An Appreciation of Nausicaä: Introduction

Chances are, if you haven’t heard of Hayao Miyazaki, you’ve seen at least one of his films. His film Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. That film, along with most of his catalog produced at Studio Ghibli, has been licensed and distributed by Disney in the United States. Animation legend John Lasseter of Pixar cites him as an undeniable influence on the industry.

But if it weren’t for a manga published in Animaze in 1983, he may not have found such success.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hayao_Miyazaki.jpg
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hayao_Miyazaki.jpg

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was written by Miyazaki purportedly to lure investment for the feature film based on the same story. It’s not clear as to whether the idea for the manga or the animated film came first. Regardless, Miyazaki found the investors he needed and finished the film; it became such a success that he was able to found an animation studio. In-between feature projects, he continued to draw the manga until it ended in 1994.

Miyazaki gained a reputation for telling stories featuring environmental awareness, a resourceful young heroine, and all manner of flight. The animated adaptation of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, if nothing else, began this trend. It has a reputation of being a prototype film for the rest of Miyazaki’s career.

I don’t think that’s fair. While the animated film has its faults (including a simplistic storyline and an abbreviated ending), the manga it was based on corrects those faults, furthering the story and the theme of the film over ten years. In writing the Nausicaa manga, Miyazaki further developed the messages and motifs that would appear in his later work. Furthermore, I think that it would be a great benefit to western readers, especially those who don’t normally dip their toes into manga or other graphic fiction, to give it a try.

So just why is it so important? For four reasons:

  1. It is a long-form manga written by a director known for his animated works. Miyazaki is known in the west for his features released through Studio Ghibli, which he co-founded in 1985 with director Isao Takahata after Nausicaä’s success. Miyazaki has directed eight films so far under the Ghibli brand, with a ninth in production. Apart from the Nausicaä manga, he has produced several series not well-known in the US, including Puss in Boots and the Journey of Shuna. Nausicaä’s 1,000+ page length and unconstrained development time allowed Miyazaki to tell a story that wasn’t limited by budget or feature length.
  2. The manga relies more on western artistic and literary influences than eastern ones. In contrast to several popular manga series, Nausicaä is narratively dense, much like a western graphic novel. Its characters and designs resembling the work of Jean Moebius Giraud, a notable french comic artist. It also borrows heavily from Dune by Frank Herbert.
  3. It features great characterization and world-building, much like a modern fantasy or science fiction epic. In that respect it is comparable to the Dune series or the original Star Wars trilogy.
  4. It is thematically complex and consistent. Simply put, it is an exploration of Miyazaki’s Shinto worldview through a single statement: every living creature has a right to live, regardless of its origin. Through the very end of the series Miyazaki puts that statement to the test, arguing that even the most vile and misunderstood creatures deserve compassion. The ending of the manga presents this theme in a more ambiguous light.

I discovered the manga in 2005. After watching Princess Mononoke several years prior, I wanted to experience the rest of the director’s filmography. I watched Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind with the Disney-produced vocal dub (on which I’ll expound later), finding the ending of the film rathe trite. I picked up the manga, surmising that the source material would be better, and discovered just how complex and fascinating a world Miyazaki had created.

In writing this series, I’ve relied especially on two resources. The first is GhibliWiki, hosted on Nausicaa.net, an extensive online resource for all things Ghibli-related. The second is the excellent Goddesses of Water and Sky: Feminist Ideologies in the World of Hayao Miyazaki by Daniel Nielhuis, a comprehensive examination of Miyazaki’s filmography from a feminist perspective. It only covers Nausicaä briefly (skipping the manga entirely), but it was incredibly helpful in finding common themes in this and Miyazaki’s other works. I’ll cite these and other works when appropriate.

Next week I’ll examine volume 1, which introduces our heroine and the hostile world she lives in.

(Note: comments will be back up for volume 1.)