Usually I talk about works I read when I was younger now rediscovered. But in this case, I’m going to talk about something that I’ve read relatively recently– not the film version of Nausicaä.The manga.
In a way, this is a cop out. I’ve been working on a set of posts involving regulation based on science and physics rather than on whim and appearance. I was going to attack gun regulation but it’s more work than I anticipated. So I’m taking a break from that one and talking about Hayao Miyazaki.
Miyazaki is primarily a film director and animator and it’s by his film work that he is best known. If you haven’t seen a Miyazaki film, stop reading this blog right now and go rent one. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a good one. Or Castle in the Sky. I have a weak spot for Porco Rosso, since it’s about seaplane pilots. Or you could go straight to the big guns and get Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away. Or, of course, you could also watch Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
Oh, hell. They’re all terrific. Go watch them.
The manga is in seven volumes. If you’ve seen Nausicaä the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the first couple of volumes are pretty much a recap of the film. There are more than one story about why Miyazaki did the manga. Miyazaki couldn’t initially get funding for the film and so put out the mangas. Miyazaki couldn’t get funding for a film that didn’t have an associated manga. Etc. The mangas were written from 1982 to 1994. The film was made in 1984.
A thousand years before the story starts there was a terrible war fought, in part, by God Warriors: giant mechanisms with horrific weapons. Vast areas of the world are now filled with poisonous forests inhabited by giant insects. The forests appear to be fungal in nature and spread by spores, often carried by insects or unwary travelers. However, the poison is everywhere and people eventually die of it.
Nausicaä is a princess of the Valley of the Wind– the royalty component of the story seems to not have a direct connection to rule. Her father did rule the valley but there are hints toward the end that there may be other paths to being a sovereign than heredity. Regardless, she is looked up to and admired by the folk of the valley.
War breaks out and there are treaty obligations that the Valley send troops. Nausicaä goes with them. The war was between the Torumekeans and the Doroks. As she proceeds through the different convolutions of the war, encountering spiritual battle, biological warfare and enormous cruelty, she becomes more and more important, a force for good in an amoral conflict. Eventually, her influence, the power of the insects and the suffocating horror of the war all come together and she prevails.
I’m not going to get more detailed than that. The plot is intricate and clever but I think is actually a side note to the issues Miyazaki is handling.
Miyazaki has always had environmental concerns. Pretty much every movie has some sort of component that can be construed to be environmental. Even Porco Russo, a story about a seaplane pilot who’s become a pig, has a continuing discussion of the balance between selfishness and selflessness– which, I think, is a stand in for Miyazaki’s issues with the environment.
In Nausicaä these issues are front and center. Humans have to live on a poisoned planet– poison that is of their own making. The poison is killing them. Yet they still war. Religion is a political means to an end. The personal and selfish pursuit of power is the source of the world’s evil.
But it’s not a screed. It’s a story where these bits come out as important plot details. Nausicaä never says “If only humans will somehow sees the immorality of their ways and learn to help one another. Ah, Atlantis.” She does lament human behavior more than once but it’s more in the vein of “Come on, guys. Stop hitting yourselves.”
The film handles some of this but much of the rich and detailed tapestry of Myazaki’s world is given only token treatment. The God Warrior is just a prop. The sword master Yupa a part of the chorus. This is the cost of making it into a film. The manga is much more detailed.
One of the interesting things in Nausicaä’s character is her continuing avoidance of killing– not because she’s a pacifist. But because she finds out early one the killing rage she has in her own heart and how easily it can be released. She decides that this is something to struggle against and from then on she keeps trying to find different ways to make things better. Not easy in the middle of a war.
This continuing attempt to not kill anybody and to stop people from killing one another, coupled with her own forceful personality, begins to have knock on effects. People start to take her seriously and, by doing so, take her point of view seriously.
Nausicaä is, no doubt, some sort of Christ figure in this. But it’s a Christ figure that we’re not used to. Nausicaä is not passive. She’s not going to volunteer for the cross. If she goes down she’s going down trying to save everyone around her whether they want it or not.
I’ve read this series twice now and this aspect of Nausicaä’s character is what stays with me. She’s like the members of Doctors without Borders, going out there and working until they drop to save people’s lives.
The work has its limitations. There is little introspection regarding motive– people just do, knowing what they must do instinctively. In my experience there’s just a little consideration of what must be done. The ending is a bit abrupt. It feels wrongly shaped– I think everything happens that has to happen but it seems clunky in execution. Miyazaki did all of the drawing in pencil and the artwork is wonderful. But you want to just see the precise definition of ink in some of the action sequences.
But these are quibbles. It’s a terrific read rendered by a master story teller at the height of his powers.