Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Manga Review: A Must-Read for Fantasy Fans
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is more commonly recognized as the 1984 feature film from Top Craft, which later gave birth to Studio Ghibli. Before its critically acclaimed cinema release it was a 7 volume manga, drawn and written by Hayao Miyazaki, whom claims he never could write comic books! It was published from 1982 to 1984, and takes place in a post apocalyptic universe. A thousand years after the war known as the “Seven Days of Fire”, the world is slowly being swallowed by a toxic jungle known as the “Sea of Corruption”. Nausicaa, a young princess, decides to explore its plants and insects to discover its secrets. The first 16 chapters, which covers the first 2 volumes of the manga was used as the script and storyboard for the film. With this in mind, it is easy to see how the manga fixes a lot of problems the film had with not much focus on character development or exploration. You could watch the film, then read the manga from volume 3 onwards. Movie comparisons aside, this manga is a rare sight in the pile, from its large scale story to artwork style.
Those whom are introducing themselves to the manga scene will marvel at Miyazaki’s familiar stylistic choice. The clear cut, small, parallel rectangular panels are more like those of European TinTin or Asterix & Obelix than its Japanese counterpart. The only similarities to modern manga we all know and love is the use of black ink, an overarching story and Hayao Miyazaki’s endearing character designs. Costume, location, mechanical and creature design are unique, eye catching and amazingly detailed. Shading is done with hundreds of thin sketchy black lines, and the backgrounds are equally detailed. Use of toning is minimal, which is an impressive feat. The only problem is this mix of highly detailed drawings, small boxes and dialogue can sometimes make it hard to tell what is happening on the page.
The cast of characters is Game of Thrones-esque enormous and since all of them are given some form of detail and story, it is difficult to remember their names. Granted, it doesn’t help that their names are obscure. Sadly, with such a large variety, not all the characters are likable, so you will pick your favorites and hope they show up in the next scene. Thankfully, the most lovable is Nausicaa herself, and she is the star of the show. Asbel and Master Yupa are a close second for me in the favorites line up.
The plot was executed to appear quite simplistic and predictable in the film, but this is not the case in this drawn version. The manga expands on the main crisis of the story and the setting all these characters find themselves in: their ways of living, the history, its legends, many cities, myths and unique set of flora and fauna. The first 3 volumes, and around half of the script beyond that point, are dedicated to setting and character set up. The script is tight and has very little filler, but have your thinking caps ready to absorb the vast ocean of information Miyazaki has created.
The story, while interesting doesn’t set itself apart from other generic fantasy titles until Volume 5, where Miyazaki takes out his big guns. There are genius plot twists which will make you smack yourself and wonder why you didn’t see it coming. It’s the way the plot unwravels and races which makes Nausicaa manga rightfully earn the title of “masterpiece”. Up until that point it has the “cool” factor, but not the “wow” factor. The often poetic and fanciful dialogue is well-written and amusing to compare to language today (Japanese translation or not).
Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind is an impressive mountain of work. It’s obvious Miyazaki poured his heart and soul into it. Apart from the slow first act (could it have been done any other way?) and sometimes questionable panel layout, it is a solid drama piece. For those who are fantasy fans or perhaps looking for a manga to try reading, Nausicaa is a great choice if you have the brain power to take in the detail. Art wise it is more similar to “comics” than ‘manga” so could be easier to swallow and make the transition. For Miyazaki fans this is a must read. It’s re-read value is high for the sake of absorbing more of the story the second time around.
If Studio Ghibli is looking for something to make to honor Miyazaki when he dies, they need to animate this into a trilogy of films or TV series.
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