Tackling a review of the manga version of NausicaÃ¤ of the Valley of Wind is an ambitious undertaking for any writer, but especially this one, given my love of Hayao Miyazaki‘s entire catalogue, especially his lesser-known efforts as a mangaka. The manga’s storyline is a lot more complex than that presented in the feature-length film version. The characters are deeper and Miyazaki is allowed to give full rein to the themes that are a constant in all of his films.
I first started reading NausicaÃ¤ at about the same time that I first discovered anime and manga, in the fall of 1992. I eagerly went about finding all of the back issues I could find in my local comic shops. Eventually I collected the entire print run of the Viz Select Comics Editions, now out-of-print. I still have every issue. Volume 1 Issue 1 has an insert of a painting by late French artist Moebius of Miyazaki’s gentle princess. Viz Media now makes the entire print version of NausicaÃ¤ available through a special Editor’s Choice edition, selling through a variety of online booksellers.
First serialized in Animage Magazine from 1982 to 1994, the manga tells the story of a young princess’ struggle to save her own people – and the human race itself – in a post-apocalyptic world set a thousand years after the decline and fall of industrial civilization. Princess NausicaÃ¤ is the chieftain of a country known as the Valley of Wind, a small nation on the periphery of the Sea of Corruption, which is a vast toxic forest created in the wake of the Seven Days of Fire, a worldwide cataclysm in which all the cities of the world burned, millions died, and civilization was lost. The Sea of Corruption covers much of the land area of the Earth now, and is home to giant insects that guard it, including the Ohmu, the largest of them all. The forest emits an extremely poisonous miasma that is fatal to any humans, mammals or birds that breathe it. Humans make brief forays into it with the aid of masks, but the forest’s poisons eventually take their toll, crippling and killing. Princess NausicaÃ¤ is gentle, wise beyond her years, and empathetic to all living creatures. Unlike many of her peers, she doesn’t fear the forest, but seeks to understand it.
In the manga, the Valley of Wind, along with other nations of the Eftal Periphery, are drawn into a tragic war between the Kingdom of Torumekia and the Dorok Principalities, a theocracy in the south of the continent. Ancient treaties with Torumekia’s Vai Emperor, a corrupt and greedy king, bind the Eftal nations, the remnant of the former Kingdom of Eftal, to come to his aid in time of war.
Mobilized by Torumekia, NausicaÃ¤ and her companions, along with the other periphery nations, must accompany Princess Kushana, the daughter of the Torumekian Emperor, on an ill-fated mission to threaten the Dorok armies’ southern flank by flying through the Sea of Corruption. The mission ends disastrously when the gunship of Pejitei, a periphery nation destroyed by Torumekia, attacks the convoy. Pejitei was destroyed in order to obtain a living god warrior, a sort of bio-engineered giant robot that was one of the abominations of the Seven Days of Fire. Lost in the forest, NausicaÃ¤ and her party encounter the Ohmu, who open their hearts to her. Realizing that the insects may be about to re-enact the dreaded Daikaisho, a kind of cataclysm in which the forest insects swarm in the millions, destroying entire cities and spreading the toxic forest in the process, NausicaÃ¤ departs upon a series of adventures that are sweeping and grand in scope, covering huge swaths of the Dorok lands. Along the way, Miyazaki tackles issues like man vs. nature, the abuses and limits of man’s power over his fellow human beings and the planet, and the meaning of life itself. Many have described this manga as Miyazaki’s lifework, and given the sheer breadth and scope of the story, the depth of the characters, and the wide-ranging sociological, political, ecological and philosophical issues that he tackles along the way, it’s easy to see why.
Hayao Miyazaki’s characters are compelling not only in their wide-ranging backgrounds and back-stories, but also in their flaws as well. Even NausicaÃ¤, as messianic a character as you are ever to find in any work of fiction, is herself torn between her capacity for terrible rage and her deep empathy for all living things. Kushana, the Torumekian princess, while cold, calculating and ruthless in war, is also deeply devoted to her own men, and eventually becomes a valiant and tireless defender of NausicaÃ¤ in the course of the story. There are just so many compelling characters that it would take an entire book to cover all of them. The best I can do is give you a thumbnail sketch and let you discover the work for yourself. I think that’s the best that anyone who has read this manga – and truly wants to share it with the world – can do for their fellow readers.
NausicaÃ¤ of the Valley of Wind is a long read and well worth the effort, if you are willing to immerse yourself in its world and characters. Fair warning, this is not childrens’ literature. This is some serious reading. There are villains who, by the end, you genuinely cry for, and the poignancy of this work is not to be understated. The suggested retail price of $54.00 makes this an expensive proposition, but one that is well spent in both time and money. I eagerly recommend this manga to anyone who has ever seen any of Miyazaki’s films and been touched by them.