An Appreciation of Nausicaä: Volume 6

nausicaa volume 6 cover“My clan knows how to live by sharing the burden of suffering. We can teach you the way. Choose love over hatred.” – Nausicaä, Volume 6, p. 131

This time we explore volume 6 of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and touch briefly on Miyazaki’s treatment of religious practice. As this is the penultimate volume of the manga, spoilers abound.

What Happens

Charuka and Chikuku guide a flying jar from the refugee ship into the mold, heading for the merge point. They observe vast fields of topsoil scraped away by the insect and mold migrations, and thousands of Ohmu carcasses acting as seedbeds for mold. Chikuku spots Nausicaä’s mehve glider being carried away by the Worm Handlers. When Charuka confronts the worm handlers, they rebuff his threats, saying that the Dorok empire is dying and that the time of the Worm Handlers has come. Chikuku threatens to take Nausicaa’s mehve by force, but Selm, the boy from the Forest People, intervenes. He offers his help to find Nausicaä, and he, Chikuku, and Charuka head further into the mold.

Later, Chikuku hears Teto’s thoughts, directing them to a spot in the mold. He and Selm descend from the flying jar to find Nausicaä suspended in a bubble of viscous liquid. Then the clouds break above them, and the mold threatens to overgrow the flying jar. Chikuku ties a line from the jar to the bubble enclosing Selm and the unconscious Nausicaä, and they escape the growing mold trees.

They land at the village where the Worm Handlers are scavenging. When they see Nausicaä’s unconscious body, they beg Selm to give her to them to worship as a deity. After he declines, they try to take her by force, but Selm’s telepathic powers keep the Worm Handlers at bay. Charuka soon finds Nausicaa’s mehve, and they leave the rioting Worm Handlers behind. Then Charuka spots the flagship of the Dorok Empire, thinking they’ve come to save him, but wonders what will happen to Nausicaä and Selm at the hands of the twin brothers.

Onboard the flagship, Yupa rests, chained to the wall of the heedra pits. He observes the handlers’ methods of controlling the heedra, using high-pitched sounds undetectable to human ears. The handler comes to mock Yupa, but Yupa tosses him his now-broken manacles and escapes, using the heedra’s berzerker nature to pit them against themselves.

The emperor Namulith hears of the heedra revolt in his restorative bath, but pays it little attention, as the spirit of his brother Miralupa attempts to attack him. When Namulith mocks Miralupa for being so weak after his death, Miralupa leaves the ship to attack Nausicaä instead.

Onboard the jar, Selm tries to keep Miralupa away from Nausicaä, but doesn’t succeed. Nausicaä, taken out of the Ohmu serum that kept her alive after the Daikaisho, is catatonic, in shock after looking on the abyss of the Ohmu heart.

Charuka tries to signal the flagship above, but instead it turns around and attacks one of the other Dorok ships. Charuka then hears Namulith’s proclaimation: Miralupa is dead, the body of priests has been dissolved, and all Dorok military divisions must swear personal fealty to him. Charuka decides to leave Chikuku and Selm behind to rejoin his people, despite Chikuku’s warning that he’ll die if he leaves.

Nearby, Kurotowa recovers with Mito, Kui and the others near the gunship in a field. Kui, sensing something, takes off, with Kurotowa giving chase until Kui lets him ride her. They pass by the Worm Handlers Charuka encountered earlier before finding Chikuku and Selm over Nausicaä’s body. As they arrive, the Ohmu serum keeping Nausicaä unconscious finally wears off, and they must help Nausicaä wake up properly unless she remains catatonic forever.

Nausicaä sits alone on a cliff at night, with no stars present above her. She feels Teto, though he isn’t there. She hears a voice telling her to walk, so she does. The dark spirit of Miralupa tries to attack her, but Nausicaä regains her composure and banishes his power completely, leaving a shrivelled, naked old man. Chikuku and Kui appear, showing her the way to the mold forest. When the darkness threatens to engulf Miralupa, she encourages him to follow. They reach the forest, where Selm stands waiting. He guides Nausicaä and Miralupa to a mature Ohmu. Nausicaä recognizes him as the baby she rescued from the Acid Lake. They ride the Ohmu further into the forest and are joined by others insects.

Then Selm leads them to a clearing: the end of the Sea of Corruption. Nausicaä sees wide fields with plants like those that grow in the Valley of the Wind, as well as modern birds. Selm explains that this is the center of the forest, where it began 1000 years ago. Nausicaä understands that no one can know about the center of the forest, unless humans come to contaminate it again, as they did before the Seven Days of Fire. Miralupa’s spirit, overjoyed at the peaceful place they’ve shown him, leaves Nausicaä and Selm behind, and the two of them depart the forest back to the cliff where Nausicaä’s body lies. Nausicaä, finally, awakes.

Kui’s egg has hatched, and a little horseclaw chick runs off to rejoin its mother, with Mito and another of Nausicaä’s elderly retinue in tow. They reach Chikuku and Kurotowa; then Nausicaä, a self-chosen worm handler guard, and Selm join them. Selm asks Nausicaä to join him in the forest with his people. Nausicaä declines, saying she’s too attached to the individual living beings she knows, rather than the flow of life as Selm knows it. Nausicaä thanks him for bringing her back, then departs for a while.

In Tolas, the capital of Torumekia, the Vai Emperor hears a doomsday prophecy from a priest and dismisses it. He is then joined by his surviving twin sons, who have withdrawn from the war with a staggering two-thirds loss of manpower. Furious, he sends them back to the border of Torumekia, while he takes his own army to attack the capital city of Shuwa directly, before the Dorok invade Torumekia instead.

Back in the Valley of the Wind, a young girl is being taught how to windride by the wise woman and the valley elders. While aloft, she spots a fallen Dorok ship, before she’s knocked off the glider by escaping insects. (She remembers a lesson Nausicaä taught her to land safely in the woods.) The valley elders decide to take in the Dorok refugees, then lament that the valley has given them a new windrider to replace Nausicaa, an omen that she may never return. They meet with the Dorok refugees the following morning, welcoming them in peace to the valley.

Back in Dorok lands, Nausicaä convinces the Worm Handlers to remove their masks, urging them to consider her just a human and a friend. She decides to see the Dorok emperor Namulith, to urge him not to invade Torumekia. Chikuku rides in tow on the glider, while the Worm Handlers follow on foot. Mito, the last retinue guard, and Kurotowa take the gunship to follow.

Nausicaä and Chikuku reach out telepathically for Charuka. He responds feebly, as he’s been chained to a rock and about to be stoned with other priests in a public execution for the crowds of Dorok refugees on orders of Namulith. The emperor watches this from his flagship, telling his bride-to-be Kushana that he’s brought the God Warrior from the crypt for a spectacle. Nausicaä and Chikuku land, free Charuka, and speak telepathically to the gathered crowd. She shows the Dorok refugees images of the Seven Days of Fire, of the destruction of the God Warrior that Namulith is bringing, and urges them to disobey Namulith. But the strain is too much on Chikuku, and he faints.

Namulith sics the heedra on Nausicaä. Charuka takes the unconscious Chikuku, lamenting the folly of Chikuku taking on the name of the Dorok king that Namulith’s ancestor overthrew ages ago. Nausicaä gets to her glider to take down the God Warrior. Then Mito with the gunship arrives; Nausicaä orders him to take down the God Warrior’s pupa at all costs, while she flies onto the ship where the God Warrior is being carried. Below, the mani tribe, led by Asbel and Ketcha, rebel against Namulith’s heedra and their handlers. Asbel tosses Nausicaä the control stone, saying he never threw it away into the Sea of Corruption. Nausicaä later urges them, talking through Chikuku, to leave immediately for uncorrupted lands, ending the bloodshed.

Nausicaä lands on the now burning flagship, which still carries the God Warrior. She’s greeted by Namulith and his heedra. He mocks Nausicaä, comparing her to Miralupa, who began as an enlightened philosopher-king before getting fed up with his peasants. He “gives” her the God Warrior and the heedra. Despite a disguised Yupa’s efforts to keep Nausicaä safe, the heedra nearly beat her to death, shredding her windrider jacket, before the God Warrior awakens. Shouting “mama,” the God Warrior protects Nausicaä, killing the heedra and injuring Namulith. Nausicaä realizes that the God Warrior has imprinted on her. When she offers the control stone, the God Warrior destroys it with a laser blast. Namulith, severely injured, heads belowdeck to find his entire guard killed and Kushana in control of his flagship.

My Thoughts

I think Miyazaki must have written himself into a corner at the end of Volume 5, when Nausicaä chose to “die” in the middle of the Daikaisho, when she was preserved by the Ohmu. Half of the volume was taken up with Chikuku’s and Selm’s quest to revive her, resulting in a moving sequence that shows the endgame of the Sea of Corruption: the rebirth of nature as we know it now.

Selm had been passive in earlier volumes, in contrast to how active Nausicaä’s behavior has been, but seeing the roles reversed makes for a good story. Selm is right: Nausicaä had been carrying the weight of the world for so long, she needed to learn to let some of it go before she could move on. Their farewell after her revival is similar to the ending of Princess Mononoke, with Selm as San and Nausicaä as Ashitaka.

Chikuku shows his true colors. His full name — “Luwa Chikuku Kulubaluka” — indicates that he’s a descendent of ancient Dorok royalty, the monarchs who ruled before the Shuwa emperors — including Miralupa and Namulith — arrived. Did he intend to use Nausicaä as a religious figurehead for rule after Namulith was deposed? We won’t know, now that his plans have gone up in smoke. Still, not bad for someone who can’t be older than ten.

Kurotowa, almost recovered from the thrashing he got a few volumes ago, shows up for some much-needed levity. He’s still thinking of Kushana, even when he’s stranded in the middle of Dorok with just some old men and a horseclaw for company, and just as snarky as ever.

Charuka’s fate — an awesome fake-out — was awesome. He easily has the broadest character arc in the entire series; seeing him come minutes from being stoned to death (and taunting his executioners) was a thrill. Asbel, Ketcha and Yupa all making last-minute appearances were also fun.

Namulith got a few hours in the sun. He looked about to conquer Torumekia, with Kushana as his bride and a God Warrior as his threat, until Nausicaä inadvertently undid all of his plans merely by showing up.

Nausicaä, sadly, loses her iconic, blue windrider jacket at the end, when the heedra are beating her. It’s a symbolic defrocking, the result of the young girl in the valley became its new windrider. Miyazaki showed her as vulnerable for the entire volume, first when she’s catatonic, then when she’s at the mercy of Namulith, when her compassion wins out in the end. The whole series has shown her playing mother to abandoned children, to insects, and even to old men. Now we can add a God Warrior to that list.

Finally, even Miralupa found peace after death. Leave it to Miyazaki to make you feel for a ruthless, cranky old emperor’s brother.

Religion in the Nausicaa Universe: No Simple Answers

With Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s exploration of religious belief in the “twilight of human civilization,” it’s surprising that none of Miyazaki’s other works focus on religion at all, apart from a passing mention in a contemporary or historical context. Even the animated counterpart to the manga features only a single prayer by Nausicaä to the God of the Wind.

The Dorok tribes practice organized religion as part of their cultural identity. The Shuwa emperors who conquered Dorok took the tribes’ varied folk traditions and tied them into a single theocracy, with the emperor — much like his Japanese counterpart — the sole object of worship.

While the method of religious homogenization is similar to what happened in Japan, the actual folk traditions themselves are reminiscent of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. The “blue-clad one,” reborn again and again when she is needed, is much like Vishnu in Hindu mythology, whose incarnations included the blue-skinned Krishna. The cycles of universal rebirth are also similar, as the Seven Days of Fire is eerily like Shiva’s dance.

Chikuku’s village monks are clearly inspired by Buddhist practice. When Nausicaä encounters them in volume 4, they’re seated in the lotus position, a common meditation posture, wearing eastern-style robes. They espouse a kind of fatalism, telling Nausicaä that the Daikaisho and the end of human civilization should be allowed to come.

The Eftal kingdoms, including belligerent Torumekia, are far more secular, yet inspired by medieval western culture. The Valley of the Wind holds its own folk traditions (including the “blue-clad one”), but nothing approaching the state religion of Dorok. The Vai Emperor of Torumekia, as well as his children, have no interest whatsoever in sacred or spiritual matters.

There’s also the matter of the God Warriors. “God,” in this case, doesn’t refer to a deity, but instead indicates the massive size and power of these gigantic beings. Later, we see a God Warrior come to self-awareness and proclaim himself as a judge as an act of self-determination.

Can any interpretation be gleaned from Miyazaki’s treatment of religious practice? Organized religion, to be sure, appears to be treated with some disdain, as the only instance in the entire series is the state religion of Dorok. Folks traditions and animistic practice, however, seem to get a pass, portrayed in neutral or positive lights.

But Nausicaä herself isn’t too interested in spirituality. She prays to a God of the Wind on occasion, but her ethics aren’t derived from a religious or spiritual practice. She’s tolerant of the efforts of Chikuku to turn her into a religious icon as a means to an end: the rescue of as many people from the Daikaisho as possible. Overall, she’s a secular ecofeminist (or the closest analogue in-universe to that modern term), preferring to find the right choice with her mind and her heart.

This and That

A life-action adaptation of of Kiki’s Delivery Service — the book, not the Ghibli film — is underway. However, it appears to be taking some inspiration from Miyazaki’s film in its art style and Kiki’s overall look. Have a look.

Next time, it’s the epic conclusion to the manga, the lengthy volume 7.