“The Breath of Life” – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (manga) – 10/10 Snowballs

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Mangaka: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi

Review Status: Complete (7 Volumes/ 7 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Summary: In a long-ago war, humankind set off a devastating ecological disaster. Thriving industrial societies disappeared. The earth is slowly submerging beneath the expanding Sea of Corruption, an enormous toxic forest that creates mutant insects and releases a miasma of poisonous spores into the air. At the periphery of th sea, tiny kingdoms are scattered on tiny parcels of land. Here lies the Valley of the Wind, a kingdom of barely 500 citizens; a nation given fragile protection from the decaying sea’s poisons by the ocean breezes; and home to Nausicaa. aNusicaa, a young princess, has an empathetic bond with the giant Ohmu insects and animals of every creed. She fights to create tolerance, understanding and patience among empires that are fighting over the world’s remaining precious natural resources. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: Nausicaa might not be Miyzaki’s most famous anime, but it’s truly a shame that the manga is so often overlooked. This is a manga that tells a story of amazing complexity and beauty, that is both hopeful and bittersweet. It begins in the quiet land of the Valley of the Wind, where Nausicaa is quickly enlisted into the war that all of the coastal cities are held to by ancient treaties. This engages in some serious political maneuvering that Nausicaa is right in the middle of, Doroks against Torumekians, and individual factions in them fighting over how to wage war and if they should wage war. The war affects the world in a number of ways, from biological warfare to the resurrection of anceint technologies that are better left lost in the sands of time. People die- innocent people, some not so much, but bloodshed begets bloodshed and often people call for revenge. Nausicaa must stay on her own side, though, leading people to a more peaceful existence, because they forget that the thing that they must fear is right on their heels- the Sea of Corruption. And even that isn’t as dangerous as they believe. Nausicaa attempts to bring understanding to others about how it works and why it is the way it is, paving the way for peace between everyone.

Within this story, there are a multitude of characters that have their own importance. Some are leaders of factions that Nausicaa encounters- that believe she is their saviour, or change through knowing her, or die because they cannot see the truth in front of thir eyes- others are there to help reveal the plots and machinations that are going on in the story, and give different views on the people in the countries. Rarely is there a character that isn’t of some importance to the story, even if it’s brushed over fairly breifly. Being a character-driven story, it’s by the actions and beliefs of characters that events come about, and you see them change as the story goes on, affected by Nausicaa or the events around them. Seeing how they adopt various beliefs or actions that she would take as fits their personality is fascinating and creates a lot of dramatic scenarios.

And, of course, driving the plot ever-forward is the immenent war between the nations, which shows the depths of ruthlessness that people will go to in order to gain something. Greed has no boundaries for many, even if it means destroying themselves in the process. Thematically, this uses humanity’s failings- the greed, fear, uncertainty, and rage that can drive many unwise actions, and brings them into stark light in how the war is conducted and why people engage in it. To supplement and highlight these ideas, the forest is used and has many layers of meaning- as a metaphor, as something to bring out those failings, as a plot point in and of itself, but whatever its fate is, it is tied to the humans that live in the world. It’s a fully realized world which has a lot to say, a commentary on us and our current condition, but manages to say it in a way that isn’t condecending or even that noticeable if you aren’t looking for it. That this manga manages to do so, create a fully realized world, and still is able to be a compelling story really speaks to how masterfully this is written.

Overall, this is a breathtaking work of emotional and political complexity, that stands up to the best of them.

Recommended: 16+. This is a story of war, so there are a multitude of deaths, both implied and on the page, of people of all ages. There are bodies shown with no marks, bloodied ones, the occasional body part (a dismembered arm, or leg, and once, a head), and a few times gore is shown along with the bodies. People lose limbs and die on the page. If I were to compare it to a movie, it would be bloodier than Gettysburg, but a decent amount less than Saving Private Ryan. There are only seven or eight swears, all of them the d-word. No more than two swears a volume.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (anime)

The Music of Marie (manga)


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. yoyodyne
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 10:40:31

    imho simple the greatest graphic novel of all time – a work of art of the highest order.


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