An Appreciation of Nausicaä: Volume 2

Nausicaä Vol. 2 Cover“It’s a mistake to believe that war only happens to other countries.” – Asbel, p. 23

In this installment, I’ll talk about volume 2 of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the one where Nausicaä rescues a baby Ohmu and a Torumekian army from an Ohmu stampede.

What Happens

After attempting to flee from the Sea of Corruption, Nausicaä and Asbel are captured by the Mani tribe of the Dorok Empire. The tribe is on the move to fight Princess Kushana’s forces, who are encamped nearby at the acid lakes. Nausicaä and Asbel learn that the Dorok forces, led by the Holy Emperor of Shuwa, have lured Kushana’s forces into a trap. Nausicaä is introduced to a Dorok girl, Ketcha, who speaks the Torumekian language. The leader of the Mani tribe, a holy monk, tells Nausicaä that Dorok forces intend to conquer the periphery kingdoms, including Nausicaa’s Valley of the Wind.

At Kushana’s encampment, Mito and the rest of Nausicaa’s party ask Kushana permission to leave camp and search for the princess. Kushana grants their request in the hopes she’ll recover the stone, which she believes is still in Nausicaa’s possession. Soon after, a Dorok raiding party takes Kushana’s forces by surprise, but she and Kurotowa believe it to be a diversion.

Mito and the others intercept the Dorok ship carrying Nausicaä. The princess threatens to kill the monk if they don’t let her go, so the Mani tribe agrees to her release. After a brief farewell with Asbel, Nausicaä escapes the Dorok ship on her mehve and reunites with Mito and the others. As they race to Kushana’s camp to stop whatever trick the Doroks have in store, they see a stampeding herd of Ohmu charging towards camp, led by a Dorok flying jar carrying an injured baby Ohmu as a lure.

Nausicaä leaves Mito to free the baby Ohmu. After attempting to free the Ohmu, the flying jar falls into the acid lake, killing its occupants. Stranded on a barren sand bar, Nausicaä sees that the baby Ohmu is critically wounded. She grabs a machine gun from the fallen flying jar, but the bullets can’t penetrate the Ohmu’s shell, and Nausicaa’s clothes become covered in blue Ohmu blood.

Back at camp, Mito and the others from the valley of the wind arrive in time to warn Kushana about the impending stampede. The periphery kingdom forces fly away quickly, but Kushana’s forces can’t take off fast enough to avoid the stampede, and many of them are killed. Kushana, realizing that the Dorok offensive was a plot by her brothers to remove her from contention for the throne, vows vengeance.

The stampeding ohmu gather around the acid lake where Nausicaä and the baby Ohmu are stranded. The baby attempts to crawl into the acid lake, and Nausicaä burns her foot trying to stop it. Sensing that Nausicaä is hurt, the baby uses its feelers to heal Nausicaa’s foot. Nausicaä then telepathically tells the herd not to enter the lake, promising she’ll find a way to save the baby.

She flies in her glider to Kushana’s sole remaining corvette. She asks Kushana to save the baby; in return, she’ll tell Kushana what happened to the stone. Through a dangerous landing and takeoff from the small, barren sand bar, they lift the baby from the island and return it to the herd; in return, the herd hoists Nausicaä with their golden feelers and heal her injuries. The Mani holy monk, witnessing the event second-hand, realizes that Nausicaä may fulfill a Dorok prophecy regarding a messiah.

Nausicaä tells Mito and the valley soldiers to return home and summon the other periphery kings for an important meeting. Nausicaä decides to leave with Kushana on her southern campaign, following the Ohmu herd south, saying she fears an event called the daikaishu. When Mito and the others return to the valley and meet with the other chieftains, the resident wise woman explains: the daikaisho, or tidal wave, is an explosive growth of the Sea of Corruption over the land. The last time it occurred, 300 years ago, it destroyed the great Eftal civilization, the predecessor to the Torumekian empire. The last daikaisho was caused by the extreme hunting of Ohmu for their hard shells by weapons merchants; after the cataclysm, the merchants were exiled, and their descendents became the worm handlers.

Jhil asks his fellow chieftains to prepare for a Dorok invasion, but that the Valley of the Wind’s gunship would need to aid Nausicaä as she goes south. He asks Mito to find Master Yupa, who can help Nausicaä on her quest.

Yupa, riding south, stays at a merchant town built from the remains of an ancient spaceship. There, he sees worm handlers paying shopkeepers with Dorok currency. He sneaks on one of their ships. The worm handlers land near Dorok territory to attend a secret meeting of Dorok monks. Among the monks there is holy monk from the tribe of Mani, who is being accused of heresy. Yupa discovers that the monks are growing Ohmu in large tanks. The monks soon discover Yupa’s presence, but he’s rescued by Asbel, Ketcha, and the Mani monk.

Suddenly, the brother of the Holy Emperor of Shuwa, the ruler of the Dorok Empire, arrives. He threatens to kill the Mani holy monk unless he renounces his heresy: a belief in the daikaisho and the blue-clad one, who will bring the people and the land back into balance. The monk refuses, and the brother of the Holy Emperor kills him. Nausicaä, watching telepathically on Kushana’s ship, is noticed by the brother. He tries to capture Nausicaä telepathically, but the dying monk breaks the brother’s spell so Nausicaä can escape his sight. Meanwhile, Yupa, Asbel and Ketcha escape on a Dorok ship, and Nausicaä and the rest of Kushana’s forces finally enter Dorok territory.

My Thoughts

Last volume we saw a lot of the periphery kingdoms of Torumekia; this time around, the Dorok Empire arrives in earnest. Torumekia and its protectorate kingdoms appear allied by ancient allegiance, whereas the 51(!) tribes of the Dorok Empire are united by a single religion, ruled by a caste of monks and headed by a Holy Emperor (and his brother). Dorok appears less equipped and more desperate than Torumekia, lacking the technology of the ruined Eftal civilization. I’ll write on these two at length later, when the daikaisho becomes far more relevant.

Nausicaä must learn to compromise. Quick thinking got her out of the custody of the Mani tribe of Dorok, but when she’s stranded with a dying baby Ohmu (an adorable creature, even when riddled with holes and broken pipes!), she has to sign a deal with the devil (Kushana) to get what she wants. Nausicaä then compromises again: agreeing to head south with Kushana and fight with her, so her people can return home, and so she can discover why the Ohmu are all heading south into Dorok lands.

She’s not the only one heading south. Yupa stows away on a worm handler ship and spies on a secret Dorok meeting in a laboratory. He then shows his considerable skills this volume, defending himself against a mob of worm handlers and Dorok soldiers until Asbel jumps in to help him escape.

Kushana is not doing well. After her forces are obliterated during the Ohmu stampede, she cuts off her lengthy braid in a vow to seek vengeance on whoever was responsible for the attack. Given her reaction to Kurotowa saving her at the last minute, I wonder if she has a death wish. Kurotowa, to no one’s surprise, is enjoying the intrigue, and willing to see the princess’s plans through.

And we saw the first of many major character deaths: King Jhil. The periphery kingdoms, including the Valley of the Wind, will be left without clear leadership until Nausicaä can return. When this happens is anyone’s guess.

The biggest setpiece of this volume is the ohmu stampede, drawn in graphic and tragic detail. Miyazaki clearly wants us to think of the attack as foolish and counter-productive, causing countless deaths and the destruction of rare technology. The military might of Torumekia is useless against the tidal wave of Ohmu, which can only be calmed by Nausicaa’s growing compassion and understanding.

It’s a solid followup to the last volume, if not quite as memorable.

Nausicaä and Dune: The Kwisatz Haderach in the Room

The manga, first published in 1982, began just a couple years before the premiere of David Lynch’s ill-fated 1984 adaptation of the science fiction landmark Dune. That film was based on the book by Frank Herbert, published in 1965 (by Chilton, a publisher of car manuals!). The similarities between Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Dune have been noted before, so I’ll only mention them in passing.

  • An orphan of noble heritage fulfilling a messianic role.
  • An inhospitable environment, populated by large, destructive creatures.
  • A medieval-esque society, with palace intrigue and betrayal.
  • A primitive people who have learned to survive in balance with the environment.

I would imagine Miyazaki was familiar with Dune, at least in passing (a Japanese translation was published in 1973, so it’s possible Miyazaki could have read it before he created Nausicaä.) Even if it weren’t the case, the similarities are quite striking.

What’s interesting is what Miyazaki does differently than Herbert. In the Dune universe, religion and prophecy are tools used to control a populace (the kwisatz haderach prophecy was planted on Arrakis just in case a Bene Gesserit needed the religious devotion of a native people.) In Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, religion is generally treated as genuine, apart from the Holy Emperor of Shuwa’s machinations. The sandworms of Dune are, at the start of the series, barely sentient, whereas the Ohmu of Nausicaä have a hive-mind as complex and passionate as any human’s, if much more alien. Muad’Dib is burdened by the fanaticism he commands, shacked to the fate given to him by prescience; Nausicaä is no fatalist, has no prescience, and chooses to ignore the prophecy about her for most of the series. Nausicaä is also female, and Herbert’s depiction of women suffers some from the odd, period-specific ideas he held about gender.

Chief of all, Miyazaki made his ambiguous messiah a pacifist. Muad’Dib leads a bloody jihad — a word with a loaded meaning nowadays — across the known universe, commanding legions of Fremen. Nausicaä would, as demonstrated, risk her own life to save a dying Ohmu juvenile. She is the messiah that ends war.

I love both works. Dune, which I read shortly after September 11, 2001, shaped my own writing style from my early adolescence onward. Reading Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in college further refined it.

This and That

I’m skipping all graphic inserts for the next few posts until I can get a scanner. When I do, I’ll add them back into earlier posts and replace the ones I had to find on the web in my first post.

Nausicaa’s glider mehve is being recreated with modern technology by the OpenSky Aircraft Project. So far, they’ve flown a prototype a few hundred yards. Here’s a clip.

Next time, I’ll talk about the movie adaptation.