My introduction to Nausicaä was the 1984 Studio Ghibli film of the same name. I didn’t see the film until about ten years ago when I began collecting all the films of Hayao Miyazaki. My daughter and I enjoy watching Miyazaki stories, and I have an appreciation for his strong female characters. I had no idea that the movie was only a fraction (about two chapters) fo the story and world of the Valley of the Wind.
I purchased this two-volume case-bound collection on a whim – our local Hastings was closing its doors, and the graphic novel section was deeply discounted. The box set is beautiful with clean printing, and the case-binding means you can read it without fear of damaging the spine or losing pages – which is a plus as there are over 500 pages per volume. There are full-color inserts at the front of each book, reprinting posters or covers of the original printing of eight volumes. It is in the right-to-left format, so after getting used to that, it was easy to be engrossed in the story.
The backstory. The people of the earth became advanced, both in technology and industry. They drained the world of resources, reduced air quality to near poison levels, and made new – or reformed – lifeforms to their design. Demand for resources caused a war that resulted in earth being transformed into a wasteland. Civilization was never rebuilt, and the technologies were believed to be lost. But humanity adapted and lived on, although most die because of the poisons in their lands.
The story begins with Nausicaä exploring the poisonous forest that resides near her home, the Valley of the Wind. She comes across on Ohmu shell (think massive giant caterpillar with many large eyes). These creatures feed on the poisoned plants and mold, playing their part in trying to correct the damage done to the earth. These shells are shed by growing Ohmu and are a great resource to Nausicaä’s people – they use them as materials to craft tools, weapons, and aircraft.
Nausicaä has thrived in the wasteland by learning all she can from the forests, insects, people, and other creatures that exist. Through her knowledge and understanding, she has developed and appreciation towards all living things. She is kind, honorable, and others follow her lead naturally. She respects the Ohmu and has learned to calm them to disarm them, rather than return an attack. Again and again, we see Nausicaä’s kindness and empathy. She is also passionate about what she believes in and has a natural ability to lead by inspiring those around her. Ultimately, Nausicaä wants to save every person and creature.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind has a surprising amount of political intrigue and back stabbery. I’m not even sure I can explain it all very well. So, the Valley of the Wind has a long-standing treaty with the Kingdom of Torumekian. When Torumekian calls for arms again the Dorok Empire, the Valley is expected to show up with their gunship (one of the few left from the original war.) But see, the Princess of Torumekian is staging a coup against her brothers, while the brother of the Emperor of Dorak is running the show on his side, but his brother is staging his own coup to gain back control. Nausicaä gets wrapped up in it all.
There are so many layers in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Agendas, prophecies, super mold, mystical powers, and a giant god warrior just to name a few. Treason, treachery, and traitors, oh my!
- Action. The action sequences are well drawn and easy to follow. Panel after panel of fantastic detail – even in black and white I felt I could see the colors of explosions.
- Depth. I can’t even give a full summary of the whole of the story without pretty much writing it entirely in this review. It skews philosophical, and Nausicaä faces the moral dilemma of the value of a single person versus the best for the whole.
- Emotional. Highs and lows of emotion. At one point Nausicaä even attempts to die, to remain at peace among the Ohmu – but her purpose had not yet been fulfilled. Characters die, mostly honorable deaths, mostly following their hearts.
- Art. Did I mention how beautiful the pages are? Consistently drawn – action and scenics. Over the course of the story, the hardships and strain of war are reflected in the faces and appearance of each character.
- Characters. Nausicaä is but one great character in a sea of well-developed characters. The places are characters of their own – the Sea of Corruption, the Forest, the Dorok lands. All the female characters are strong (typical of Miyazaki.) The Torumekian Princess (a warrior), who first seems to be an enemy, but becomes a strong ally. Master Yupa is a true man of honor, a great swordsman throughout the land, and Nausicaä’s mentor. There are too many great characters to list.
- The ending. While everything seems resolved, I would not say it is a happy ending. Nausicaä’s story begins and ends with the start and resolution of the war.
Overall, I enjoyed the epic of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Exploring – seeing – this complete world with its complications and dangers through the perspective of empathy reminded me that we need more kindness in this world.