Hitching a ride on low air currents, Nausicaä and Asbel escape the Sea of Corruption, only to find themselves captured by a Dorok ship of the Mani Tribe. Telepathically determining that they are not Torumekians, the head priest allows them to stay aboard as guests. Ketcha, an aid to the elder, reveals that this is a refugee ship: The Torumekians have ransacked their tribe’s homeland.
The story shifts to Kushana and her encampment by the Acid Lakes, lifeless bodies of water in the middle of the Sea of Corruption. Nausicaä’s vassals are in an uproar over their princess’ disappearance; Mito goes in front of Kushana to plead for a search party to find Nausicaä. Kushana assents, knowing Nausicaä has the stone that can control the God Warrior. Meanwhile, a stealth battalion of Dorok troops advances upon the unsuspecting Torumekian fleet.
Meeting with the Mani Elder, Nausicaä and Asbel discover that the Doroks know of Kushana’s regiment by the Acid Lake; a member of the Torumekian royal family has betrayed the entire campaign. They are horrified to learn that the Holy Dorok Emperor has ordered defeated Dorok tribes to capture the kingdoms of the Periphery as compensation for the loss of their lands. Nausicaä and Asbel attempt to convince the elder to halt further conflict and bloodshed, but the Mani priest reveals that it is too late: The plan to wipe out Kushana’s fleet is already in motion.
Encountering the valley gunship, Nausicaä flies off with Mito to warn the Torumekian and Periphery fleet of the Dorok trap. Asbel stays behind to try to resolve the situation with the Mani Tribe. Nausicaä’s pleas for peace and reconciliation move the elder, but he is resolved to go ahead with retaliatory strike.
On the way back to the Acid Lakes, Nausicaä encounters a massive herd of stampeding Ohmu. She spots a small Dorok ship transporting a wounded baby Ohmu and realizes that the Doroks are using it as bait to enrage the herd into destroying Kushana’s encampment. Nausicaä splits off on her glider to rescue the baby, eventually forcing the Dorok ship to crash on to a small sandbar in the middle of a lake.
Arriving back at the encampment, Mito attempts to warn the fleet of the impending herds of Ohmu, but it is too late. The Dorok battalion succeeds in distracting the Torumekians while the massive Ohmu herd crushes their flotilla. Kurotowa rescues Kushana in the only ship that managed to get airborne. Enraged at the destruction, Kushana vows revenge for her lost men.
On the sandbar, Nausicaä resolves to put the Ohmu out of its misery, but cannot go through with it. She stays to comfort the dying baby. The rest of the herd arrives at the shores of the lake, calling to their wounded brethren. The baby Ohmu moves to rejoin them, but Nausicaä warns it to not go into the lake. In trying to stop the baby from wading into the corrosive waters, Nausicaä burns her foot badly. Her suffering and her telepathic plea to stop causes the baby to focus on comforting her pain, and in so doing, it saves itself from certain death. Nausicaä’s telepathic cry also reaches the nearby Mani elder, who orders an immediate halt to the Dorok advance to investigate the source of the plea.
Nausicaä meets up with the sole remaining ship of the Torumekian army and asks Kushana for help in saving the baby Ohmu. Kushana balks at the request, having just lost her fleet to the rampaging insects. However, Nausicaä manages to leverage her knowledge of Kushana’s betrayal in exchange for the rescue operation. Kushana assents grudgingly, with conditions.
Meanwhile, Ketcha and the Mani elder survey the aftermath of the Dorok attack. They are surprised to see the herd of Ohmu surround Nausicaä, thanking her for the rescue of the baby, raising her up on glowing golden tendrils. The red Dorok dress Nausicaä received aboard the Dorok ship is now stained deep blue with the Ohmu blood of the baby. Stunned to sense the Ohmu opening their hearts to Nausicaä, the Mani elder realizes she could potentially be the blue-clad one, the saviour spoken of in an ancient prophecy.
With the Periphery campaign lost, Mito is released from service and returns to the Valley of the Wind to brief King Jhil on the situation. As part of the bargain for the Ohmu rescue operation, Nausicaä stays with Kushana as the Valley’s lone representative. Nausicaä has her own reasons for accompanying Kushana to the south. Troubled that the Doroks were able to capture a baby Ohmu, Nausicaä fears something new terrible power is at work. Before they part ways, Nausicaä confides to Mito that she senses the first signs of the Daikaisho, a great boiling over of the Sea of Corruption that last occurred three centuries ago. Back in the Valley of the Wind, the dying King Jhil realizes the significance of Nausicaä’s work and asks Mito to take the gunship to search for Yupa and help Nausicaä in any way he can.
Two hundred leagues from the Valley in a small mining town, Yupa is looking for passage into the heart of the forest. He encounters a group of wormhandlers, a marginalized and shunned people who live in settlements deep within the Sea of Corruption. Suspicious at their activities, Yupa hitches a ride aboard their ship back to their forest enclave and discovers the wormhandlers hosting a secret meeting of Dorok priests. Eavesdropping, he discovers dissent and disagreement among the various tribes. The Mani elder, having seen the extent of the indiscriminate destruction caused by the Ohmu, urges a postponement of the use of insects for war. The other tribes disagree, accusing the Mani elder of defying the will of their Holy Emperor and perpetrating treason. Yupa realizes that the wormhandlers are working with the Doroks to artificially clone Ohmus from bits of shell fragments from the Sea of Corruption.
Discovered by the wormhandlers, Yupa receives unexpected help from Asbel, disguised as an accompanying Mani Tribe guard. Together with Ketcha and the Mani Elder, they destroy the Ohmu culture tanks and attempt to flee the enclave, but are stopped by the Holy Dorok Emperor’s brother, Miralupa.
Capable of telepathy and telekinesis, Miralupa is the real power behind the Dorok throne. He probes the mind of the Mani Elder for answers to his actions. No longer having anything to hide, the Mani priest reveals his contempt for the emperor along with the Dorok council of monks, especially in their tampering with the mysteries of life for purposes of war. Like Nausicaä, the elder senses a rising anger of the earth in response to the actions of humanity, citing the great Daikaisho three centuries ago.
Miralupa attempts to silence him, but the elder speaks passionately to his own tribe. He laments the suffering they have endured – the loss of their homeland, the tyranny of oppressive theocracies. He urges them not to despair, revealing to them a vision of salvation. He proclaims that he has seen the angel of light who will lead them to a pure land. She will be one who will love the forest and talk with the insects, one that calls down the wind and rides upon a bird to forge anew their ties with the lost land. Yupa realizes that he is referring to Nausicaä.
Miralupa, enraged and frightened by this act of defiance, uses his mental power in trying to identify and eradicate this saviour. The elder shields Nausicaä and sacrifices his life to help Yupa, Asbel, and Ketcha escape. Aboard Kushana’s flagship, Nausicaä senses the darkness of Miralupa’s touch being buffered by the dying Mani elder as she approaches Dorok territory.
Tampering with the Mysteries of Life
One of the chief themes explored throughout the Nausicaä saga is the ethics of utilizing biotechnology. During the secret Dorok meeting, we are introduced to two contrasting opinions expressed by tribe elders regarding the use of artificially created Ohmu for war. Having seen first-hand the devastating power of the Ohmu on people and land, the Mani Elder urges caution. However, the other tribal elders, believing that the unfortunate destruction of an entire tribe is a fixable mistake, overrule him.
At the root of these two opinions are two fundamentally opposing worldviews. The Mani elder believes that tampering with life for the purposes of war is a profoundly foolish thing to do. The other tribes believe that life is merely another form of technology that can be manipulated for their own purposes. Supremely confident in their ability to mold life, they see collateral damage simply as a problem of fine-tuning.
These perspectives mirror real world attitudes. At the core of the debate around the ethics of genetic engineering is a clash between two profoundly different worldviews. One regards life as sacred, connected, spiritual, mysterious, and inviolate, while the other treats it as discrete, chemical, quantifiable, and solvable. Modern society heavily favours the latter, and it is clear which side Miyazaki takes while writing this part of the story. Is there a middle ground between these two viewpoints? What does that middle ground look like?
The Nausicaä saga also raises a series of intriguing questions beyond whether biotechnology is desirable or not. It was one of the first works that pushed me to assess my value system as it pertains to the worth of life itself. What is the value of life that is genetically modified? Does human influence in its creation diminish its worth? What does our value system with respect to life say about our underlying assumptions when it comes to other issues? Are invasive species intrinsically less worthy than native species? What about a domesticated creature versus a wild one?
A Tapestry of Connections
Still early in the story, Nausicaä is already establishing a web of connection with all whom she encounters, whether they are humans or animals, allies or enemies. Over the course of the saga, she becomes a symbol of hope and salvation for various groups. Before she leaves with Kushana on the Dorok war campaign, she confides to Mito the strangeness of the situation she finds herself in:
A girl from the Valley of the Wind puts on a Dorok dress dyed for her by the Ohmu, and prepares to depart on a Torumekian warship…(p.222)
Many of these forged connections start in simple kind acts, but they serve as seeds for future bridges of understanding and peace between various factions and tribes. Nausicaä’s actions transcends the nature/culture divide. When Mito shares his concern that she appears too invested in the fate of the Ohmu insects, Nausicaä remarks that while she loves the creatures of the forest, she also holds a place in her heart for all the people of the world and will do what she can to fight for them.
I love the Ohmu… I think they are the greatest, most noble creature in all the world. But in the same way, I love all the people of our valley. I’ve never forgotten them.. Or the person (Asbel) who made this bandage for me. (p.223)
I find myself drawn to the universality of this empathy and love: For Nausicaä, all life harbour meaning and deserve respect. She adheres to this core principle even as she strives to understand and negotiate the realities of others. In the following volumes, Miyazaki puts this conviction to the test.
Meaning Amidst Destruction and Loss
By this point in the story, we begin to see more signs of suffering and injustice caused by the Torumekian war. Entire tribes are wiped out on revenge missions, and massive refugee populations are created. In these terrible times, ordinary people crave comfort and reassurance from authority figures. The Mani Elder recognizes that hope is needed for his people who have lost their homeland, possessions and loved ones, and reveals it to them in the ancient prophecy of the blue-clad one. The nature of this revelation and the hope it contains will be explored later on. What’s interesting for now is the fact that hope is delivered in a narrative of salvation. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative, human beings crave stories because we rely on them to offer meaning in an otherwise meaningless world.
Similarly in our world, I believe we also need narratives of hope and resilience to sustain us in the days ahead. Visions of sustainable, resilient, and hopeful futures that inspire optimism and action are crucial if we are to grow and overcome the challenges of our times.
Suffering + Empathy + Love = Salvation
Rereading the books, I am reminded of an old analysis where the author explores how faith in love and in others can lead to salvation. In The Comic Book that Moveth to Tears, Michael Lane cites two scenes that illustrate this powerful concept.
The first occurs in Volume One: The Valley of the Wind. During Asbel’s attack on Kushana’s fleet, the towline between the gunship and its barge is severed, causing the barge to fall fast into the toxic forest. The crew aboard panics and despairs, believing that all hope is lost. Swooping in with the gunship, Nausicaä stands up and takes off her protective mask in deadly miasma to shout instructions for the crew to lighten their cargo to ensure a soft landing. Fearing for the safety of their princess, the crew quickly does anything Nausicaä tells them to do just so she would put her mask back on. Their love for her well-being drives them to save themselves from certain catastrophe.
The second example comes during the scene between Nausicaä and the wounded baby Ohmu on the sandbar. Desperately wishing to be with its brethren, the infant attempts to wade into the acidic water of the lake. Nausicaä places herself between the Ohmu and the lake, and in the process burns her foot in the corrosive waters. She falls, screaming in pain. Her suffering distracts the Ohmu; its empathy for Nausicaä causes it to reach out to her in comfort. By doing so, it saves itself from a gruesome death. As Michael Lane writes, “it is by our capacity to love another that we can be tricked (as it were) into the only act that will save us.”
In these two scenes, Lane remarks that it is in suffering, love, and empathy that salvation is achieved. By placing ourselves in another person or creature’s shoes, by feeling wholly what they feel, we can be driven to become better angels of our nature without realizing it. Compassion for others can lead us to grow beyond ourselves, to journey beyond the restricted world of the self to engage meaningfully with the greater, vaster community. In both scenes, actions taken in response to ease Nausicaä’s suffering can help steer the other party move away from their own self-destructive behaviour.
From an environmental perspective, people who refuse to acknowledge the ecological crisis are often moved (or tricked) into action by their love for their children. Through desire to leave behind a better world for the next generation, they help to realize a future that’s ultimately beneficial to them as well. The ability to empathize with and think of others is thus a crucial skill that must be valued, cultivated, and exercised. Without it, selfish indulgences grow into sociopathic behaviour, within which no lasting bonds can be forged, and no true change can occur.
Next up: Nausicaä Volume 3 – The Dorok War.
- Action, Responsibility, Empathy: The Flight of the Hummingbird
- Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
- The Greatest Ekostory Ever Told
Miyazaki, Hayao. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – Deluxe Edition 1. Translation by David Lewis and Toren Smith. Viz Media, LLC: San Fransisco, 2012.
Images of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind © 1983, 1984, 1987 Nibariki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. New and adapted artwork and text © 2004 VIZ media, LLC.