[special memorial issue] THE FINALE OF NAUSICAA;
NAUSICAA of the Valley of Wind
Reading the Classic NAUSICAA
One Can See the Problems With Today's Manga.
Frederik L =SCHODT
It's been nearly ten years since I first read Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. And for most of us ten years is a fairly long time. Things around us change. We ourselves change. And we start to forget things. I recall thinking that Nausicaa was "amazing" when I first read it, and there's been no basic change in my opinion since then. But to tell the truth, until recently I had forgotten a lot of the early parts of the story, and in my mind I'd also confused the animation with the manga somewhat. I've never had a very good memory after all, and since I live outside of Japan I only read the story in paper-back form, so if the author takes a long respite from his serializing of it, as Mr.Miyazaki has done, there's a real danger that someone like me will forget important parts of the story.
So with that in mind, when I heard that the Nausicaa story had finally ended, I decided to go back and read it from the beginning, and compare my opinion of the work now with that of ten years ago. What follows, therefore, are my impressions.
To begin with, I still think Nausicaa is amazing. True, it's a comic book, but I believe it transcends the usual definition of "comic book" and fully deserves to be referred to as "literature." In terms of Japanese manga, it rivals (and in some aspects surpasses) classic works such as Dr.Osamu Tezuka's Hi no Tori [Phoenix] or Sampei Shirato's Ninja Bugeicho [Military Chronicles of a Ninja]. But what is especially "amazing" to me is the scale and the originality of the world Mr.Miyazaki has created. In terms of Western literature, it reminds me of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In terms of film, it reminds me of such works as Star Wars, Brazil,and Blade Runner. It's not easy to create a completely original world and still give it a sense of universality, which Mr.Miyazaki has done. My hat's off to the way he has been able to demonstrate his impressive knowledge and wisdom in this regard.
In the afterword of the first volume of Nausicaa (the Animage Comics' "Wide" version published by Tokuma Shoten), it states that Mr.Miyazaki graduated from Gakushuin University's department of Politics and Economics, but that he was long affillated with a children's literature study group. When I read this I thought "Aha! That makes sense," for to me it does seem as though it would be impossible to create a story like Nausicaa without having read children's literature from around the world. But it's obvious from Nausicaa that Mr.Miyazaki has read far more than children's literature; that, in fact, he is a widely read person in the true sense of the word. In many places in Nausicaa I can detect influences from both the Old and New Testament, from ancient Greek, Norse, and Japanese myths, and from both mainstream and esoteric Buddhism. Mr.Miyazaki's ability to mix these diverse elements together smoothly, to set his story in a distant future reminiscent of the middle ages, and season this complex future with his ideas involving ecology, and a civilization using retro-technology, ceramics, and alternative energy, seems nothing short of miraculous to me.
I personally read more Japanese manga than I do American comics, and frankly like them better, but reading Nausicaa also makes me think of the problems that many other Japanese manga recently have. In a positive sense, Nausicaa is simultaneously representative and not representative of Japanese manga. It appeared in the 1980s, when the Japanese manga market was deluged with silly love comedies and superficial works, but--going against fashion--it boldly incorporated serious themes of philosophy, religion, and ecology. In terms of its visual style, too, it was unorthodox, for in many senses Nausicaa seems more reminiscent of European comics than Japanese manga. Perhaps because it is now customary in Japan to mass produce manga with the "assistant" system and its attendant division of labor, there are too many works which lack visual cohesiveness and unity. Backgrounds have become codified, and since they are often drawn in a completely different style by different people than those who draw the characters, a sense of disunity prevails. I don't know if Mr. Miyazaki uses assistants or not, but if he does he must be carefully supervising them, for contrary to this trend, his characters and the backgrounds are well integrated into an organic whole. Sales figures of the English edition of Nausicaa in the United States aside (needless to say, sales have been far below those of Japan), the above two points are probably a major reason that American critlcs have usually had nothing but praise for Nausicaa.
I don't intend to mindlessly heap praise on Nausicaa. It was created by a human, and inevitably has its flaws. It may because I'm personally a tad stupid,but frankly when I finished reading volume six of the paperbacks, I found myself a little bewildered, and lost--perhaps because there are so many unfamiliar terms like "Heedra," "Torumekia," "Dorok," "Wormhandlers," and "Forest People." But I don't think it's just me. Towards the end, despite his superhuman efforts, I wondered if even Mr.Miyazaki wasn't somewhat overwhelmed by the complexity and scale of the story he had created.
Yet I remember that often in the past, when I used to read famous novels--especially Russian novels--I experienced the same sort of confusion. And I would then go back and read the work again, and in the process make new discoveries about it. In that sense, rereading because of a complex plot is not necessarlly a bad thing, for some works are simply worth rereading. And Nausicaa, in my opinion, is worth rereading not once, but many times.