Gun Dream, aka Gunnm, aka Battle Angel Alita is, like most manga, a hodgepodge of interpersonal drama and cosmological pyrotechnics. However, inside of the explosions and cyborg deathmatchs is a fairly coherent message, or at least the pieces from which a message can be constructed if the viewer so wishes.
The action in Gun Dream takes place in three locations: the Scrapyard, a standard post-apocalyptic scenario, built over what remains of Kansas City, Tifares, a floating city where the people of the Scrapyard dream to one day go, and Ketheres, an abandoned floating space station. Actually, the action takes place scattered across North America, with Tifares seen from afar, and Ketheres remaining concealed until the very end of the series. However, the three cities form a central pillar to the philosophical development of the work.
The Scrapyard contains most of population of humanity, living a hand-to-mouth existence, beset by cyborg criminals who will kill people for the endorphins in their brain. The people dream of the idylistic existence in Tifares, but can not gain access to the city. At the end of the series it is revealed that Tifares' people live an idealistic yet empty existence in the city, with their brains surgically removed at the age of 19, and with their lives controlled by the computer Melcheesidic. It is also revealed that Tifares was just a base for the space station Ketheres, where humans were meant to take voyages to the stars.
This being a manga, the author invested some heavy symbiology here. In the Red Chamber Dream, there is a famous line linking Void, Form and Passion. "Kether"
and "Tifareth" are terms in Hebrew that mean approximately "Void" and "Form". Ketheres is void in the sense of being in the void (space) and void of people, as well as being void in the sense of potentiality, since it represents Human Potentiality. Tifares represents form in that is is where people have reached a perfected form, where all their desires and passions are perfectly balanced. The Scrapyard is the world of passsion, where, as mentioned, people kill each other for the endorphons in their brains.
Within this framework, there seems to be some commentaries on the various populations in the cities. The city of Tifares, while seeming to be far away from the Scrapyard to the residents, is actually only three kilometers from the ground, while Ketheres is a further 1200 kilometers from the ground. This seems to suggest that perhaps the lives of the people in Tifares are not a transcending of the world of passion, but merely a crystallization and prolonging of it. This would be borne out by several philosophical beliefs across cultures. One of the themes of the Qiang Meng is karma. In Buddhism, it is believed that those having lives with no obvious suffering are unable to gain enlightenment, and thus are merely driven by their karma at a slower rate. And in the system of Gilgul, Tifareth is still a realm where reincarnation is possible. In other words, the people in Tifares are different in form, but not in substance.
The point could be made here that social control as has been exercised in theory in "The West" since the days of Plato and has been exercised in practice in many places, that encouraging people to restrain their desires in order to get a bigger payoff later may only be rephrasing the problem. And it could also be argued that Japan, in the 1980's, and 1990's, was the first society to remove enough obvious suffering to let the project be tried directly.
Many of the issues presented in Gun Dream owe something to the great locus classicus of Manga and Anime themes, Cordwainer Smith (including, incidentally, the Hentai catgirl) , whose writing, inspired by his service in the Guomindang and CIA, led him to write a cycle of stories in which an all powerful technocracy is eventually overcame by an underground movement based on a gospel of total love.
In the end of the Gun Dream, the protagonist, Gally, is the only one able to overcome the effects of karma, and the temptations of the violent life of the Scrapyard, as well as the falsehood that is Tifares, to awaken to the Void, thus allowing humanity another try at regaining its potentiality.