Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

Nausicaä of The Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki illustrates the implications of war and the aftereffects of a devastating ecological disaster. In this manga, excessive industrialization has polluted the Earth: most of the Earth is covered by a toxic forest of mutated insects and plants that release a deadly miasma. Humanity clings to survival in small pockets of the land, often fighting over the scarce resources that remain.
The story follows Nausicaä, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, as she prepares herself to lead the kingdom in the future. Able to communicate with animals of every creed – even the mutated insects of the forest – Nausicaä seeks a peaceful coexistence between the different kingdoms and nature. However, when a world war threatens to kill entire nations, Nausicaä must lead the Valley to battle before the rest of the Earth is rendered uninhabitable.
In the narrative, character dialogue and panels are weaved into a rich tapestry. The story itself seems a bit too reliant on words, as most of the story is told through dialogue and caption rather than through the actions of the characters. While the illustrations add to the story, they seem rather independent of the narrative. We felt that if some illustrations were missing, the dialogue would be sufficient to carry on the story.
Furthermore, we thought the plot moved slowly compared to the plots of other manga, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  It encourages the reader to linger on each panel, which facilitates the understanding of the dense plot. Rather than rushing through the plot and making the majority of the content about gore and battle, the manga is balanced and supplemented by these extensive drawings of nature, trees, spores, mists and creatures, and it allows the readers to immerse themselves into the story of the Valley of the Wind.
Given the post-apocalyptic setting of the story, we were led to contemplate the consequences of our actions in the present world.  Miyazaki was concerned about the rapid rate of Japan’s industrialization, thus he decided to set the story in a post-apocalyptic world which showed the consequences of industrialization taken too far and of humanity attempting to control nature rather than accept it.  This topic also led us to consider how we take the basic necessities of life for granted. The residents of the Valley have to fight for a livelihood, and their struggle made Miyazaki’s message clearer to us.
Despite the meandering plot line that drew us into the story as if we were one of the characters, Miyazaki randomly inserted characters without introducing them until a few pages later, which made us feel alienated. It felt rather jarring, and made us wonder if we were supposed to know this new character as well as the other established characters seemed to know them.  However, this only occurred for minor characters, and it is only a minor complaint.
We believe Miyazaki’s style of drawing is unique, and compliments the story being told. Miyazaki drew the manga on paper larger than the paper used for traditional manga. The larger paper size allowed him to draw props, costumes, and backgrounds in more detail than that would be usually found in other Japanese manga (Schodt 277). The detailed backgrounds of the forest and other places often dwarf the simply drawn human figures, conveying his message visually that humans are small compared to nature. The level of detail draws the reader’s attention to the background, and slows down the pace of reading. Miyazaki works wonders with his penciled illustrations.
Fig. 1. Miyazaki, Hayao. Nausicaä of The Valley of the Wind. Vol. 1. Japan: Nibariki Co., Ltd.,1983. 6. Print.

This illustration is a typical example of the detail that Miyuzaki uses  in his backgrounds.  In the bottom panel, he draws the human standing before the forest quite small to emphasize how puny mankind is compared to nature.

Miyazaki also draws the reader’s attention to the characters when needed by filling in the background completely with black, leaving the character the only thing visible in the panel.  When he wants the reader to pay more attention to the action in the story, he draws the panel with less detail. The reader is skillfully guided through the complex plot, which we found to be very helpful in understanding the story.
The layout of the manga is also more orderly than other Japanese comics.  All of the panels are boxed in standard style; there are no panels “bleeding out” on to the page, as McCloud would describe it. We thought that the standard style matched the panels because most panels had action-to-action transitions, and therefore there is no need for a lingering emotion.
Overall, we highly recommend Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind because of its treatment of mature topics.  While the environmentalist themes are not unique, Miyazaki juxtaposes humanity’s struggle for survival with nature’s desire to cleanse the world. We are confronted with difficult questions regarding our place in the world. Miyazaki then deftly illustrates his story, complementing the plot.  This makes for a satisfying read that you will come back to again and again.

Works Cited
Schodt, Frederik. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley : Stone Bridge Press, Inc., 2007. Print.

-Wen Min Chen, Wen Li Chen, Stephanie Cheng, Allison Morrow, Matt Koscielniak

1 comment:

Michael Hancock said...

Your review shows your affection for Miyazaki's work and invites us to share your enthusiasm. You provide an excellent synopsis of the series' plot and major themes. Moreover, your review effectively balances comments on the narrative and the visual style. You supplement your own careful observations about Miyazaki's art with insights from Schodt's writings, showing your awareness of the larger body of work on manga. Be sure to indicate how much of Nausicaa you read for your review.