An Appreciation of Nausicaä: Volume 4

nausicaa vol 4 cover“Our god of the wind tells us to live! I love life! The light, the sky, people, the insects, I love them all!” – Nausicaä, Volume 4, p. 85

In this installment, I examine volume 4 of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and talk a little about the role telepathy plays in the series.

(Note: spoilers from here on out!)

What Happens

Charuka discovers that Nausicaä herself released the Dorok prisoners when he meets with them. Later, he runs into a woman carrying the two young children that Nausicaä rescued from the Dorok village overtaken with miasma. She says that Nausicaä gave her her earrings in exchange for taking care of the children. Charuka offers money for Nausicaä’s earrings and warns the woman to head far to the east.

The Torumekian soldiers, Nausicaä among them, are holed up in another nearby fortress in Sapata. Charuka tells them to surrender, but the Torumekians refuse. Nausicaä knows she must head further south to stop the impending Daikaisho, so she flies away in her glider, leaving Kushana and the others behind.

Charuka reports to Miralupa, the Emperor’s brother, begging him not to use an unnamed, dangerous weapon that will destroy the Dorok lands, but Miralupa rebuffs him. Charuka then checks in with his team of scientists on a Dorok barge, where they are breeding new fungus strains that can cover more distance more quickly and die sooner than regular fungus. Unnoticed by anyone, one of the strains is growing in cryogenic storage.

Uncle Mito, with the rest of Nausicaä’s old retinue, land in the trading village and find Kui, who has laid an egg in mourning for Kai.

Yupa, Asbel, and Ketcha travel with Selm to the ancient capital of Eftal, which is slowly turning to sand under the effects of the Sea of Corruption. Selm shows them hundreds of insect eggs, laid before the mass exodus to the south. Yupa thanks Selm for his help and suggest that he should meet Nausicaä. Yupa, Asbel, and Ketcha leave the Forest People for Dorok territory.

Mito and another elder decide to seek out Yupa, whom they believed headed into the Sea of Corruption near the Dorok Empire. As they search for his plane, they spot a Dorok convoy, carrying a growing God Warrior. A fight ensues; the valley gunship takes damage and begins to crash, while the God Warrior reacted to the gunfire like a fetus.

As Yupa and his companions emerge from the Sea of Corruption, they see the battle overhead. Ketcha recognizes the convoy carrying the God Warrior as her own tribe, the Mani. The valley gunship crashes nearby, but Mito and his companion survive, and everyone is reunited. However, Ketcha is lonely, having watched her tribe leave her behind with the others. Yupa and Mito agree that they should follow the Dorok army in the hopes of stopping that God Warrior from awakening, which would herald the start of another Seven Days of Fire. They watch as more swarms of insects head south.

Kushana and her forces have escaped from the Dorok siege and head for home when they encounter an enormous Royal Yanma, one of the insects guarding the Sea of Corruption. After one of the crew shoots it, an insect swarm attacks Kushana’s convoy. She decides to use the opportunity to steal some ships from her elder brother’s forces. However, when she lands to attack, her elder brother take the initiative and damage her own ship, injuring Kurotowa.

Her brother gloates in his victory, insulting Kushana’s mother in the process, which drives Kushana into a rage. Kurotowa, bleeding with several broken ribs, convinces the elder brother to take off before the insects arrive. He does, and the insects subsequently overtake his ship. However, they attack Kushana’s forces as well, and Kurotowa is now in worse shape. Kushana carries him to a safe spot between several boulders with the remnants of her forces.

Kushana recalls a memory of just before her last mission. She visited her insane mother, who thinks that a rag doll is actually Kushana and not the grown woman in front of her. Her mother had taken a poisoned goblet of wine in Kushana’s place, so that Kushana could claim the Torumekian throne as rightful heir someday, and the poison drove her mad.

Nausicaä, flying further south, finds a deserted village surrounding an oasis in the middle of the desert. When she goes inside a shrine (dedicated to Buddha-like gods), she’s met by a young boy, Chikuku, a guardian of the village. He leads her to a temple; inside sit a dozen blind elders. They tell Nausicaä that the prophecy of the blue-clad one has been handed down since the Seven Days of Fire, only denounced later as heresy by the Dorok Emperor and his brother. The Emperor has opened the Crypt of Shuwa and is using its power to bring the apocalypse. However, Nausicaä rejects their claim that the world must be reborn, insisting that all life deserves a chance to flourish.

The swarm of insects that attacked Kushana and the others flies over the village. Nausicaä follows on her glider, with Chikuku in tow. The insects are being driven mad by a man-made fungus, spouting an especially lethal miasma that can get through their masks. They see that the man-made fungus is being spread from a Dorok ship.

Nausicaä lands her glider on the ship. The spirit of Miralupa attempts to strangle her, but she eludes his grasp, and his spirit retreats back to his body as he and his retinue escape the ship. Nausicaä and Chikuku go below deck. They finds Charuka trying to set the self-destruct on the ship. The three of them get the self-destruct to work, and they escape on her glider to the ground. Nausicaä, exhausted, faints. Charuka watches as the mold from his research ship mutatues further, spreading into an umbrella so that it can land safely. A group of insects attack it, eating the fungus even though it will kill them. By the time Charuka and the others have been rescued, the fungus appears to have been eaten by the insects.

Back onboard a Dorok ship, Charuka visits Chikuku and Nausicaä, who has recovered. He returns the earrings she gave to the Dorok woman in the last volume. Nausicaä asks about the origins of the mutated fungus, but Charuka refuses to answer. Then, the surviving mold from before tries to swallow their ship, but with Nausicaä’s quick thinking they pull up in time. Over radio, Charuka hears tell of other research ships being enveloped in the mutated mold, of entire villages wiped out from the more potent miasma. Charuka realizes if the mutated mold spreads it will mean the end of Dorok civilization.

Nausicaä, suspecting the mold below was searching for one of its own kind, asks of there is any more mold onboard, and they find the remaining mold mutations in cryogenic freeze. The Dorok scientists tell Charuka that they found a way to mutate the mold in cryogenic freeze, and Nausicaä and Charuka realize this is how the mold came to mutate so fast and engulf the other ships. Nausicaä dumps the remaining mold overboard, and Charuka orders his entire fleet to assist in destroying the remaining mutated mold before it’s too late.

My Thoughts

This feels very much like a middle volume in any epic series, comparable to The Two Towers. There are many distinct, interwoven storylines: Nausicaä’s flight south, Kushana’s campaign to claim the throne, Yupa and his companions in search of Nausicaä. We can now add Charuka and his late change-of-heart to this list.

Charuka was an anti-villain from the start, but this volume makes him almost sympathetic. His fanaticism prevents him from disobeying the (so far unnamed) Holy Emperor or his brother Miralupa directly, but he all but helps Nausicaä on her quest to stop the coming Daikaisho. Like Kurotowa, he came from a common background, using his military prowess to gain influence. The tragedy is that Charuka allows his religious devotion and loyalty to Miralupa to cloud his own judgment, allowing the dangerous mutated fungus to escape.

Chikuku (boy, Miyazaki loves his plosive and fricative sounds, doesn’t he?) is little more than a rambunctious kid companion for Nausicaä for the moment, a symbol of the influence of Buddhism on the narrative. That temple that Nausicaä visits resembles nothing more than a Buddhist temple, and those old gods are melted-down statues of the enlightened one. The temple elders, who resemble Buddhist monks, seem obsessed with the notion of rebirth, too. Given Chikuku’s actions later, it’s a safe bet that Miyazaki feels uneasy with any organized religion.

Things don’t go well for Kushana this volume, do they? After that daring escape from the Dorok siege at Sapata, she sees her forces reduced to next to nothing and her lecherous advisor Kurotowa severely injured. At least one of her despicable brothers, a “treacherous mountain of flesh” in her words, gets offed rather brutally, and he never even gets a name!

One big discovery this volume: there was another “blue-clad one” around the time of the Seven Days of Fire. Yupa, when he hears this from Selm, speculates that the world creates blue-clad ones on an as-needed basis.

Finally, the event that’s been eluded to since volume 1, the Daikaisho, has begun. The trope “Godzilla Threshold” applies here: the Daikaisho is so destructive, so world-threatening, that Charuka knows the Emperor’s wishes don’t mean a damn if there isn’t a Dorok Empire to rule after it happens. The full effects of the Daikaisho will be seen in volume 5.

Telepathy in the Nausicaa Universe: Who Has It, and Why?

I’ve glossed over this point so far, but humans in the Nausicaa universe have little trouble communicating with people who don’t speak the same language.  The Dorok speak the holy Shuwa language, and the Torumekians and the periphery kingdoms speak the language of the fallen Eftal empire. Language boundaries have only been an issue once in the entire series so far, specifically when Asbel and Ketcha have to travel together with Yupa, and neither knows the other’s language very well.

Miyazaki uses a convenient device to circumvent this: many key characters, including Nausicaä herself, are telepathic. If there’s a large crowd scene, inevitably there will be one telepath present who can translate whatever language is being spoken. It avoids messy translation issues, but it sometimes feels like a cop-out.

It’s not just humans who are telepathic, either: the Ohmu, the pillbox-like giant insects, operate in a hive-mind and can communicate with some characters. Horseclaw mates also appear to be linked telepathically, demonstrated when Kui laid an egg after Kai’s death.

Characters and creatures granted telepathic powers in the Nausicaä universe aren’t arbitrarily chosen, however. They fall roughly into two camps:

  1. Those close to the natural world. Nausicaä is the primary example, but Selm (and possibly other Forest People) also qualifies. The Ohmu, as intimate protectors of the Sea of Corruption, are ecologically inclined as well.
  2. Followers of mystical religious traditions. Miralupa and the Mani tribe leader are both telepathic. Miralupa’s powers are extraordinary, commeasurate with his knowledge of the secrets of the Crypt of Shuwa. The holy monks of the lost religion (and Chikuku, their boy missionary) are equally powerful, following a more primitive religion than that practiced in Dorok.

It’s telling when you examine who doesn’t get telepathic powers in the series. Charuka is Miralupa’s right hand, but he was raised in the warrior caste of monks, and not privy to the secrets Miralupa is. You can’t just be a devout monk: you have to have gnosis as well. Likewise, the Worm Handlers, the offshoot of the Forest People who fell from grace, have no telepathic abilities at all, apart from a primitive manipulation of their slugs.

But why two rules? Why would Miyazaki grant telepathy to both nature-lovers and mystics? Because the two are linked. Miyazaki’s work is greatly influenced by the Shinto folk tradition, which is very animistic at its core. Thus it’s not mutually exclusive to be both a religious mystic and someone more naturalistically inclined. They’re not exactly synonymous, however, as we’ll see when I examine religion in the Nausicaä universe.

This and That

The Bechdel Test, a simple measure of how feminist a story is, has taken on some importance lately, as a number of bloggers noted how frequently contemporary Hollywood movies fail this test. I’ll admit that some of my favorite movies don’t pass. The Bechdel Test deserves its own blog post, but I wanted to look at Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind through this lens very briefly. So far, all of the volumes in the series pass the test. If a volume doesn’t later on, I’ll make a note of it.

Next time, I’ll talk about volume 5, the most heartbreaking book in the series and my personal favorite.