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"The technological society that was born in the southern parts of Eurasia spread within only a couple of centuries across the entire world and created a great industrial society that spent the world's riches, polluted the air, and eventually even moulded living creatures as they pleased. A thousand years later it faced a sudden and violent end. In a war, called the 'Seven Days of Fire', the cities were completely burned, spreading with them clouds of toxic pollution. In the same onslaught, the advanced technology was also lost. The majority of the land turned into infertile wasteland. The industrial civilization never came back alive. A long, dark age came upon mankind."
Thus reads the opening legend of Hayao Miyazaki's masterful sociological and environmentalist story of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a story that was to take over 10 years for him to tell. It is a story on how human carelessness and greed can have widespread consequences on our world's ecosystem, and how our own stupidity and wilfulness to play god can end up eventually destroying us all. Being more familiar as the co-founder of the Studio Ghibli animation studio, Hayao Miyazaki's earlier life was more concerned with television and as an artist for a couple of mangas on the side. But it wasn't until the early 1980s that he began to find more independent footing for his work as he began work on the wholly original story about the pacifist Princess Nausicaä thrown into a world of war and suffering of the world. There are two version as to the origins of the story itself. The one told by producer Toshio Suzuki tells that Miyazaki originally wanted to make a film of Nausicaä, but was refused as the production company didn't feel they could take the risk as there wasn't a manga for the story. Thus, believing in the strength of the story, Miyazaki promptly took a pen in his hand and started drawing a manga version in late 1982. By 1984, when he finally got green lighted for the film, three volumes of the manga had come out by which time the manga was already going well toward its own direction. However, considering the way the story was at the time the film was made, would rather lead one to believe that Miyazaki started the manga independently and adapted the story, as it was at the time, into a screenplay, which would explain the rushed state of the film's conclusion as the story proper was still unfinished at the time the film came out.
Which ever the case, there is no denying that Miyazaki's manga version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a landmark in the history of the graphic novel. Comprising of seven volumes in total, it is a story that is exquisitely constructed, with layers upon layers of detail, backstory, mysteries, politics, and a large cast of characters that are developed to such an extent as to it being astounding in their complexity. The story largely tells of the personal odyssey of Nausicaä, a young girl coming from a peaceful agricultural nation called the Valley of the Wind. The inhabitants of the valley are by and large peaceful and who have learned to live in harmony with the nature around them. Nausicaä often liked to take her glider up in the air and over the poisonous forests called the "Fukai", where humans cannot live without protective masks and where insects run wild. Nausicaä loves to explore and study the ecosystem of this place and the bugs within, being one of the few who doesn't see this as anything bad and wants to discover ways for people and the Fukai to both co-exist with each other. Things, however, take a decided change when a small military force from Tolmekia, headed by Princess Kushana, comes in search for an escaped cargo carrier from the destroyed city of Pejite that crash landed in the valley. Though the encounter with the Tolmekians and Nausicaä isn't exactly amicable, when the Tolmekian forces issue a full mobilisation for war, Nausicaä also leaves to join them with a small group of men in the capacity of the succeeding heir to her ailing father's throne as the Valley is still under a co-operative treaty with Tolmekia.
From here on end Nausicaä will have to venture into the world in turmoil as her personal odyssey will take her from the Fukai and its secrets into war between the two mighty nations of Tolmekia and Dorukia, and all the way toward her ultimate discovery of the creation of the Fukai and the survival of mankind in this story that raises many important and deep questions that are still relevant today. For those of you who are only familiar with the anime version may find a lot of things to be different in the manga. Although the general story remains true to the manga's, the fact that the anime only roughly focuses on the events as seen in the first two books, and is also considerably more streamlined so as for the story to fit a reasonable running time, means that the anime is also considerably simplified. Though it still holds its own for what it is, pitting the longer manga against it one can't help escape the feeling that the anime in comparison just doesn't entirely measure up to the complexity of Miyazaki's full story. Nausicaä's journey is truly epic, and all the issues the story explores are so deep and the plot so expansive that one does have to marvel at Miyazaki's depth of vision when writing the story. And it isn't only the story itself that is mesmerizing, but the fact that all the characters (or a significant portion of them) undergo significant development so that the large cast never comes across as being redundant or statistic at any point.
Nausicaä herself admittedly, though, is not the most complex character ever written, and as the moral compass of the story at times does come across somewhat overly goody goody. She resists any form of corruption, does her best to move as a kind of a Christ figure advocating tolerance, pacifism and understanding, and which ultimately will make her walk straight on the path that she must. However, her purity of heart and sense of righteousness is also an important aspect of her character that allows her to remain focused on who she is and what must be done in order for the world to achieve salvation, regardless of what temptations and hardships she must face along the way. Even after she is being lifted toward as becoming some kind of an icon-like "saviour" by the people much through the age-old prophecies regarding a blue-clothed girl walking among golden grass who would change the world (in fact Nausicaä's clothing gets smeared in the blue blood of an Oomu - in a word a giant bug - while she tries to save a young such creature), she still manages to keep her humility and humanity intact for her to be able to fulfil her ultimate destiny. Still, Nausicaä isn't a plain wallflower of goodness and does at times have to grapple with her own conscience, or participate in things she does not really want to, but overall her inherent sense of goodness is what ultimately acts as the defining feature of her character.
Aiding to bring contrast is a large secondary cast that is too big to mention in detail in this article. The story features both friends and antagonists, people that are very endearing and those that can only be hated. Yet, it is a mark of Miyazaki's talents as a storyteller - and which his animation films also showcase well - that outside of a very few individuals that are truly evil, many of them also show an underlying sense of goodness and nobility about them. For instance the initial antagonist of Princess Kushana of Tolmekia in the beginning is a conniving and ruthless woman bred on the fields of war, power, and the greed of his competitive backstabber family. Yet, unlike in the anime where she largely remains the chief villain, her development in the manga from these origins to noble humility in the face of destruction and death by nature itself, and finally her becoming a staunch leader with a sense of pride and fairness is wonderfully executed. The same goes for her leering and somewhat duplicitous lackey Kurotowa who, upon falling down from rank and near death, becomes a cynical war hero that starts to develop a sense of reluctant loyalty past greedy self-absorption. The Dorukian priest Chalka - a race completely absent from the anime - receives another masterful transformation from being a lead follower of the twisted Dorukian religious doctrines and makes himself a martyr of going against his peoples' beliefs in favour of the truthfulness Nausicaä displays and shows during her journey. Even the predictable love interest for Nausicaä in the form of the destroyed Pejite's vengeful Prince Asbel is eschewed fairly early on from adding to the story a sappy love story that main protagonists often receive almost through a mandatory rule, and instead a more viable relationship is built between him and the young Dorukian girl Kecha.
And these are just to scratch the surface a bit. From the ultra cool wanderer Yupa and the Fukai dweller Selm, to the old experienced war horse Mito and the little telepath Chikuku along with various other bit players, the cast in Nausicaä is truly colourful and fantastically realised that is rare to find executed to this level of detail in many pieces of fiction. To compliment the excellent character building, the story itself certainly isn't lacking in its sprawlingly epic sweep, moving forward with just the right amount of speed to allow for plot exposition and development, while also providing plenty of action moments that doesn't forget any aspect of war, whether it is the camaraderie, pride, and battles of its soldiers, or its destruction and death it wreaks on people of every kind, whether they are soldiers or civilians. And on the other side there are, of course, the important subjects of nature and its exploitation by humans I mentioned earlier. Miyazaki is known to have been a stalwart environmentalist for a long time now before it ever became a popular lobbying point in this age of global warming and care for the protection of our planet for the coming generations, and Nausicaä is by far his greatest exploration of the subject (although the following film Princess Mononoke of 1997 continues on the subject exceptionally well). Perhaps even more so than any other issue, the criticism of how people are using our planet in ways that ultimately is just going to destroy us all rises above as the key point that Miyazaki wants to fully express, and nowhere is it better shown than in the Dorukians employment of biological warfare and attempts to harness nature to their will, a project that ultimately is doomed to failure as they soon find themselves unable to control their creations and only make inhabitable land scarcer and scarcer as they go on.
In the final analysis, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a marvellous story that is now even more relevant than it was in 1982. And if among the story's great assets I were to make one criticism, it would centre around the employment of the resurrected God Warrior toward the end that admittedly comes across somewhat silly and corny in context, and certainly is far removed from the grotesquely mindless monstrosity it was presented as being in the anime's conclusion - albeit the part of the God Warrior in the manga is more instrumentally important as more than just a plain machine of war. Miyazaki's art style is detailed, but more sketchy than cleanly drawn out with clear, clean lines, providing a distinct charm to it as not being too over-beautified. And, as you'd expect from a Japanese manga of these days, it is rightly read from right to left (unless you manage to find yourself a flipped version that is). Prices seem to hover around the £7 mark per book, but it is likely that you can find them cheaper if you'll just look around. Overall, this is an excellent manga that excels on many different levels, providing drama, humour, action, and deep sociological and environmentalist issues, making it one of the most significant graphic novels of all time, both Japanese and otherwise. If you're only familiar with the story through the anime, the manga is essential reading. For others, it comes highly recommended in any case.
© berlioz, 2010