Master of Japanese animation Hayao Miyazaki found himself without any film prospects on the horizon in 1982 and so agreed to begin work on a manga (comics) story to be serialized in the popular Japanese animation magazine, Animage. After going on for thirteen years, in 1995 the beautiful and moving epic, Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, finally came to an end. Now collected into seven trade paperback volumes preserving the same back to front, right to left reading format of the Japanese originals, in terms of scope, grandeur and emotional impact, this science fiction/fantasy saga is the Lord of the Rings of comics (and since comics are both written words and pictures, this analogy holds true whether the comparison is with J.R.R. Tolkien’s books or Peter Jackson’s films). Few works of graphic literature have captivated me like this one, and the experience of reading this story was one of the most engaging and moving I have ever had in any form of fiction.
Nausicaä is a Princess in the Valley of Winds, located near the borders of the Sea of Corruption, a dense jungle of fungus that constantly releases a miasma of poisonous spores deadly to anyone but the giant insects who live there. The environment has been devastated by a global war, the Seven Days of Fire, that took place in the distant past, and now the few remaining human settlements vie for what little inhabitable land is left.
Nausicaä is a remarkable character in a story filled with remarkable characters. She is a pacifist in the truest sense of the word, not only rejecting violence and war as a means of solving problems, but having a calming effect on both the animals and people she encounters. She possesses an uncanny psychic ability to communicate with animals from her faithful fox-squirrel companion, Teto, to the whale-sized armored caterpillars known as the Ohmu. Her powerful charisma gains her the unwavering devotion of friends and the admiration of her enemies. Despite her commitment to peace, she is also an accomplished fighter, which is evident on the rare occasions when her rage overpowers her compassion. Lastly, she is an expert wind rider, sailing through the clouds in her jet-powered glider and performing aerial acrobatics no other pilot would dare to attempt.
When her beloved Valley faces invasion by the imperial forces of Torumekia, lead by Princess Kushana (sort of the “shadow” Nausicaä, although not without many redeeming qualities), Nausicaä and Teto embark on a journey to save not only her people, but also the world. The adventures that follow form an eco-feminist fantasy about courage, honor, compassion, the folly of tampering with nature, and the power of love and friendship. Storytelling does not get any better than this.