I remember reading through the third volume of Nausicaä for the first time and thinking to myself: This is starting to get good. Freed from the constraints of the film format, Miyazaki plunges deep into the chaos of the Dorok/Torumekian War, considerably upping the scale, stakes, and tension of the story before capping it off with a masterfully crafted battle. The two main female characters seize control of their destinies: Kushana emerges from the background to exert her considerable presence, while Nausicaä is forced to pit her ideals against real world situations. Let’s get started.
The story begins with Asbel, Yupa, and Ketcha escaping the wormhandler enclave on a Dorok ship. Asbel and Yupa acquaint themselves with each other, discovering their mutual connection to Nausicaä. They speak at length on how the Doroks came to possess the technology for cloning life. Yupa believes that this knowledge came from the Crypt of Shuwa, the sacred capital of the Dorok Lands. He speculates that Miralupa has revived old arts of molding life in a desperate attempt to shift the fortunes of war. Steering through a break in the clouds, the trio are suddenly ambushed by a pursuing Dorok fleet and shot out of the sky, crashing into the Sea of Corruption below.
Two thousand leagues southwest, Nausicaä, Kushana, and Kurotowa head south into Dorok territory. Kurotowa is eager to rejoin the main army, but Kushana remains guarded. She knows that the entire operation up until now has been a trap, believing it an attempt from her older brothers to dispose of her. She surmises that Kurotowa’s own mission was to find and capture the Pejitei stone. Kurotowa laughs and confesses, but with nothing to lose, goes on the offensive. He deduces that Kushana secretly desires to link up with the core of the loyal regiment she trained herself that was stolen away by her brothers. He speculates that with that force, Kushana could lead them back to the capital and seize the throne for herself.
With all his cards revealed, Kurotowa states that he has no ambitions for power and is simply trying to survive long enough to collect his pension. He offers his services to Kushana. Seeing his value, Kushana accepts, but demands to know which brother issued Kurotowa’s orders in the first place. When Kurotowa reveals the she was betrayed by her father and the emperor himself, Kushana is momentarily stunned.
Nausicaä senses a strange smell on the wind. They descend beneath the clouds and discover the smell is that of burning flesh. Two Torumekian ships are bombing a small Dorok village; Nausicaä flies off to investigate while Kurotowa takes the helm. Going rogue against the main Torumekian army, Kurotowa destroys the bombers with a surprise attack.
Surveying the village, Nausicaä concludes that death came before the bombing. Soldiers and mounts show signs of miasma poisoning, but the toxic jungle is more than 100 leagues away. Nausicaä reaches the main temple of the village but finds its doors tightly sealed. Prying them open, she discovers that the villagers had taken shelter within, but were too terrified to extinguish their last light and had suffocated. Amidst the bodies, Nausicaä discovers two infants, still alive. She takes them into her care. An exasperated Kurotowa berates her, proclaiming that they are at war and this is no time for picking up kids.
Hearing gunfire by the well, Nausicaä drops off the infants and races to help. She discovers some of Kushana’s men pinned down by a disoriented giant insect. She saves the trapped officers, one of which has been poisoned by miasma, but is attacked by the beast. Kurotowa finds himself rushing to Nausicaä’s aid, only to find his concern unwarranted; the Ohmu blood on Nausicaä’s clothes has the power to soothe the frightened insect. Nausicaä returns to save the officer afflicted by the miasma and is celebrated by the crew. Kushana takes note of Nausicaä’s mysterious power.
Continuing southwards, they suddenly meet a thick stream of miasma that is so poisonous that even the insects residing in the Sea of Corruption fall dead from it. Descending beneath the clouds, they discover a Torumekian regiment held up at a fortified position, but they arrive too late to help as Dorok forces wipe them out. Kushana pledges on her men’s lives that she shall exact vengeance on those responsible. They flee before the advancing Dorok fleet.
Subsequent Torumekian survivors brings Kushana the grim news. The combined armies of the Dorok principalities have launched a massive counter-offensive. Wielding the toxic jungle as a weapon, they have devastated a Torumekian army completely unprepared for a biological assault. Kushana is stunned at the scorched earth nature of the tactics; the Doroks have effectively buried their own’s country under a new Sea of Corruption. The survivors also reveal that the Third Army, composed of troops most loyal to Kushana, was ordered to guard three strongholds to aid the withdrawal of the main army; only one regiment remains at the city of Sapata. Kushana decides at once to rescue the troops held out there.
The story shifts back to Yupa, Asbel, and Ketcha as they awaken from the crash, enveloped in a strange bubble tent. A young man named Selm enters and offers them food in the form of insect eggs, explaining that his people ask the insects for permission and are granted enough materials for survival. Yupa recalls legends of a forest people rumoured to have abandoned fire, choosing to live in the heart of the forest in harmony with other creatures. Selm explains that he is currently investigating the unusual southern migration of the Ohmu and other insects. They decide to journey south together, towards the land where Nausicaä has gone.
Miralupa arrives to oversee the siege at Sapata. He consults with Charuka, his trusted commander in charge of the operation. Shortly afterwards, Kushana’s ship arrives on scene and makes a crash landing inside the walls of the city. Overjoyed at Kushana’s return, the rejuvenated regiment quickly devises a plan for a counterattack.
Resting within the city walls, Nausicaä perceives that Miralupa is still searching for her, but Teto the fox-squirrel and Kai her mount protect her from his corrosive touch. She goes in search of the Dorok infants she rescued earlier, and eventually discovers one of the chief Torumekian motivations for initiating the war: they were planning to bring Dorok prisoners back to Torumekia as slaves to address their declining population.
In the war room, Kushana devises an unorthodox strategy to buy breathing room from the Dorok siege. She proposes blasting a hole in the castle wall to create a sally port. Light artillery fire will be employed to create smoke and confusion, allowing their own armoured cavalry to smash through the enemy skirmish lines and destroy the siege gun batteries, the primary targets.
After the meeting, Nausicaä demands Kushana release the Dorok prisoners. Kushana laughs at her request, stating that she cares only for the safety of her troops, and is not about to do what Nausicaä asks just so Nausicaä can keep her hands clean. She will only accept the request if Nausicaä would ride with her into battle. With little choice, Nausicaä is pressed into action against the Doroks.
Kushana’s strategy is executed to perfection as the Doroks are caught off-guard by the strike against the siege guns. However, the Torumekian strike force is vastly outnumbered and must break through the Dorok cavalry to return behind fortified walls. Charuka leads the Dorok charge, but is stunned to see the blue-clad one from the ancient prophecy, supposedly a saviour of the oppressed and the poor, fighting alongside the Torumekians. Obeying Miralupa’s wishes, he reluctantly calls for Nausicaä’s death or capture.
Still desperate to avoid further bloodshed, Nausicaä breaks off and uses special ammunition to temporarily disorient enemy cavalry mounts. Watching from a distance, Charuka marvels at how she is single-handedly able to stymie his best troops. Before parting, Nausicaä calls for Kushana to honour her word of releasing the prisoners, refusing to stay in the Torumekian commander’s debt. Moved by her courage, a small contingent of armoured Kushana’s soldiers requests permission to ride in support of Nausicaä. Kushana assents.
Pursued by the bulk of the Dorok cavalry, Nausicaä is horrified to see Torumekian soldiers fall in their efforts to protect her. A stray bullet mortally wounds Kai; Nausicaä is captured and brought before Charuka. Seeing her for the first time, the Dorok commander is puzzled why this girl would fill his lord with such dread. As the soldiers search Nausicaä, Teto springs up to fiercely defend her, and Kai rises up with his last bit of strength to escape with Nausicaä on his back. Nausicaä returns to the triumphant cheers of the Torumekian regiment, exhausted and shellshocked. She grieves deeply for the soldiers who died protecting her and for her mount, holding him in her hands as he dies. Kushana orders Kai to be properly buried with full honours.
Miralupa is livid that Sapata is still being held by the Torumekians. He demotes Charuka and decides to deploy the miasma on Sapata, believing that there is no longer time for a prolonged siege. Charuka is troubled by the hastiness and genocidal nature of the decision, but has no time to react. News come from the gates of Sapata: The Dorok prisoners are being released.
Miyazaki’s Forest People
In this third volume, Miyazaki introduces the Forest People, a group of major significance to the world of Nausicaä. The noble ancestors of the marginalized and shunned wormhandlers, the Forest People have chosen to abandon fire and civilization to reside within the Sea of Corruption. They have adapted their way of life and their technologies to live quietly within a toxic and hostile environment, depending entirely upon the insects of the forest for their shelter, food, and clothing.
Like Nausicaä, they are deep ecological thinkers who value life in all its forms, seeking to live in perpetual harmony with the non-human world. Yet in an interview conducted after the completion of the comic, Miyazaki comments that he “can’t see how such a people can have a future.” (Source – warning: contains finale spoilers) To me, that’s an absolutely fascinating comment: I interpret it as a manifestation of his disdain for the Forest People retreating from the rest of humanity. This stands in stark contrast to Nausicaä herself, who not only values nature but also embraces the messiness of the human condition. Miyazaki seems to recognize that the path of the Forest People is one of isolation and withdrawal, a dead end towards a sort of anti-civilization. Can a society so fundamentally alien from all other previous forms of human civilization arise? Even its creator has his doubts.
The Tragic Nature of War
“If civilization has an opposite, it is war. Of those two things, you have either one, or the other. Not both.” (The Left Hand of Darkness, p.102)
During the siege at Sapata, Nausicaä discovers this entire conflict is ultimately a war for resources. Facing declines in population and productivity on a marginal planet, the Torumekians struck out in desperation to seize Dorok territory and people to maintain their own standards of living. Unfortunately, Miralupa retaliates with devastating biological weapons which not only wipe out the enemy, but also the homes of his own people. As a result, untold lives are wasted, and remaining precious lands are rendered uninhabitable.
Miyazaki powerfully captures the profound senselessness of war in many of his incredible hand-drawn panels; my heart drops at seeing mothers suffocating in despair, soldiers being trampled by mounts and blown to bits by explosives, and prisoners suffering from neglect and malnourishment. At one point, Kurotowa forces Nausicaä to look down at a huddled group of dead women and children who have succumbed to a miasma attack. Ever the realist, he tells her to face the horrors of war, a time when social regard, order, and any semblance of culture disintegrates, and is replaced with chaos and an utter disregard for life and future consequences.
A Not so Mysterious Power to Inspire
Kushana notes that Nausicaä possesses a power about her, but does not yet understand that it originates from Nausicaä’s unflinching empathy for all whom she meets. There is a brief scene that occurs aboard Kushana’s ship that gets this point across in a powerful way.
Suffering from miasma exposure, a dying soldier named Setoru calls out desperately to his mother. Instinctively, Nausicaä cradles him in her arms, draws his poisoned blood into her mouth to clear his lungs, and works to stabilize his condition. Watching the act, the entire crew grows to admire and respect her. They can see that her act was done out of genuine compassion, and it is this authenticity of soul that ultimately draws them to love and defend her. In my last piece on The Acid Lake, I mentioned that Nausicaä’s love and empathy lead others to salvation. In this volume, those same qualities lead others to save her. In the miasma ravaged Dorok village, the dress stained by the blood of an Ohmu she saves soothes a frightened insect that would have otherwise killed her. During the battle at Sapata, she is shielded from enemy fire because soldiers were moved by her compassion to protect her. Even when captured, a dying Kai delivers her to safety because he regarded her as a master worth defending. Her compassion even reaches across enemy lines, making Charuka quietly question why his lord Miralupa would fear a girl with such a gentle nature.
Compassion wins the battle
and holds the fort;
It is the bulwark set
around those heaven helps.
(Chapter 67 – Three Treasures, Tao Te Ching: An English Version)
It Always Matters – Defining Choices
“Do you understand now?! Saving a brat or two doesn’t do any good… it’s not even consolation.” (Kurotowa, Hardcover Edition Vol. 1, p. 329)
Upon seeing Nausicaä rescue two infants from the Dorok town, Kurotowa scoffs at her naviety. I love Kurotowa as a character – he injects a unique blend of pragmatism and levity to any scene he’s in. On the surface of the situation, he is correct. What does two infants matter when hundreds and thousands of people of being wiped out? They are simply two more mouths to feed in a world that’s already going to hell. But Nausicaä doesn’t know how to be any different. She sees suffering and can’t not act. And so she does what she can. Her deed makes a difference to the two infants whom she saves. It makes a difference to the woman who eventually takes them in after losing her own children. It will even make a difference later on in the mind of an enemy.
Kushana comes to admire and envy Nausicaä’s approach to life, even as she steels herself for a future of bloody revenge, trapped in a viper’s nest where kin shed the blood of kin for power. And yet, not all hope of redemption is lost. Kushana’s journey over the course of the saga is a reminder that it is never too late to break out of the cycle of self-destruction, for each choice we make and each step we take represents an opportunity for change, possibility, and growth. We just have to be in the right circumstances and frame of mind to see and seize it. I’ll speak about that more in the upcoming pieces.
Both Nausicaä and Kushana reinforce the notion that the choices we make and the actions we take define who we are, how we are perceived by others, and most importantly, how we regard ourselves. The consequences that arises from these choices and actions ripple ever outward, connecting and affecting the people and the world around us. Every choice we make matters.
Next Up: Nausicaä Volume 4 – Catastrophe.
- Nausicaä Volume 2: The Acid Lake
- 6 Billion Others: Climate Voices
- L’homme qui plantait des arbres: The Man Who Planted Trees
- Action, Responsibility, Empathy: Flight of the Hummingbird
Le Guin, Ursula K. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1997.
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace Paperback Edition. Penguin Publishing: New York, 1969.
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.
Saitani, Ryo. I Understand NAUSICAA a Bit More than I Did a Little While Ago – An Interview with Hayao Miyazaki. Retrieved from http://www.comicbox.co.jp/e-nau/e-nau.html.
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.
Isaac, you are really good at providing a synopsis of this intriguing story and it makes me want to read the books. Well done!
Thank you 🙂 I sincerely hope more people become aware of this story. I rank it up there with some of the masterworks of science fiction.
Wow. This sheds so much light on Kushana’s line in the movie about choosing “the bloody path.” I didn’t quite understand the greater significance, but now I do. Thanks for the recap. It’s interesting to see the two paths highlighted: Kushana’s bloody path and Nausicaä’s nurturing one. I can also see how Miyazaki’s antiwar theme plays out in other movies, especially Howl’s Moving Castle.
It’s interesting to note that both paths take their toll. I’ll go into that a little bit more in the upcoming pieces, if I remember.
Great. Looking forward to it.
Great summary and commentary, Isaac.
I’m struck, too, by how rich Kushana’s story becomes over the course of the manga. She is definitely more satisfying as a character in the manga than she is in the film. (Same goes for Kurotowa…) Not to say that there isn’t something deeper going on with her in the film, especially when she makes reference to her mechanical prostheses (a fascinating detail that isn’t present in the manga—I’m curious to know why). Of course, the practical concerns of time and narrative space are undoubtedly behind Kushana’s more impressionistic treatment there.
For me, the tale Miyazaki tells in the manga is just as much about Kushana as it is about Nausicaä, their entwined fates drawing them closer together in terms of their values and ethics. (Just in case you miss the idea that they are mirrors for one another, recall the scene where Kushana cuts her hair as a “pledge of honor” to her dead troops in chapter 2 [p. 190]. Hair-cutting seems to be of enormous symbolic significance to Miyazaki—think of Sheeta at the end of Castle in the Sky.) In this chapter especially, the way that Kushana and Nausicaä challenge and learn from one another is brilliant, and sends ripples out through the rest of the story. Like you pointed out in your commentary on volume 1, Nausicaä risks becoming a “Mary Sue.” The first time I saw the film, I recall thinking that she was almost too-good-to-be-true, superhuman in her capacity for empathy and compassion. In the manga, I feel as though, in many ways, it is Kushana who keeps her more earthly, more complex, and darker (as all earthly things are dark). Nausicaä has important lessons to learn from walking a cursed, crimson path, just as Kushana comes to realize that she need not walk that path forever and alone.
If there is one thing that I disagree with about your post, it is the Le Guin quotation about the opposition of civilization and war—though your own discussion that follows it tells me that you may not agree entirely with it either, on some level. There is no denying that Miyazaki holds no love for war (though he is so gifted at depicting it, and has obvious enthusiasm for drawing military-type aircraft); neither do any of the characters in Nausicaä relish battle (even if they find honour in it). War is always tragic, horrific, even moreso when it slips away from any sense of necessity to become absurd and nihilistic (think of how arbitrary the war in Howl’s Moving Castle turns out to be). But one of the most profound and uncomfortable themes explored in Nausicaä has something to do with the idea that life itself—and not only human life, of which those things we call “culture” and “civilization” are our most treasured forms—life itself is beautiful and sacred, not on its own account, but because it emerges from brutality and always stands, precariously, over an abyss. The value of life comes from its very vulnerability, that it is always being corrupted. It “shines in the darkness,” as Nausicaä herself will assert in the final chapter.
Kudos once again on a great post. I’m looking forward to the next one.
Nothing I love more than to see a giant comment, so thanks!
1.) Yes, Kushana absolutely serves as a foil to Nausicaa. In fact, the main title illustration for the movie directly juxtaposes them (the angel and the serpent). Their paths throughout the story really is fascinating – I could go on and on talking about it. Like Nausicaa, Kushana is practical, capable, and charismatic, but she has no desire to find the moral high ground. That’s why that “it offends me” exchange is so powerful for me. Kushana has fully embraced her role in the bloodshed and sees no other way forward. I don’t get the sense that she revels in getting her hands dirty; it’s more just a means towards her ultimate goal (The reasoning behind that goal will be fully revealed next volume, as you know).
I love your comment on earthy, darker things. Very Daoist. I will hold off on commenting further on it because you have touched on something else I will hopefully remember to explore later on 🙂
2.) Thank you for your critique of quote on war; I love that you have sussed out a little bit of what is to come. But I will hold fast to my choice of it.
If you know the context of that quote from The Left Hand of Darkness, it comes from an outsider commenting on an alien society which, for some very specific reasons that the author gets into, has never engaged in a war. They have individual violence, assassinations, even group skirmishes, but no full-blown war.
Yes, life emerges from darkness (I’ll talk A LOT about that later on as well) and gains meaning through hardship, but war is a different animal entirely. I believe it is specifically the dehumanization, detachment, abstraction of war on a mass scale that both Le Guin and Miyazaki utterly reject. Not violence, not suffering, not corruption, as they are the consequences of being alive. But the entity/phenomena/condition that is war – that’s our own invention.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting, and stay tuned!
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