, a soldier in the army of the United Defense Force as he is killed in his first battle only to find himself trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again (“Groundhog Day meets Alien” would be an appropriate comparison). The story follows the protagonist as he tries to – and eventually does – understand the circumstances of the time loop and with every repetition, he sets himself to become a Super Soldier in order to be able destroy the Mimics with the information he is able to gather.
Essential to his mission is another Super Soldier: the almost mythical Rita Vrataski, known as the Full Metal Bitch. Rita, as we come to know at a later point, has also experienced the time loop and lived to tell the tale.
This is my timeline:
I watched the movie first, in 2014 (without knowing it was an adaptation which might have coloured my initial – and very lasting – reaction), then read the manga a couple of weeks ago, at which point I became obsessed with this whole thing then proceeded to read the book in the past few days. And then I watched the movie again.
I love the movie even if I know it is incredibly flawed.
I liked the book and the manga adaptation but they made me furious.
The book and the very faithful manga adaptation take place in Japan and are from the viewpoint of a Japanese soldier called Keiji Kiriya, a new recruit in the United Defense Force. Keiji is already in the army, as a green but willing recruit. The battle that is about to take place – the one where he dies and traps him in the time loop – is just one battle of many.
Conversely, the movie is an incredibly loose adaptation: the action moves to Europe on the eve of a major, no holds barred last-effort attack to beat the Mimics. The imagery here strongly brings to mind Normandy and D-Day in a simulation of World War II. The main character is now an American Major who has never seen battle and who is forced (more on that later) to join the battle. As such, the setting and the characters could not have been more different or more whitewashed if they tried.
In the movie it is not just one-battle-of-many, it is a matter of life or death, the Ultimate Battle for Humanity, and at first, the stakes seem much, much higher in the movie. However, the book is able to take what is essentially a personal tragedy on the eve of a very minor battle and make it incredibly affecting. I am torn on which rendering I like best so I will settle with saying that each particular arc works for the specific method of expression: ie. the big battle works well for the movie, the smaller personal arc works well for the book. The how and why behind the time loop – which is directly connected with the Mimics and how they work are also completely different between movie and book. Again, I feel this worked well because of the different media.
The movie is bookended by non-sense: the beginning, in which Cage is forced to join the army because of petty officers having fun is completely absurd: why would anyone care about this guy at all? More to the point: why is an expensive suit of armour wasted on someone who doesn’t even know how to use it on the eve of the most important battle of all time? Likewise, the ending is incongruous with the internal logic of the story being told and it completely reboots the story to an altogether different point in time. The book follows up on its internal logic all the way to the seemingly inevitable tragic ending. Rita’s death and the way that Keiji beats the time loop make sense and are consistent with what has come before. The ending sucks big time but it makes sense.
On the other hand, the sexism and male gaze of the book and manga are toxic to the point of vomit-inducing, book-throwing rage. Women are constantly sexualised and grossly infantilised.
A few quotes from the book:
It had to be. It was the only way to explain how this woman, who couldn’t have looked less like a Jacket jockey if she had been wearing a ball gown, was in the company of the spec ops. Most women who suited up looked like some sort of cross between a gorilla and an uglier gorilla.
She had healthy, tanned skin and larger than average breasts. Her waist was narrow. Of the three types of women the human race boasted— the pretty , the homely, and the gorillas you couldn’t do anything with save ship ’em off to the army— I’d put her in the pretty category without batting an eye.
“You tellin’ me you think I’m some sort of faggot who’d rather be strapped into a Jacket reeking of sweat than up between a woman’s legs? That what you’re tellin’ me?”
If Rita was a lynx on the prowl , Shasta was an unsuspecting rabbit. She belonged at home, curled up in a warm, cozy room watching vids and stuffing her face with bonbons, not smeared with oil and grease on some military base.
I turned to see a bronze-skinned woman standing beside the table. Her apron-bound breasts intruded rudely on a good 60 percent of my field of view.
Needless to say, I was less than enthusiastic with those aspects of the written form of this story. The movie, for all its faults, at least did not repeatedly punch me in the face.
Finally, another difference between movie and book lies in the portrayal of Rita Vrataski, her backstory and more importantly in the way her role is fulfilled in the ending. This is where the crux of my relationship with this story in all of its interpretations come into play.
Movie-Rita is completely, 100% badass. Even if there is very little that is about her, or from her perspective, she is a Big Hero, the type that is aloof, cold, removed – she wants to do her job, fulfill her mission and be done with it. I love Movie-Rita: I love her because we rarely see women in this specific role, and the fact that she doesn’t have much of a backstory works well here. There are minor moments between Rita and Cage in which she is humanised but they are glimpses rather than a full portrait. In the movie, Rita is the one who trains Cage, who makes him the soldier that he is, she is the one who won’t compromise on the mission. She is instrumental to victory and more importantly she survives. Cage is the one who eventually saves the day, as The Big Hero, but at least we all know that no way in hell would he have done that without Rita.
Book-Rita is also completely badass. But the book has an entire chapter (out of 4) dedicated to her backstory. It is all told rather than shown from a third person removed viewpoint (as opposed to Keiji’s first person narrative for example) but it goes a long way to humanise, to give depth to Rita. In the book, because it so much more of a personal story for both Keiji and Rita, the two strike a somewhat closer relationship that is important for both of them. In the book, we feel much more how the characters are affected by the loneliness of being the ones going through the time loop. In the end though she sacrifices herself, and Keiji is able to win EVERYTHING – because he watched her fight. She has not trained him but he has watched her and learned. Her agency is completely incidental and paves the way for him to be the hero. She is not instrumental to the ultimate victory and she dies. Her DEATH is the motivation for Keijis’s continued fight against the Mimics.
Like I said in the beginning, the more I interacted with this story in its various formats the more fixated I became in trying to understand the way it affected me, how it affected me and why it affected me to such an extent. No matter how I interacted with this story, how many times I read it or saw it, the end game is always the same. I too got trapped in a time loop reliving this nightmare over and over again: a fantastic story, a fantastic female character, different endings, always going back to the same point: the least interesting character is ultimately The Big Hero. No matter how we cut it, it is the male character who saves the day. In the book, he does that at the expense of the female character’s life: he goes on living and has even a Big Hero Line in which he VOWS to carry on living, he VOWS to save the world for her, he will EVEN wear her favourite colour whilst doing that. Well, FUCK THAT. I will take Rita being alive and Tom Cruise laughing and crying like a fool whilst looking at her amazingness at any given time.
So where does that leave me? It leaves me still loving this story – although I vastly prefer the flawed movie. Because at least Rita doesn’t die here. It leaves me wanting a new version of this, one that takes the best part of each one so far to make a better whole. It leaves me wanting the impossible: to break away from this endless, continuous male centric narratives that always take precedence. Fuck THAT.
My timeline is similar to Ana’s: I watched The Edge of Tomorrow when it hit theaters and was instantly enamored with the film. I had no expectations going into it, mind you – other than having an affinity for action films of the sci fi persuasion and an even stronger love for Emily Blunt.
And despite some of the movie’s nonsensical elements, I loved it. Tom Cruise was hilarious, Emily Blunt was full metal AWESOME, the visuals were slick and fun and I loved the time traveling/Groundhog Day conceit. Sure, there were issues with the movie (namely the fact that Tom Cruise ends up saving the day and the fact that the time traveling/Groundhog Day conceit doesn’t actually make sense), but the good parts and pure entertainment value on the whole outweighed the majority of my criticism and skepticism.
Naturally, then, when I learned that The Edge of Tomorrow wasn’t just a standalone film, but was based on a Japanese novel with a manga adaptation – from the creator of Death Note, no less – I was ecstatic. As soon as I saw the manga omnibus, All You Need is Kill, Ana and I picked it up automatically.
The first thing to note about the manga edition is that it is notably different than the film. The core idea is the same: a lackadasical male grunt in the United Defense Force is thrown into battle with little training under the conceit that the superior Jacket technology can turn even the most green rookie into a killing machine. There is a race of alien creatures, called Mimics, that threaten the existence of life as we know it on Earth.
The big first notable difference is the fact that the manga (and novel – though I didn’t read the novel, I take Ana’s word that the manga edition is a loyal translation) takes place in Japan with majority Japanese soldiers under the UDF. The mimics are attacking in the Pacific Rim area, and Japan is the country responsible for creating and perfecting the Jacket technology that can combat the Mimics. The protagonist of the book is named Keiji, he is young and full of ennui, and he is Japanese – as is the rest of his troop. Rita Vrataski is, in contrast, white and American and arrives with a contingent of troops from the United States – they fight together under the UDF on the eve of a battle (on of many other battles) against the Mimic forces.
Compare that to the movie, where the focus of the Mimic attacks is on Western Europe, where the UDF is largely European and American, and the protagonist of the film is the significantly older – but no less green when it comes to fighting – Lieutenant Cage (Tom Cruise).
I did love the imagery of the film and the intensity of consequence that this one particular battle holds for humanity’s future: Rita Vrataski has just led the UDF to victory at Verdun (humankind’s only victory over the Mimics) and is mounting an all-or-nothing assault. The kicker is that the Mimics know this, and the future of the planet hangs in the balance: can Cage and Rita figure it out in time?
In contrast, the book’s focus is on a different tension: Keiji is desperately trying to break out of the time loop in which he is trapped, not so much to save humanity, but to save himself. He tries to kill himself multiple times, to no avail. So, he learns how to fight, reluctantly, from Rita’s lead – mimicking her style and movements, eventually telling her about his ability and discovering that she, too, had been previously trapped in a loop. The kicker in the manga, however, is that only one character can be a loop survivor – the physics of time travel in the manga have more finite rules that make sense and actually work within the broader context of the story…
And this is where the wheels fall off. (And SPOILERS FOLLOW so if you don’t want to know, look away.)
Because, you see, while the rules of looping, mimics and time travel work in the context of the manga, it means that only Rita or Keiji can survive. Both of them cannot exist at the same time outside of the loop – and that means they must fight to the death. And because Keiji learned how to fight from studying Rita’s every move, he wins. That makes sense. I understand that. But it still fucking sucks, and I’m firmly in Ana’s camp regarding wanting a story that makes sense without being punched in the face.
There is a brilliant story in here – if one could play Victor Frankenstein and cobble together an amalgam of the best parts of the book (Rita’s awesome backstory, the emotional resonance of her tragic past and impetus for fighting, the awesome non-western focused setting, the ennui and reluctance and bone-weariness of Keiji’s arc, the Mimic logic that makes actual sense) with the best parts of the movie (awesome visuals, the comedic relief, the wonderful nonsexualized view of Rita and any other women characters)… then you’d have a Great Story.
As it stands? I still liked the manga, and I still love the movie. But… you know… there are things.
So how did you feel about All You Need is Kill and/or The Edge of Tomorrow?