An Appreciation of Nausicaä: Volume 3

nausicaa volume 3 cover“Take a good look, Nausicaä! This is war!” – Kurotowa, Volume 3, p. 64

In this installment, I cover the events of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind volume 3, containing both a compelling war story and a nuanced argument for pacifist and ecofeminist values.

What Happens

Yupa, Ketcha and Asbel mourn the loss of the Dorok monk, the one who led the Mani tribe and allowed the three of them escape. Yupa believes Miralupa, brother to the Holy Emperor of Dorok, has learned how to create life, a skill long believed to be lost from the world. Asbel tells Yupa about the God Warrior skeleton found deep under Pejitei. After using the key stone to restart the God Warrior, it started regrowing within days before they removed it again. Asbel tells Yupa that he tossed the stone deep within the forest, where no one will find it. Their ship then falls under attack by a Dorok corvette, and they crash below the clouds.

Nausicaä, riding with Kushana’s remaining forces, has won over the soldiers and Kushana herself. Kurotowa pretends to be unaffected by her charisma. When Kushana calls out Kurotowa, telling him she knows he was sent to steer her back to the capital of Torumekia to be killed, he comes clean and offers his help to Kushana. He also tells her that it was her father, and not her twin brothers, who wants Kushana dead. The two decide to go rogue, meet up with the remaining forces still loyal to Kushana, and then storm the capital of Torumekia to claim the throne.

Kushana’s forces leave the Sea of Corruption and enter Dorok lands. They immediately find a small Dorok village under attack by Torumekian forces. Nausicaä flies down to investigate, and finds that most of the inhabitants had died long before the attack. After she finds two infant survivors, Nausicaä discovers that the village well is spewing miasma. She enters the well and finds a large insect, near death, laying her eggs at the bottom. She discovers that her Ohmu blood-soaked clothing can calm the insects’ anger.

The corvette continues its advance south. Kurotowa suspects he’s fallen under Nausicaä’s influence as well. The ship discovers a Dorok attack force and follows at a distance. Then it stumbles into a miasma cloud so poisonous it’s killing the Ohmu, generated by rotwood far from the bulk of the Sea of Corruption. The Torumekians suspect that Dorok is using a manmade version of the rotwood as a weapon in its war against Torumekia, despite its destructive effects on Dorok lands.

After escaping from the cloud they reach the war front at Sapata, where Kushana’s loyal troops are under siege, mismanaged into a slaughter. As the inept general attempts to escape, Kushana’s ship crashes behind the lines, injuring Nausicaä. Kushana takes command of her forces. The priest Charuka, one Miralupa’s attendants and commander of the Dorok army, sees Nausicaä and recognizes her as the “blue-clad one,” the subject of the heretical prophecy that Miralupa is obsessed with. Miralupa’s body, covered in magical tattoos, is falling apart.

Back in the Sea of Corruption, the Dorok force that attacked Yupa’s ship searches the wreckage. The worm handlers mercenaries find Yupa, Asbel, and Ketcha still alive, but are turned away by the Forest People. Later, the three of them awake in a protective bubble and are greeted by Selm, a boy. He explains that the forest is astir, that the Ohmu are more prone to anger than before, and that he suspects that a daikaisho is coming soon. Yupa says to Asbel and Ketcha that the Forest People, ancestor of the worm handlers, gave up fire and the other rudiments of civilization to live in balance with the forest.

Nausicaä awakes to see the spirit of Miralupa blindly searching for her, and she takes pity on it when it sobs. She goes to find the two children she rescued from the Dorok village, but she learns that they were given to a Dorok prisoner who also took a bag of wheat to feed them. Nausicaä discovers that the war is being fought by Torumekia for prisoners of war to be used as slaves back home.

Kushana plans a daring attack: as Dorok won’t attack until high noon for religious reasons, her forces will strike first, creating a sally port in their own walls and punching through to safety. When Nausicaa asks her to release the Dorok prisoners of war, Kushana refuses unless Nausicaä rides with her into battle. Nausicaä agrees.

Kushana’s forces mount. Nausicaa rides Kai, Yupa’s old horseclaw. When the sally port is blown open, they charge, close the gap to the Dorok main guns, and wipe them out. Nausicaä breaks off from the main line, deciding to use her flash grenades to startle the Dorok warbeasts, avoiding bloodshed while Kushana and the others can escape. A few of Kushana’s soldiers join her. The Dorok commander Charuka sees Nausicaä and pursues, taking down her honor guard and then shooting Kai, who falls. When Charuka demands that Nausicaä surrender, she merely asks to see that Kai is buried, and Charuka is moved by her nobility. Then Kai rouses despite his mortal wound and carries Nausicaa to Kushana’s forces, who have taken refuge in a nearby town. Kai finally dies after arriving to safety, and is buried with honors at Kushana’s request.

Charuka must be demoted by law, but Miralupa asks the priest to continue to pursue Nausicaä, hoping to keep her influence from spreading further, and fearful of the heretical prophecy of the “blue-clad one.” As Charuka prepares for his task, the prisoners of war held by Torumekia return home.

My Thoughts

This is my second favorite volume, just behind the tragic events of volume 5, and the closest that Miyazaki has come to writing a war story. It’s a story about war, but at every turn Miyazaki removes any notions of martial nobility, reducing war to its basest elements.

It’s telling that the Torumekian/Dorok war is essentially being fought over people, a resource quickly dwindling in Nausicaä’s world. Land itself is scarce by this point, but given the falling population of the bucolic Valley of the Wind, things can’t be going so well in less blessed places.

This volume shows Kurotowa in full form: his false humility, his half-truths keyed to gain a listener’s trust, his unslaked lust for Kushana, and his self-denying and growing loyalty to Nausicaä. He’s a fascinating character, a loveable jerk — one who remains lovable long after he stops being a jerk later on.

Nausicaä’s compromising nature returns again when she agrees to fight alongside Kushana, in return for the release of Torumekia’s prisoners of war, the very reason they’re fighting. Her brief search for a caretaker for the two Dorok children she rescued will play out next volume.

But more than anything, this volume is all about Kushana: she shows the most agency, does the greatest stunts apart from the quick-thinking Nausicaä, and displays the greatest cunning apart from Kurotowa. Her motivation to rescue her loyal forces and march back to Torumekia to claim the throne drive nearly all the events of this volume. Nausicaä can only come along and nudge Kushana’s conscience a bit in the right direction.

We meet Charuka this volume, the priest obsessed with finding Nausicaä, who can’t decide whether to follow her or kill her. He’s a capable military commander, concerned for the welfare of his soldiers and his people, but beholden to Miralupa’s desires. And Miralupa, the telepathic brother of the Holy Emperor who threatened Nausicaa last volume, is reduced to a man barely able to keep from dissolving if he goes too long without a rejuvenating immersion bath. Nausicaä, sensing his pitiful state, shows him compassion. It’s another step in her growing empathy with all living creatures, an important plot point towards the events of volume 7.

Meanwhile, the swordsman Yupa, the Pejitei prince Asbel, and the Dorok girl Ketcha take refuge in the Sea of Corruption with the Forest People. Asbel and Ketcha’s romance begins in fits and starts, starting on a bad note when Ketcha blames Asbel for the Mani tribe leader’s death in the last volume, but quickly forgiven. I do wish Ketcha had been included in the movie adaptation, showing Nausicaä’s force of will without the latter’s supernatural powers or moral baggage.

I’ve always been ambivalent about Selm, the boy the three of them meet among the Forest People. He’s a dull male counterpart to Nausicaä, lacking her enthusiasm and initiative, but retaining her ethical attitude. It reads as pretentious, although that’s obviously not what Miyazaki intended. The Forest People’s rejection of fire, as well as their connection to the Worm Handlers, will be better explained in coming volumes.

How to Make a Moral Argument: Show, Don’t Tell

A couple years ago, I watched Super Dimension Fortress Macross, later adapted as the first third of Robotech. On the show, humans build the spaceship Macross from reverse-engineered, stolen alien technology. When the aliens come back for the stolen technology, the Macross, housing a military crew and a refugee civilian population, flee Earth and must fight to survive. The show shares some eerie resemblances to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, including a ragtag band of humanity on the run, a non-human species that is obsessed with imitating and later integrating with humanity, and a barren, obliterated Earth. (Oh, and it also has lots of singing.)

One character on the show that I absolutely loathe is Lynn Kaifun, a kung-fu expert who espouses a very narrow definition of pacifism. The show intended him to be a hypocrite, one who practices a lethal martial art yet criticizes the actions (taken completely in self-defense) of the military leadership of the Macross. He claims to be a pacifist at every turn, but rarely practices it himself.

That’s a big problem for most works of fiction tackling any political subject. Often, some stance is spoken by the characters, but never shown in the narrative itself. For example: in nearly every sports underdog movie, the theme of “winning isn’t everything” is spoken, but usually the protagonist wins at the end regardless. (Rocky is a notable exception.) Another: a recent slate of spy thrillers, where a rogue intelligence agency fights to “protect our freedoms” by infringing on the right to privacy. (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is another exception: its theme is “there will never be privacy as long as MI5 exists.”)

The movie Avatar, despite its faults, gets it right when it demonstrates to what lengths humans are willing to destroy the ecosystem of Pandora to get what they want (though it’s framed too simplistically.) Another exception: the movie Slacker by Richard Linklater, where the interconnectedness of a community in Austin, Texas is shown, but the characters believe themselves to be isolated (and none of them get any sort of epiphanal “we’re all in this together!” moment.)

One thing the 1984 adaption of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind got wrong was making Nausicaä a pacifist from the start. In the manga, she starts from a narrow empathetic view, caring for animals, her immediate family, and the people of the valley, but not the Worm Handlers or the Torumekian soldiers who land there. It’s when Yupa points out that her rage needed tempering that she began to broaden her circle of empathy to include Torumekians, and in this volume, the Dorok tribes. Later, it would expand even further to include the God Warriors, the very beings who brought down civilization a thousand years before the events of the first volume.

Nausicaä’s actions aren’t just an expression of pacifism, however. They also demonstrate an argument for Ecofeminism, an ethical system that merges feminism and environmentalism. Ecofeminists argue that sexism and environmental destruction are both the result of a culture that encourages dominance, and that a broadening empathetic scope, as well as a non-violent, non-dominant culture, can help solve the problems of environmental degradation as well as sexual discrimination.

Nausicaä follows a thoroughly ecofeminist philosophy in the manga. But rather than simply stating her beliefs, the plot of the manga forces her to express it with every interaction, from saving Yupa at the start of the first volume, to stalling the Ohmu stampede, to using non-lethal techniques to get Kushana’s forces out of the Dorok siege.

Miyazaki’s moral arguments wouldn’t have been so compelling had Nausicaa simply been preachy, or worse, hypocritical in her actions. What if Nausicaä had led a slaughter of the Dorok soldiers during the escape from the siege? What if she had chopped off Charuka’s head? Having Charuka still alive makes things messier, and I suspect readers prefer catharsis, even if it’s necessarily violent. Because Miyazaki stayed true to the character and the themes of this story, it made it that much more powerful when Nausicaä found a non-violent way to help Kushana and the others escape.

Put more simply: if you must have a message, show, don’t tell.

This and That

In case you missed it on Twitter or Facebook, the live-action short “Giant God Warrior Appears In Tokyo” appeared on YouTube. Sadly, it was later taken down by Studio Ghibli. I hope it makes its way onto a DVD or Blu-Ray sometime!

In the past three posts, I’ve misspelled Kurotowa as “Kurotawa.” This has been corrected.

I’ve been posting about once a week, but due to my work schedule, I’ll be adding more Nausicaä posts every two weeks instead.

Next time, I’ll discuss volume 4.