Goodreads: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Published: 1982 (the compilation I read was published in 1995)
Nausicaä, a gentle but strong-willed young princess, has grown up in the Valley of the Wind, one of the few remaining peaceful kingdoms in a perilous world. Danger presses on every side: the war brewing between the neighboring Torumekian and Dorok nations, the acidic ocean created by thousands of years of pollution, and the “Sea of Corruption”—a poisonous, ever-growing forest that is home to giant, sentient bugs—each threaten to tear Nausicaä’s home apart. She and her allies must find a way to safely navigate through this world of extremes, or witness the destruction of the human race.
This is an original work by Hayao Miyazaki (yes, that Hayao Miyazaki). If that name doesn’t give you some idea of the quality of this manga, I’m going to have to ask you to click one of those links, watch the movie described in that link, and then write an essay about the hole in your life that’s just been filled. You’re welcome.
Miyazaki has a few signature themes and motifs in each of his works, and although he mixes and matches from one film to another, he manages to explore them all in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Man vs. nature, the ugliness of war, sympathetic villains, the joy of flight, and young girls faced with difficult worlds are each presented to the reader and then expanded upon over the course of the story. Although some characters, situations and topics of discussion begin stereotypically, Miyazaki promises to add depth and nuance with each installment.
Nausicaä herself is a wonderful character. She is smart and kind and a born leader. She has her subjects’ love and trust from the very beginning and (as of the second volume) their loyalty never falters. Her most mysterious quality is her deep empathy with all living things, which sometimes translates into telepathy if the animal is intelligent enough (such as the Ohmu, but we’ll get to them later). This empathy is what inspires her drive to fix the myriad of problems that face her world, and the narrative implies that it will be the key in helping her achieve her goal. The problem with many of the other people in the story is that although they, too, want to live without fear of invasion by other nations or the Sea of Corruption, they thoughtlessly make and carry out plans that hurt everything around them. Nausicaä’s brilliance in both politics and ecology stems from her practice of considering all forms of life before she makes decisions.
My favorite character has a very different outlook. Although Nausicaä is a great heroine, I can’t pass up the opportunity to gush over Kushana. Kushana is Nausicaä’s foil: she is also a princess with loyal subjects who wishes to make her way in the world with as much grace and dignity as possible. But this warrior princess is hard and calculating. She is the youngest daughter of the emperor of Torumekia, who recognizes her skills as both a ruler and a military commander and tries to assassinate her for them; and she has four older half-brothers who are too ignorant to respect her. She is actually the best option Torumekia has for a ruler because she cares more for her subjects’ lives than for any personal or national “honor,” but only people with half a brain can see it. (If they had a full brain, they wouldn’t put so much effort into preventing her succession.) It is only when she figures out her father’s plot against her life that she turns to a vengeful power play, saying, “You decrepit, hideous old monster, clinging to your throne… If it means so much to you, then by my own bloodied hands I will tear you from it!” I don’t usually fist pump the air when I read books, but for that moment I made an exception. (Seriously, she is surrounded by horrible people and she’s the only honorable one among them. She and Nausicaä actually get along for the most part and even though their destinies should oppose each other, their values parallel instead and it’s beautiful.)
Next we come to the Ohmu. Ohmu are those “giant, sentient bugs” I talked about earlier. They should be disgusting. They should be absolutely terrifying. The first time you see a live one is when it is chasing after a lone rider in a desert, its eyes red with anger. But then Nausicaä intervenes and it is explained that the Ohmu mistakenly thought that the rider had killed something in the forest. Between this display of ethics and the telepathic message of fury it projected to the entire area (that Nausicaä picked up), the Ohmu’s introduction leaves the audience with more questions than it settles. Ohmu also have a really awesome healing ability that I wish had been mentioned before it gets used to help settle a major conflict. Perhaps the main explanation for that little deus ex machina is that since nobody in Nausicaä’s world knows anything about Ohmu, there was no opportunity to broach the subject through conversation or thought processes (the way facts usually are conveyed in comics). Nevertheless, the Ohmu present an important aspect of the Sea of Corruption that will be exploited later.
I have only read the first two volumes, but Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind has me enthralled. Miyazaki insists on making his audience to really think before they judge anything they see, and that works in his favor in two ways. First, it forces him to make a fuller, more realistic world available to the audience; second, once his readers fall into the spirit of the thing, they begin wanting more information about new subjects and problems. They start asking questions. I am dying to know more about the Ohmu, and Kashana’s past and family life, and Nausicaä’s telepathy. Although I am aware that a few things may be lost in translation (I sometimes feel that way with Miyazaki films because he’s working off a culture and history I know little to nothing about), I am sure that whatever I get will be exciting, original, and stimulating.
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