Off to a Valley of the Wind

In some ways this series is much easier to talk about, unlike Tezuka with his chameleon nature to shift the tone of a story on the drop of a hat. Hayao Miyazaki is a guy who very much tells excellent variations on a similar theme, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is no exception. Not to mention the films of Studio Ghibli, especially the ones with Miyazaki’s direct hand involved, are at a level where I think most people have a grasp on the kind of stories he does.

Nausicaa, however, takes that very Ghibli story and uses the medium and length of time of creation to greatly expand the themes, characters, scope, scale, and stakes of the story to such a level that it easily dwarfs all the movies. This would be a good time to go into some history because it plays into how the story evolves and changes.

Nausicaa began in 1982, and the film version came out in 1984 and covers a condensed version of the first two volumes, then Ghibli was formed and continued with 86′s Laputa: Castle in the Sky, 88′s My Neighbor Totoro, 89′s Kiki’s Delivery Service and 92′s Porco Rosso, before the Nausicaa manga is completed two years later in 1994.

The series is about Nausicaa the princess from the Valley of the Wind and her quest out into the world to both experience it and try to quell the violence and strife that cover the land in both the theaters of war and in the relationship between people and nature, meet an ever growing cast of interesting characters, learn more about the world, come to grips with human nature and the cycles of the world, have kick ass sword fights and glide through the skies on the wind.

Nausicaa is very unlike a great deal of comics because Miyazaki is unlike a great deal of artists; his work is straight pencils and according to reports, is less helped with assistants than what is common in manga. His comics look like they could perfectly fit in the original run of Metal Hurlant, if only the pages were not right-to-left. Adding to that, the general aesthetic of the comic doesn’t bear much Japanese influence. On the surface, it resembles a more Medieval European look mixed with Herbert’s Dune.

Nausicaa as a character is interesting because, from the opening in her idyllic home of the Valley of the Wind as she is thrust out into the more grey areas of the world, she is living on the premise that she has no problems whatsoever, showcasing how her decisions are not always correct or how her nature can sometimes cause more problems than it solves. She learns as the series continues and comes to grips with decisions she is forced to make to stay alive to succeed in her goals. She is human; therefore, the pure white outlook she takes out of the Valley is dyed and grayed even as her outfit is stained with blood. This doesn’t lead to her giving up, though. In fact, her conviction becomes stronger as the series goes on, and she accepts the grey nature of the world and that we make our world through everything pure and corrupt, black and the white, and that anything else would not be a real life. While I do love his films though they never push past that bit where Nature seemingly takes over, Nausicaa does, showing that there is no winning or losing in this. There is survival and death.

The scale scope and grand nature of the story is enhanced by the focus on supporting players who hail from all walks of life, factions, genders and ages. Like how Miyazaki doesn’t hold back from the stakes for the main character, he accurately portrays the results of this threefold war on people of all stations of life in a level of graphic violence, terror and horror that is really unlike anything else he has done. The book has moments of comedy unlike any I have seen from the creator. One scene in particular – a very gallows scene involving a severed head – is one I don’t want to give away.

While this brutality is happening the series manages to keep the wind-blown airy quality of the art that moves into how the characters move through the pages, this action scene for example.

It is a duel to death from the first volume, yet it still reads elegant and visceral and it’s astounding to be able to capture those things in an action scene at the same time. This pertains to the entire comic, the way he captures objects in flight or motion is magical.

The series also has strong roots in the incorporation of the past to propel the future; the world is built on the ruins of the civilization that preceded it using the technology found to run their machines. The large forest’s ‘Sea of Corruption’ is a forest that builds upon itself as it purifies the lower levels. The war that sets the story is centered around ancient knowledge and the power gained from it. The religion of one the factions is an amalgamation / telephone game version of the original version that has recently been thought to be expunged by the ruling class.

“To see with eyes unclouded by hate” is the mission statement of Prince Ashitaka from the film Miyazaki made directly after finishing this manga, and it directly relates to the overall theme of this series. There is shit in this world: people act like shit, human nature is not always the most pure, yet there is still great to be found even in that impurity. That impurity is what makes us human, the darker the shadows, the brighter the light must be.

 

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