In the far distant future, a man-made catastrophe known as the Seven Days of Fire has turned most of the Earth’s surface into a wasteland. A poisonous forest known as the Sea of Corruption has sprung up and provided home for swarms of giant insects, which threatens to engulf the surface of the planet. Human civilisation has been reduced to an almost medieval feudal state, with limited technology and understanding of the harsh world around them. Nausicaä, a young princess from the small independent state of the Valley of the Wind finds herself and her people drawn into a bitter conflict between the neighbouring Torumekian and Dorok empires but her unshakeable love of all living things causes her to fight a very different battle for understanding between humanity and nature.
At first glance this story sounds like a reworking of the animated film adaptation, including the oft-used theme of portraying humanity at the brink of extinction in a post-apocalyptic setting. However, the themes and ideas of the 1984 film are expanded and sent in a more interesting direction with complex politics and battle campaigns side-by-side with a chillingly plausible future world. The weird and wonderful flora of the Sea of Corruption, alien yet strangely beautiful with its terrifying and majestic insect inhabitants, is underpinned by sound ecological principles which only adds to the realism.
It has to be said that quite a few of the people of Nausicaä’s world are painted in a rather cynical light. They insist on petty squabbles and wars that are a waste of life and resources; yet even here there are rays of hope that shine through. Nausicaä is compassionate, courageous and one of the most memorable heroines in anime and manga history, and quite possibly provided the inspiration for the title character in his later film Princess Mononoke. The supporting cast, consisting of tribal leaders, warriors, priests and royalty plus countless others besides provides some other brilliantly conceived characters that all have a part to play in the epic tale that unfolds. As might be expected there are few clear-cut ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters though: most are simply trying to get by as best they can, and even the insects and toxic plants turn out to have a part to play in the grand scheme of things.
The artwork is distinctive and, quite frankly, in a league of its own. Every frame has been painstakingly drawn with time-consuming line shading and meticulous attention to detail, which explains why it took thirteen years on and off to complete. Fans of Miyazaki’s films will no doubt be aware that he is a real perfectionist and it has never been as apparent as it is here: in a similar way to Tolkein’s Middle Earth he has created an entirely new interpretation of what planet earth could be which is also shown in the full colour, fold-out maps that form part of the books’ stunning additional artwork. It is this and the complex plotline that makes the manga a relatively slow-going but ultimately immensely rewarding read.
Politics, science, spirituality and adventure are combined effortlessly with spectacular attention to detail – this eco-fable is Miyazaki’s true masterpiece.