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Big Books Feature

Nausicaa of The Valley of Wind

Big Books Issue 2008

YA City Paper's Big Books Issue 2008 | By Bret McCabe

When Books Could Change Your Life Why What We Pore Over At 12 May Be The Most Important Reading We Ever Do | By Tim Kreider

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Nausicaa of The Valley of Wind In 2008, Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki probably needs little in the way of an introduction,... | By Jess Harvell

By Jess Harvell | Posted 9/24/2008

In 2008, Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki probably needs little in the way of an introduction, but casual fans of his animated features may not know that Miyazaki is also responsible for a manga epic that ran to more than 1,000 pages over the course of 12 years. The seven collected volumes of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1982-'94) star perhaps the first of Miyazaki's famously plucky tomboy heroines, a princess named Nausicaa who is next in line for the throne of a village in the titular Valley, a location that enjoys a precarious peace in the aftermath of the "Seven Days of Fire." This vaguely explained cataclysm, the result of human warfare centuries before, has produced a poisonous forest nicknamed the "Sea of Corruption," an influx of killer shrubbery that will one day swallow every home and windmill in the Valley.

As the story opens, Nausicaa is already one of those appealing pubescent contradictions common to fantasy: a preternaturally sensitive, humane soul and yet a fierce warrior. She's also possessed of a quasi-psychic ability to talk to the dinosaur-scale insects that thrive in the Sea of Corruption. When the war-addicted kingdom of Torumekia invades the Valley, however, dreamy Nausicaa is forced to grow up but quick. Even after war has left the planet a befouled deathscape, the Torumekians continue to vie with their enemies the Doroks in hopes of colonizing what little remains of humanity, and Nausicaa's continent-crossing journey to convince men to live in peace, with each other and with the Sea of Corruption, eventually sees her grow more powerful than any of the series' kings or holy men.

So far, so familiar to fans of girl-friendly coming-of-age adventure series; that's an absurdly broad outline of a fantastically detailed saga. And Nausicaa is also bursting with juicy grown-up subtext, such as Miyazaki's fatalistic finger-wag, his lament for humanity's ongoing destruction of the natural world. Nausicaa doesn't feel like much of the breezy, identikit fantasy manga now marketed toward North American kids. True, Miyazaki's panel-to-panel storytelling has some of the same scratchy, kinetic intensity, but his rich, scratchy penwork more often evokes the earthy warmth of classic children's book illustrators than anime-derived slickness.

Individual compositions, and often whole scenes, can have a haunting, woodcut-like stillness; Miyazaki's detail slows down your eye, a rarity in manga's usual mile-a-minute pacing. Those meditative moments, where Nausicaa merely revels in the beauty of the Sea of Corruption, linger in your mind as much as the gunships and sword fights.

You feel there's something more at stake in Nausicaa than a stock heroine's quest, while also never feeling like the hellaciously exciting aerial battles are merely spoonfuls of sugar to help the environmental message go down. Adventures told as a delivery device for a cause can become wearying within pages. If Nausicaa remains a manga gold standard for adults and kids alike, it's because entertaining, character-driven polemics have never been easy to pull off, regardless of the medium or demographic.

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