An Appreciation of Nausicaä: Volume 5

nausicaa volume 5“. . .It looks like the day is coming when the living will envy the dead, doesn’t it?” – Kushana, Volume 5, p. 49

In this installment, I cover the fifth (and my personal favorite) volume of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and talk about Miyazaki’s interpretation of the Cold War. SPOILERS, as always.

What Happens

Miralupa, the brother of Namulith, the Holy Emperor of Shuwa, returns to the Holy City, and is very ill. As he is immersed in a healing chamber, Namulith, newly returned from the crypts of Shuwa, hears of his return. The Emperor visits the growing God Warrior, which is growing but missing a crucial piece, then the pits of the Heedra, biologically engineered humanoid soldiers bred for combat. He finally visits Miralupa, telling his ill brother that he’s drugged his healing tank so that his body will finally disintegrate. (Namulith had already undergone several restorative surgeries.) As Miralupa dies, Namulith marches with his heedra soldiers to battle.

Deep in Dorok territory, Asbel, Mito, and Nausicaä’s unnamed retainer are observing crowds of Doroks, prisoners of Torumekia, as they’re marched away. Inside the encampment, Yupa and Ketcha gather intelligence, but they’re spotted and forced to flee. They regroup with the others and take off, the gunship towing the barge as they had done when Nausicaä first left the Valley of the Wind. Now airborne, Yupa tells everyone what intelligence he’s gathered: the swarms of forest insects have reached Dorok territory, but the Ohmu, the biggest of the insects and the most sentient, are still behind. Below, streams of Torumekian soldiers retreat from the Dorok front.

As they fly deeper into Dorok territory, they see the more potent mutated mold growing across the landscape. When they’re spotted by a Torumekian corvette, they take fire. Below the ensuing battle, Kushana and her remaining soldiers watch while the valley barge lands nearby. The gunship fights off the corvette and lands near Kushana’s encampment. Asbel, who was piloting the gunship, sees Kushana and attacks her, but Yupa stops him from striking her down, saying that she’s agreed to surrender in return for taking her of her men, including the severely injured Kurotowa. They rest inside the barge as Yupa and the others continue their search for Nausicaa deep in Dorok territory. Yupa and Kushana both fear that the coming Daikaisho will mean that half of the known world will be devoured by the fungus, and that the ensuing land wars will kill more than the Daikaisho itself.

Within the spread of the mutated fungus, Chikuku and Nausicaä race to escape the oncoming tidal wave of mold. Nausicaä grows despondent, unable to find anyone still alive to rescue. Charuka and his soldiers bomb the mold to no effect, yet Nausicaä says that the mold simply intensifies its hatred with every bombing. She says the mold, unlike all other life, knows no joy. Nausicaä and Charuka map out the mold’s spread, seeing that the individual breakouts are all migrating towards a central merge point, where the mold will grow a giant spore pod and spread mutated spores across the known world.

While Nausicaä sleeps, an evil spirit, possibly Miralupa, tries to attack her in the guise of one of the monks from the temple where she met Chikuku. She’s saved from his attack by the spirit of the Ohmu, who have finally arrived to face the mutated mold. Meanwhile, Charuka finds a crowd of Dorok refugees taking shelter from the miasma on a hill. They tell him that “a bird” told them to flee to high ground for safety. Chikuku, under pressure from Charuka, admits using his telepathic abilities and the image of Nausicaä to get the people to safety. Charuka dislikes Chikuku’s use of Nausicaa’s messianic, heretical appeal, even if it means saving more of the Dorok people.

After Nausicaä awakes, she leaves to find the Ohmu. She spots a single scout Ohmu, covered in the mutated fungus, near death from the intensified miasma. Before the Ohmu dies, she tells Nausicaä to leave, that the other insects are coming. Nausicaa, examining the dead Ohmu, finds that regular, non-mutated fungus from the Sea of Corruption is growing around the mutated mold. Nausicaä recalls that in her experiments in the Valley of the Wind, mold samples would often eat each other, then learn to coexist, and she believes that the mutated mold and the old fungus can do the same. She realizes that the Ohmu aren’t trying to destroy the new mold at all, but are turning themselves into seed beds for the old fungus, so that the two may coexist together at the merge point. She decides to wait near the merge point for the rest of the Ohmu to arrive.

Yupa, Kushana, and the others return to the Sapata fortress where they were once under siege, and find it buried under the mutated mold. Inside, they see the corpse of a heedra and find one surviving Torumekian soldier, who tells them that Nausicaä flew to to the fortress as well to warn them of the coming Daikaisho. Then, more heedra emerge from hiding and attack. When Kushana tries to fend them off, they take her prisoner, kill her soldiers, and return to the ship they came from. Yupa follows them onboard. Meanwhile, Mito, Asbel, Ketcha, and the remaining soldiers retreat to the barge and the gunship, later rescued when the heedra flee from the stampeding Ohmu.

Yupa, clinging to the side of the Dorok ship where the heedra came from, climbs to the roof to find the Holy Emperor Namulith waiting for him. Impressed with Yupa’s knowledge of ancient Dorok technology and customs, Namulith takes him below and shows him the carnage wrought by the Daikaisho. Namulith resents his brother Miralupa for misusing the mutated forest mold, destroying his empire while he was down in the crypt.

Near the merge point, the Forest People find Nausicaa asleep, with Teto guarding her. Nausicaä awakes inside one of their protective bubble shelters and meets Ceraine, the woman who befriended Ketcha earlier.

Onboard Namulith’s ship, Kushana awakes and promptly batters her guards as she storms onto the bridge. Namulith offers to spare her life if she marries him, forming a joint Dorok-Torumekian Empire, and Kushana reluctantly accepts. Yupa is shown to the guest’s quarters, which are actually the heedra pits onboard the ship.

Charuka continues to find refugees. The tribal leaders recount more telepathic messages sent from Chikuku under the guise of Nausicaä, and Charuka is furious over the melding of the true Dorok religion with heretical, pagan beliefs.

Nausicaä thanks Ceraine for her hospitality. Ceraine says she should stay to meet her brother Selm, but Nausicaä insists that she needs to return to the merge point. As she flies back, she sees the stampeding Ohmu, half-covered in fungus from the Sea of Corruption, and recognizes the large Ohmu creature she contacted when she rescued the baby Ohmu from the Acid Lake in volume 2. The spirit of nothingness then attacks her again, demoralizing her and insisting her righteousness is a facade for the harm she’s caused.

Succumbing to despair, Nausicaä abandons her glider and rides the Ohmu as they arrive at the merge point, where an island of old fungus has sprouted. She watches as the Ohmu die around her as the mutated mold arrives. Feeling at peace from the Ohmu’s sacrifice, she prepares to die at the epicenter of the Daikaisho, when the Ohmu from earlier grabs her with its feelers and swallows her, enveloping Nausicaä in a protective viscous liquid. Chikuku, observing telepathically from Charuka’s ship, tells him that she’s gone.

My Thoughts

How do you make a youthful, perpetually optimistic, messianic young woman to the brink of despair? Like this.

As Yupa says, half of the known world has just been buried under the spreading fungus. The lingering spirit of Miralupa — or is it the mutated mold itself speaking? — tries to convince Nausicaä that her efforts are all in vain, that the world needs this rebirth, for humanity to go extinct, and she goes along with it until she witnesses the sacrifice of the Ohmu.

The nuclear holocaust parallels (more on this below) are quite intentional. White spores drift like fallout, and the air itself is poisonous. Giant fungus transforms the landscape until it is completely unrecognizable. When the nothingness tries to convince Nausicaä of the folly of optimism, it shows piles of dead corpses, and the spirit itself resembles a giant skull. Even Kushana quotes Khrushchev, who (possibly) remarked “the living will envy the dead” when speaking about nuclear holocaust.

Such a contrast to the Nausicaä at the start of the volume, trying desperately to save everyone she can from the oncoming mold, to the one who somberly waits for death to arrive. Even her glider, mehve, is gone!

No one comes through unscathed, except perhaps Namulith, the Emperor of the diminished Dorok Principalities. In possession of a nearly-grown God Warrior, and with a pending marriage to Kushana, he’ll remain on top while those beneath him are ground to bits.

Meanwhile, Charuka is doing the best he can to save as many Dorok refugees as possible, with the (unasked) assistance of Chikuku, who is turning into a kind of John the Baptist to Nausicaä’s Christ. Chikuku is far too savvy for his age.

The language barriers are eroding away. Ketcha, who could barely speak the Eftal tongue, is now almost fluent in it, and Charuka can speak to Nausicaä better than before.

Selm gets left out of this volume, despite the presence of the Forest People, but Ceraine and her princess Leia-esque hairdo make an appearance. So far she’s done little but offer pep talks and Forest People fragrance (TM).

How badass is Yupa, by the way? Badass enough to kill a heedra, sneak aboard the Holy Emperor of Shuwa’s ship, and treat said Emperor as an equal. But even Yupa has his limits. Meanwhile, the rest of the Valley of the Wind’s merry band of outlaws fly on, desperately, blindly pursuing Nausicaa.

nausicaa despondentThis volume has some of my favorite artwork, including the cover, depicting Nausicaä riding the Ohmu. However, my favorite (left) is a watercolor of Nausicaä sitting on a hill, waiting for the Ohmu and the mold to arrive, looking as though the world has just ended. We never get to see this world-weary Nausicaä on the screen, and more’s the pity.

Torumekia and Dorok: Miyazaki’s Cold War

Between 1987 and 1991, the respective publication years of volumes 4 and 5, the global political landscape shifted dramatically. For fifty years, the world was divided in two: Warsaw and NATO, communism and capitalism. Within a few years, Germany was reunified, the USSR disintegrated, and only two countries remained committed to communism.

The truth is much more complicated than that, of course. But most contemporary narrative written from 1945 until 1992 was heavily influenced by the Cold War. For a time, merely being accused of being a communist was enough to ostracize someone from their own community, and works like The Crucible were thinly disguised allegories for such witch hunts. Mutually assured destruction wasn’t just a terrifying possibility but a seeming inevitability.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a Cold War SF series, inseparable from the time it was first drawn. In 1982, when the first issues of the manga were produced, the US and the USSR still had ICBMs targeting each other’s major population centers, and the less powerful nations were divided like sheep and goats.

The parallels are obvious. A loosely-confederated group of kingdoms under the banner of mighty Torumekia, a world power when the world is roughly the size of the eastern seaboard of North America, faces a drawn-out war with the Dorok Principalities, which are tightly united dogmatically under the power of tyrants. Apart from the “hot” aspect of this global war, this sounds much like NATO and the Warsaw Pact, doesn’t it?

The Valley of the Wind is a peaceful kingdom, with no fighting force save a single operating gunship, with a homogeneous, industrious population under the peaceful rule of a monarchy. Ancient Japan fought off a Mongol invasion with the assistance of two kamikaze, or divine wind, typhoons, literally saved by nature.

The Mani people, long subjugated under the heel of the Dorok emperors, are peaceful and agrarian, with folk traditions that precede the Shuwa religion. The Ukraine, brutally oppressed under the Stalin regime, is awfully similar.

Clearest of all are the allegories for nuclear holocaust. The Seven Days of Fire: a cataclysmic event that brought the end of civilization, levelling cities under the might of unstoppable, radioactive God Warriors, which cannot be controlled once unleashed. The Daikaisho: a nuclear winter-type scenario, where vast stretches of land become uninhabitable, and poisonous, snow-like particles rain from the sky.

The Daikaisho of this volume is meant to be a parallel to the events at Chernobyl in 1986. An accident, caused by overzealous government workers working with less-than-reliable equipment, releases a toxin into a heavily populated area, forcing the people living there to evacuate. Despite heroic efforts, the area is no longer habitable. (Years later, the natural environment around Chernobyl still survives, though it’s too dangerous for human habitation.)

What’s unusual is Miyazaki’s use of biological warfare as a stand-in for nuclear destruction. Giant fungus trees replace mushroom clouds; spores, not fallout, are the result of their presence; their appearance herald the cleansing of the world, not its contamination (which happened long, long ago in the Nausicaa universe, meaning contemporary time!) Even the most destructive forces in the world, the God Warriors, are living, sapient creatures, falling under Nausicaa’s stringent moral guidelines for the protection of living things.

It may have been a product of its time, but this manga is still frighteningly relevant. ICBMs remain in varying states of readiness in parts of the former USSR, and the US’s own nuclear stockpile  isn’t going away anytime soon. Nowadays, a more likely possibility is a terrorist obtaining a warhead on the black market and detonating it in a city. Today, our God Warriors come in familiar shapes: a suitcase, a plane, a moving truck.

This and That

We Have Always Fought,” an essay by Kameron Hurley, has been on my mind for a week. It’s a great essay on the portrayal of women in historical fiction, the reality of women in combat, and how we write about violence. One thing I love about Nausicaä is how unremarkable it is for women to be in combat in-universe, and how it treats war realistically (in a series about giant insects and forests of fungus, naturally.)

Next time, I’ll discuss volume 6 and the perils of messianic movements.