Thursday, May 13, 2010


Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a manga written and illustrated by legendary anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. It originally ran from 1982 to 1994; the total work is over 1100 pages (the edition currently in print is seven volumes). The initial chapters were the basis for the eponymous 1984 film. Here, a postapocalyptic Earth is polluted and overgrown with toxic forests and giant insects. As neighboring states go to war, Nausicaä, princess of the Valley of the Wind, works to restore peace and to purify the earth.

It’s hard to talk about the manga without mentioning the film, which is one of my all-time favorites. More people are familiar with the film than with the comic, and Miyazaki is far better known as a filmmaker than as a comic artist. Obviously, Miyazaki is more limited in a sensory way here, without the film’s color or outstanding musical score. But he is much freer to explore his world: the film features a considerably streamlined story (one nation has been omitted) and a moral conflict that is fairly black and white. The manga is substantially more complex.

Miyazaki has created a rich, deep world, which is worth the investment the reader must make. Particularly early on, there’s a lot of exposition in dialogue, like we’re accustomed to seeing in American Silver Age comics. And it takes some time for the reader to determine who is on which side and what, exactly, is going on.

Nausicaä is always engaging but rarely gripping. Toward the end of the saga, Miyazaki does manage to generate some genuine suspense, but mostly the story meanders along as Nausicaä herself more or less blows where the winds of war take her. The ending is rife with potential, but it goes out with something of an abrupt whimper.

As an archetype of love and self-sacrifice, Nausicaä herself is an exceptionally admirable protagonist. Through nonviolence, she is a uniter, a peacemaker. The only stumble here comes at the end of the work, when Miyazaki puts her into what he obviously feels is a shades-of-gray, no-win moral situation. But it’s actually somewhat underwhelming, as Miyazaki barely even hints at the ramifications.

Miyazaki’s ever-present attention to detail is here in the artwork, which is generally impressive, although such a degree of detail often makes for some messy and hard-to-interpret panels, particularly during battles (and there are a lot of battles). And Miyazaki doesn’t shy away from depicting the carnage more graphically than he ever did in any of his films.

There are a wide array of supernatural powers at work here that for the most part were not present in the film. A number of them are kind of silly, and some don’t always make a lot of sense (hello, sentient mold monster). Telepaths are a dime a dozen.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is always good but rarely great. It will particularly appeal to fans of the film who want more of Nausicaä’s adventures and a deeper look into Miyazaki’s postapocalyptic world.