Originally posted: Sunday, May 25, 2008 on Blogger

Manga Profile: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

It’s time for another manga profile and this time its on a timeless classic, Nausicaa. There are a lot of different english editions of Nausicaa floating around, and the edition I own is the “Perfect Collection”, comprised of four extra thick volumes. Because I own this edition, this profile will be based upon it. So I just want to say that you should keep that in mind, because the newer editions are thinner and are comprised of seven volumes. I’m pointing this out so not to confuse anyone. =)



As with all the other profiles, to the left is the first volume of Nausicaa. Although its not horrible, it doesn’t do enough justice to the artwork inside the covers. Viz rather neglected the appearance of Nausicaa, so don’t let this cover fool you, the art inside is much more lovely.


Basic Information:

Title: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

Author: Miyazaki Hayao

Volumes: 4

Publisher: Tokuma Shoten

NA Publisher: Viz Communications


The Story


The story of Nausicaa takes place in the far future, after the collapse of civilization and the pollution of the entire world. Here pockets of humanity are struggling to survive the harsh new environment and the encroachment of the ‘sea of corruption’. The sea of corruption as it is called, is a new ecosystem of fungi and giant bugs. The fungi release poisonous miasma into the air, and only the bugs can survive inside this new forest. The remaining pockets of humanity are divided into three nations; The Torumekian Empire, The Dorok Principalities, and the Autonomous States of the Periphery (previously known as the Kingdom of Eftal).

The Vally of Wind is one such autonomous state in the periphery and its princess is the gentle and courageous Naucisaa, also the heroine of this tale. Nausicaa is not only a good person, but also a girl with mysterious powers; she is able to read the wind and hear into the hearts of living things. She especially has a special bond with the sea of corruption, and in particular, the mighty Ohmu, giant bugs that act as the guardians of the forest. She has, on many occasions, begged the Ohmu to spare a human that has hurt them.

The tale begins just as Torumekia and Dorok are preparing for war with each other. Because the Valley of Wind is an ally to the Torumekian Empire, Nausicaa, as the sole heir to the Valley of Wind, must set out on this war campaign with the Valley’s precious Gun Ship. But along the way, Nausicaa discovers troubling truths about both the Torumekian and Dorok Empires.

Nausicaa’s story is well known for its environmental message, but that isn’t its only message. Miyazaki tackles other very important themes in his story, and even as current events change, his message is still as important as it was when Nausicaa was first published in the 80s. This makes Nausicaa a classic, which can be enjoyed by any generation, yet the reasons behind Nausicaa’s timelessness are, sadly, the fact that the problems which Miyazaki saw plaguing the world in the 1980s are still plaguing the world now.

Nor does Miyazaki sugar coat anything, his depictions and conclusions are far more grim then any of the current manga that focus or touch upon the theme of pollution. Nausicaa message isn’t a half spirited attempt at expressing the dangers of pollution; it portrays things as they are and directs us to the real root of the problem, humanity itself and humanity’s technology.

And although, Nausicaa isn’t aimed at girls in particular, Miyazaki’s positive portrayal of the female sex allows female readers to find someone to relate or look up to. Its a nice change for a manga, which isn’t aimed a the female demographic, to have female leads that are not there for the sole purpose of being subordinate to the males, and sex objects. In my view, it shows the growth of Miyazaki as a person; he doesn’t look upon something different from him as inferior.


 The Art


Not only is the story-telling in Nausicaa superb, but so is the art. Miyazaki has definitely put forth his whole effort into Naucisaa; the art is incredibility detailed. Just don’t expect to see the typical huge eyes that manga is known for now, Miyazaki’s style seems to be a cross between manga and american comics. This isn’t something bad, because his art is so gorgeous that it doesn’t matter that it is not what we have come to expect from manga. If anything, Miyazaki’s art makes the story of Nausicaa so much more realistic and powerful.

(Note: During the time it was published, there were a lot of shounen and seinen manga that were drawn like american comics or a cross between the current mainstream manga style and american comics. The big eyes that we now associate with manga were primarily found in shoujo titles. At the time, it was american comics that influenced manga, while now manga is influencing american comics. Oh how the times change =])


The Characters


Nausicaa features a big cast of characters, some who are with us from start to end and some who die or come up later in the story. I will not list them all as there are too many, but the most important ones in my view. And just as a reminder, these character profiles contain spoilers!!!

Nausicaa – The heroine of the tale, Nausicaa is the princess from the valley of wind and a girl with mysterious powers, some of which include, hearing into the hearts of living things, telepathy, and reading the wind. She loves all of nature, even the plants and animals of the sea of corruption. She makes a very important decision at the end of the manga, and entrusts the future of humanity to the plant, instead of trusting in the great plan the ancients devised.

Master Yupa – a master swordsman, Yupa searches for the truth behind the sea of corruption, and realizes that Nausicaa is the key. He dies in the last volume of the manga, protecting Kushana and his death stirs the sympathy of the Dorok people.

Kushana – a princess of Torumekia, Kushana is almost the exact opposite of Nausicaa, but the two seem to understand one another quite well. When Kushana was a little girl, her father tried to poison her, but instead her mother drank the poison, which drove her mad. Kushana vowed to avenge her mother and has since become the biggest threat to both her father and brothers. She is a very intelligent and able warrior, who commands the loyalty of the majority of the army. At the end of the manga, Kushana refuses the throne, and rules as king regent, she becomes known as the restorer of Torumekia.

Asbel – the prince of Pejitei, whose country was utterly destroyed by Kushana and her forces. At first, he can think of nothing but revenge and attacks Kushana’s air force, but is stopped by Nausicaa’s telepathic pleas and as a result is shot down. He lands in the sea of corruption and angers the insects. Nausicaa is able to convince the insects to forgive him and gives him what she was entrusted by his sister. For a brief while, they travel together but are soon separated. Asbel along with Ketcha, Master Yupa and the men from the Valley continue to follow Nausicaa’s trail, until they reach the Crypts of Shuwa, where she was headed.

Ketcha – a girl from the Mani Tribe found in the Dorok Empire, her tribe still believes in the old prophecies about the “blue clad one”. She looked up to the holy one and was devastated by his death. She travels with Asbel and Master Yupa, until she finally meets up with her tribe at the end of the manga. Ketcha is able to speak the Torumekian language, allowing her to communicate with Nausicaa’s friends, without the aid of telepathy.

Kurotowa – Kushana’s right hand man, at first Kushana tried to kill him and ignores him because he was sent by her father. Later on, she accepts him, and he becomes one of her most important soldiers. Kurotowa is very intelligent and has interesting asides. At first, it seems that he only cares about himself, but he later saves Kushana, which in turn leaves him deeply wounded. The men of the Valley of Wind nurse him back to health.

Chikuku – a child Nausicaa befriended, he has strong telepathic powers and believes Nausicaa is the white winged apposite. Near the end of the manga, he reveals himself to be the descendant of the Dorok king who was overthrown by the Holy Emperor.

Charuka – a high ranking priest from the Dorok Empire, Charuka is fiercely loyal to the emperor’s brother, so much so that he will do anything, even if he knows it is wrong, should the emperor’s brother ask him to do it. He gains an interest in Nausicaa, when he discovers that she saved two little children and then a whole tribe. Nausicaa saves him on a number of occasions, and he eventually comes to accept her as a savor. It is later revealed that the emperor’s brother saved Charuka from poverty and that is the source of his unshakable loyalty. He is very grateful to Nausicaa for helping the emperor’s brother find peace in the afterlife.

Selm – a boy from the forest, his tribe has abandoned fire and lives at peace with the insects and the sea of corruption. He is very similar to Nausicaa and holds her in high regard. He is able to leave his body and travel outside it, and has done so on a number of occasions; often times to help Nausicaa in her hour of need. Both he and Nausicaa know the whole truth and he accepts Nausicaa’s decision to leave their fate in the hands of the planet.


Themes

***I am using the term ‘theme’ in a very loose sense, meaning it can be anything from something the story focus on, to an aspect of the story, or the actual meaning of the word in its literary sense. Nor am I going to go into too much detail, this blog entry is already really long ; )***


1. Pollution & the Environment

The central theme of Nausicaa; the whole story is a result of the pollution and environmental deterioration that is happening in our time. Miyazaki paints a grim picture of the future, but his solution is also not something one can easily accept. In the beginning of Nausicaa, there is a rather simple statement about pollution; humans caused pollution and now they are living with its consequences. But, at the story’s conclusion, Miyazaki makes a far more profound statement; pollution and death are inevitable as long as human being continue to preserve technology. It is not so much human beings that corrupt the world, rather it is human being that have abandoned their primitive roots and gained the knowledge of technology, which allows them to harness their negative and violent actions and create far more devastating results. It must be made clear that Miyazaki separates our knowledge into two different categories, Arts and Technology. He clearly states in the final volume that under the heading of arts, is all human knowledge that is worth preserving, this includes music, art, literature, ect. Technology on the other hand, means such things as computers, cars, weapons, bombs, and biological manipulation. But even with this separation, technology still contains many useful things, such as modern medicine, comfortable housing, and cars, that will make it almost impossible for anyone to accept Miyazaki’s solution. Nevertheless, the root of the problem that Miyazaki points to, is indeed an accurate assessment of the true cause of pollution. Which leaves us with the question of whether we should abandon technology as Miyazaki suggests or attempt to somehow move forward with technology, while not harming the environment. Miyazaki’s option seems the most likely to succeed, while the other one seems the mostly likely to be chosen.

2. War

War is another important, but often overlooked theme in Nausicaa. For the majority of the manga, there is a war raging, and it isn’t just there for the setting, Miyazaki takes great pains to show the uglier side of war. The theme of war is intertwined with the themes of death and technology, not surprisingly, since war causes death and necessitates the use of weapons and technology for destruction. Nor is there an aggressor or victim, both sides are shown as aggressors and victims, and ultimately, that the rulers only seek to establish their rule as the one single rule throughout the whole world. A very accurate portrayal of war in my mind, and it might seem obvious, but when countries are often at war with one another, such wisdom is easily overlooked and ignored by the populations.

3. Death & Extinction

A reoccurring image throughout Nausicaa, Nausicaa herself even says on a number of occasions that death is everywhere. This is less of a theme and more of an image that is interlinked with all the other themes I have listed. In the first theme, death is often associated with the sea of corruption and its poisonous miasma, which in turn is a result of ecological collapse. In the second theme, war and death go hand in hand and in the final theme, technology is seen as the root of both war and pollution, which are the only causes of needless deaths in Nausicaa’s world.

Extinction on the other hand is put forth as a possible solution to pollution many times in Nausicaa, only to be finally rejected in favor of technology. Ultimately Miyazaki leaves us the choice of giving up technology or our very lives.

4. Science & Technology

A less focused on theme, but it is still there and in the final volume, it has an especially important significance. At first, technology seems to have little value in Nausicaa as a theme, but slowly it creeps up on the reader and before you know it, technology becomes the main theme. I would say that the last volume focuses on the problems of technology almost exclusively. As I have stated before, technology is something different from the arts, which Miyazaki sees as a positive human endeavour. And under the heading of technology are the weapons of war we see used through out the manga; even medicine and its related fields of research, which many of us hold in high regard, are not spared from being used for war, or the scorn of Nausicaa. It is biological manipulation that creates a baby Ohmu, which is used as bait to control the other Ohmu for their potential as weapons. It is also biological manipulation that creates the mutant mold, which was to be used as a biological weapon, but ends up just spreading more of the sea of corruption and further decreasing the land that can be used by human beings. Finally it is also biological manipulation that allows, the Holy Emperor and his brother to survive well beyond their natural limits. All these examples and Nausicaa’s own response point to one conclusion, all life is sacred and should be treated as such.


Conclusion


Nausicaa is definitely worth at least a single reading (but I recommend reading it much more), for its insightful conclusions on technology and pollution. Furthermore, Nausicaa is one of the first works to focus on environmental deterioration; since during the time it was written, much of the western world was still sleeping in a blissful sleep of ignorance. It is only twenty years later that the cries of ‘saving the earth’ are finally being heard by the majority of people. Slowly is everyone realizing that authors, like Miyazaki, are right to be worrying about our Earth’s condition. So if you are even mildly interested on the issue of the environment, or in the need to read something thoughtful, I highly recommend Nausicaa; its storying telling and art are top notch.



Nausicaa is a cautionary tale of environmental deterioration, that should be read by anyone who is even mildly interested on this issue. Don’t take it lightly just because, “it’s a comic”. Nausicaa is one of the few tales, which is thought provoking and written in a form of media that is known for its mindless entertainment.

–SW

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