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Nausicaä Vol. 4: Catastrophe

Nausicaa and the kids (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.421)

Overjoyed, the Dorok soldiers outside Sapata throw down their weapons to reunite with freed family members. For a brief moment, there is relief and joy. But there remains a war to be fought. The Dorok commander Charuka suspects the release of the prisoners as part of a Torumekian plot, but the Sapatan elder informs him that it was the blue clad one who commanded the release. Desiring to learn more about Nausicaä, Charuka listens to the story of a woman with two infants. The woman explains that she was approached to care for them; having lost her own children in the war, she agreed. Before leaving Sapata, Nausicaä offers her a pair of earrings in gratitude.

Charuka offers the woman money and council in exchange for the earrings, warning her to get upwind as soon as possible. The Sapatan elder realizes that Miralupa means to cover Sapata with the toxic jungle to wipe out the Torumekians; he pleads desperately with Charuka to spare his people’s homeland.

Sapatan elder pleads with Charuka. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.422)

Sapatan elder pleads with Charuka. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.422)

With her obligations met, Nausicaä prepares to leave Sapata. Overwhelmed with the casualties of the war, she feels compelled to keep moving to avoid drowning in grief. She takes off towards the south and doesn’t look back.

Meanwhile, Charuka travels to Miralupa’s ship where novel strains of fungal spores are being developed. He asks the scientists how long it takes for the poisons activated by the spores to dissipate, and is shocked to learn they have not given the issue too much thought. Instead, the scientists seem more excited about the development of a new mutant strain of mold capable of rapid growth. Unsettled, Charuka heads off to meet with Miralupa, urging him to reconsider the use of spores on Sapata. Miralupa is unmoved, believing that the greatest threat to the Dorok Empire is a weakening respect for authority. He believes that using the toxic jungle will reassert the might and terror of the ruling council he commands.

Dread and Worship

The importance of dread and worship. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.430)

The story shifts back to Yupa, Asbel, and Ketcha deep within the Sea of Corruption. They walk past the petrified ruins of Eftal, a great kingdom engulfed by the jungle over two centuries ago and is still in the process of being cleansed. Yupa asks Selm if there are any lands from the Seven Days of Fire a thousand years ago that have been completely purified, but Selm cryptically replies that they are forbidden to speak of those places. Before Yupa and company part ways with the Forest People, Yupa speaks of Nausicaä to Selm, in case they meet in the future.

Meanwhile, while searching for Yupa, Mito suddenly finds himself in the midst of a Dorok fleet that has captured the God Warrior from Pejitei. Mito attempts to destroy the creature, but it proves impervious to weapons fire. The gunship takes heavy damage from the Dorok ships and has to retreat.

Asbel, Yupa, and Ketcha notices the battle overhead and track down the damaged gunship. Yupa and Mito reunite and discuss the current situation at length while Asbel repairs the ship. At night, Yupa and Ketcha notices a mass migration of insects, all moving south.

The action switches back to Kushana and Kurotowa. They embark on a daring mission to commandeer ships from the main Torumekian army in hopes of breaking the siege back at Sapata. Complications arise when a massive swarm of insects are also heading towards the encampment. Kushana decides to take advantage of the situation, using news of the swarm to sow chaos and confusion within the main Torumekian army so her small battalion can steal as many ships as possible.

Kushana and an injured Kurotowa ((Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.476)

Kushana and Kurotowa are captured. ((Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.476)

The plan fails as Kushana’s ship is rammed and destroyed by her brother’s armoured corvette. Kurotowa is gravely injured, and Kushana is brought before her brother where she is taunted and mocked. Realizing the direness of the situation, Kurotowa creates a distraction and forces Kushana’s brother to retreat and escape before the impending insect swarm. Stranded on the ground, Kushana flees on foot with her few remaining soldiers, carrying Kurotowa on her shoulders as she seeks refuge from the insects. She watches as a massive swarm descend upon her brother’s ship, destroying it in an instant. She stares, not quite believing that her revenge against him had been so quick and simple.

Huddled in a trench as insects decimate the remaining Torumekian army, Kushana recalls back to her last day in Tolas, the Torumekian capital, before departing for the Periphery campaign and a final visit to her mother’s. The flashback reveals that her mother was driven mad by a poison intended for a teenage Kushana. Ever since that time, Kushana has waited for her chance to exact revenge on the members of the royal family responsible. As death in the form of giant insects approaches, she finds herself at peace, singing a lullaby to her men.

Journeying south, Nausicaä chances upon small forested shrine in an oasis, discovering that it is still being worshipped. A telepathic child named Chikuku appears and leads her to a hidden cave full of blind old monks. They explain that this sanctuary was constructed long ago to preserve the ancient teachings deemed heretical by the current Dorok Holy emperor, including the ancient prophecy of the blue-clad one. The monks warn Nausicaä that the Daikaisho, a great boiling over of the toxic jungle, will happen soon to purify the land. They accept this inevitability, believing that the resulting suffering and death is but a trial for the rebirth of the world.  Troubled by this confirmation, Nausicaä finds herself at odds with their philosophy; she refuses to do nothing about an impending apocalypse that will bring annihilation to so many.

Outside, another insect swarm pass by the oasis, contaminating the sanctuary with miasma. Nausicaä rushes back inside to warn the monks, but discovers they have all passed away. She flees with Chikuku on her glider to follow the insects, converging at Miralupa ship. Onboard, a mutant strain of mold has breached containment and is growing out of control. Nausicaä finally understands the reason for the mass migration: The insects had sensed the creation of the artificial molds and flew to contain the potential outbreak. Charuka urges Miralupa to abandon ship, but Miralupa detects Nausicaa nearby and focuses his telepathic energies on destroying her. Nausicaä lands aboard the ship and confronts Miralupa’s shadow. This time, the young Chikuku is the one who protects her, shooting Miralupa in the eyes with his blowdart. Frustrated and injured, Miralupa is forced to return to his body and is evacuated back to the Dorok capital of Shuwa.

Confrontation with Miralupa

Confronting Miralupa’s shadow. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.515)

Charuka stays behind to contain the mold, knowing that if it lands on Dorok soil, it will consume his country. He initiates the ship’s self-destruct and prepares to sacrifice himself, but Nausicaä takes him away on her glider before the ship explodes. Unfortunately, a portion of the mold survives and glides down to the earth.  The insect swarm attempts to devour the mutant mold to neutralize it, but die by the masses, being unable to tolerate its engineered virulence. Their dead bodies further fuel the explosive growth of the mold.

Charuka breaks his arm during a rough landing back to solid ground. Nausicaä tends to him while trying to hold herself together as she sees the landscape littered with insect corpses. Attempting to race off again, she doesn’t notice her glider stalling out, falls and is knocked unconscious. Charuka is conflicted at how to deal with an enemy of the state but the saviour of him and his people. He decides to tend to her, calling a nearby Dorok ship for assistance.

Doubts about the enemy (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.537)

Doubts about the enemy. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.537)

Onboard the new ship, Charuka is furious to see a group of scientists delighting at the mold’s ability to produce a miasma that can overcome masks. He orders them to work on a countermeasure for the poisons before going to speak with Nausicaä, with Chikuku serving as their telepathic translator. He returns Nausicaä’s earrings to her and repairs her glider, but says that he cannot do anything else for her since she is still an enemy of his lord. Nausicaä asks Charuka about the nature of the mold, but Charuka remains guarded, still dismissing the possibility of the Daikaisho.

But news from the front is bleak. The mold has grown immense, spreading concentrated toxic miasma over a vast territory. Villages and towns have been wiped out, and countless of lives have been lost.  The Dorok fleet is in shambles, damaged by heavy insect swarms and filled to the brim with refugees with no homes.

Resting onboard the ship, Nausicaä suddenly senses an intense hatred emanating from below. She bursts into the cockpit and orders them to fly upwards. Down below, a portion of the mold has extended itself in an attempt to swallow the ship. Nausicaä realizes that it is trying to reunite with the remaining canisters of engineered molds on board. She throws a breached container overboard while Charuka orders the crew to jettison any remaining materials.

Down below, the mold begins to expand outwards, searching the devastated landscape for other sources of food. Recognizing the potential scale of destruction, Charuka finally resolves to work with Nausicaä to save his people from an impending catastrophe. 

Letting go of Hatred and Revenge

Off to smash some fangs. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.491)

For vengeance and revenge. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.491)

In the midst of the destruction of the Torumekian fleet, Kushana’s backstory and primary motivation are revealed: She seeks revenge on those in the royal family who drove her mother mad. For me, this quiet and minimalistic flashback sequence, contrasted against the wild and chaotic backdrop of war, provides one of the most gripping moments in the saga. Huddled in a trench with her regiment, Kushana arrives at the end of her journey for revenge. She witnesses the demise of her brother and is surprised by its ease and senselessness. It is what she hoped for, but not at all what she imagined it would be. She not only realizes that his death will not bring back her mother’s sanity, but the deed actually grants her little satisfaction or reprieve:

I was completely empty… I was oblivious to the terrible scene before me, except for the overwhelming sadness of the warmth of my men’s bodies. Suddenly I found myself doing just as Nausicaa had said. She said that if you cast aside your hatred and fear, the insects will not attack. (Vol. 2, Hardcover Edition, p. 50)

Facing imminent death, Kushana chooses to walk Nausicaä’s path. She discards her rage and hatred, sings a lullaby to her men, and is spared from the insect horde.

Kushana's Lullaby

Kushana’s lullaby. (Vol. 1 Hardcover Edition, p. 492)

When someone has wronged us, it is easy and comforting to cling onto the injustice and surrender to our base impulses. We can take great pleasure in being vindictive and hurtful. But indulging in this just perpetuates a cycle of internal and external suffering. In the end, we can never make another fully feel the depth of our pain, the pain we must always endure in solitude. One holds on to grudges at the risk of becoming a bitter and jaded husk, or worse, losing one’s self in the process.

 “There’s not much difference between being at the mercy of desire and being a prisoner of hatred.” (Kushana, Vol. 2, Hardcover Edition, p. 50)

When forgiveness is impossible, choosing to let go of hatred becomes the next best option. Letting go is not done to condone the hurtful deed, but rather a personal choice made to free oneself from being a perpetual victim of the act. As Kushana demonstrates, letting go is in reality an act of self-love, one that can lead to personal salvation and understanding. As always, this is easier said than done. For Kushana, it took nothing less than death itself for her to realize this truth.

 Curiosity and Cleverness Unchecked

In this volume, we are introduced to a host of Dorok scientists, all busy at work creating artificial spores for the war effort. Like the tribal elders at the wormhandler enclave in The Acid Lake, they see life simply as another form of technology for manipulation. Given access to old world technologies  from the crypt of Shuwa, their enthusiasm and curiosity would be admirable if they were not actively developing weapons of mass destruction. The ethics of whether they should or shouldn’t doesn’t enter into their thinking; they have become so narrowly focused on solving specific issues – increased toxicity, faster growth, larger spores – that they are effectively blind to any potential side-effects or ramifications resulting from their work. More disturbing is the notion that they perhaps don’t care in the first place.

The characterization of these scientists is Miyazaki at his most cynical. He depicts them as out of touch, parasitic yes-men with no morals; he does not even give any of them a face. There’s a hilarious moment in the midst of the unfolding tragedy where Miralupa demands to know where the scientists are, only for Charuka to respond that they have all been consumed by the mold. Oops. I imagine Miyazaki experiencing a cathartic moment creating that particular exchange, sketching furiously while having a good chuckle.

Question:

  • Is Miyazaki’s critique on the lack of ethics in the application of novel technologies fair? Why or why not?

The Unpredictability of Kindness

(Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.427)

A conflicted Charuka. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.427)

Nausicaä’s decision to save the two Dorok infants in the last chapter triggers a chain of events that alters the lives of all involved. Because of that one decision, two babies have a chance to grow up, and a woman who lost her own children in the war becomes a mother once again. Through her deed, Charuka begins to sincerely question the motivations of his lord, and in so doing begins to break free of dogma and finds the courage to rectify his mistakes. Everything comes full circle at the end of the chapter when he resolves to aid Nausicaä to save the world from disaster.

“It is a terrible thing, this kindness that human beings do not lose. Terrible, because when we are finally naked in the dark and cold, it is all we have. We, who are so rich, so full of strength, we end up with that small change. We have nothing else to give.” (The Left Hand of Darkness, p. 170)

Nausicaä single act of kindness, driven by her staunch love for all life, becomes a powerful weapon against mistrust and conflict. A cynic like Kurotowa, no matter how capable and calculating, could have never foresaw this chain of events. One of the reasons I love this story as much as I do is that Miyazaki constantly injects these small human moments throughout the saga as counters to terrible sweeping events, perhaps to remark that even in the darkest times, people practicing random acts of kindness can still affect meaningful change.

Philosophies of Life and Death

At the ancient forested shrine, Nausicaä stumbles upon a surprising revelation. The blind monks tell her that the impending Daikaisho was foretold, a part of God’s will to cleanse the old world to make room for a new pure world. While they both acknowledge that this path is the result of the continuing folly of humans in positions of power, Nausicaä rejects the monks’ fatalistic philosophy, one that demands destruction and purification in exchange for rebirth. Looking only at the big picture, the monks are able to detach themselves from worldly burdens, but Nausicaä cannot. She lives in the moment, immersed in the details, struggling for and with every life she encounters. She rejects the monk’s acceptance of things because she sees and feels the enormity of the injustice inflicted upon all the innocent people and creatures:

… Why must the plants and the birds and the insects suffer as well? So many will die. Who will atone for the pain and sadness of the Ohmu? (Nausicaä, Vol. 1, Hardcover Edition, p. 499)

I also love the contradiction between how Nausicaä is perceived and who she strives to be. Nausicaä loves life in all its forms, but Chikuku and the blind monks regard her as an apostle that brings about the apocalypse. A girl that fights for life is also regarded as a messiah of death. This conflicting notions will come into prominence later on in the story.

Choosing life (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.499)

Acceptance vs action. (Vol.1, Hardcover Edition, p.499)

Half way into the story, Miyazaki is beginning to tackle some rather heady questions that have relevance to the real world. How do we balance the grand vision with the day-to-day details? Are the great problems we face solvable or are they part of the human condition? Where is the line between acceptance and action? I welcome your thoughts.

Next Up: Nausicaä Volume 5 – Daikaisho

Related Ekostories

Reference

Le Guin, Ursula K. (1969) The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace Paperback Edition. Penguin Publishing: New York, 2003.

Miyazaki, Hayao. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – Deluxe Edition 1 & 2. Translation by David Lewis and Toren Smith. Viz Media, LLC: San Fransisco, 2012.

9 Comments

  1. “Is Miyazaki’s critique on the lack of ethics in the application of novel technologies fair?” Well, he definitely has a bias against the developing technologies, though that’s understandable, given the scale of the cost.

    With this series, he has given himself room to stretch out more and explore all of the various people groups, some of which weren’t seen in the movie. And I’m glad you covered Kushana’s fate. Her story was so truncated in the movie. Her tale is quite compelling.

    Great question the line between acceptance and action. We can act when action is called for. But we have to fight against apathy (and inertia).

    • Part of me is troubled by the caricaturization of the scientists to the point where they’re fumbling idiots who only can see the problem in front of them. But then another part of me realizes that’s really how we operate on a regular basis when we fail to make the connections between our actions and their potential consequences.

      Yeah, Kushana is an intriguing character. Her story’s not done yet though. Stay tuned!

      I struggle with knowing when to act and when to accept. Sometimes I find myself accepting circumstances too easily and going along with the flow, and sometimes I fight for something at great personal cost. It’s difficult to know what to do.

  2. Isaac,
    I don’t like apocalyptic thinking. Yet, it has been around for a very long time in many cultures and seems to be a way of coping with the brutal aspects of nature, injustices, and life and death, and relies on the idea that some day there will be divine justice for a chosen few. I remember the first time that I read Revelations and felt appalled by it. I couldn’t understand why only some people would be saved while most of the earth would have to be destroyed.

    Like Nausica, I believe we need to find a new way of living where all of life can be saved. I’m an idealist and a believer in the positive powers of technology as well, in that I believe that we can create a better world. Like you say, it’s the challenge between a lofty ideal vision of peace and prosperity and the day-to-day reality of living that is tough.

    Thanks for the recap of this powerful story, and giving me some questions to consider more deeply.

    Karen

    • It’s interesting that it’s such a universal concept, isn’t it? The notion of purification and rebirth is pretty common across cultures. I guess many human civilizations have those crazy wild swings between prosperity and catastrophe, and something is needed to make sense of a very complex socioeconomical and ecological issue.

      It’s interesting you mention the difficulties of maintaining the ideal while doing the hard work of living. I personally believe striving for that balance gives life genuine meaning. This is also an integral part of the story later on.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. Hi Isaac. I’d never heard of this story before I started following your blog. It sounds very interesting, and your love of it really shows in how thoughtfully you write about it. I looked it up and see that there was a movie made out of the first 16 chapters. Do you recommend it as an entry point for someone whose not really accustomed to manga?

    • Hi Jonanne,

      Thanks very much for reading! Yes, the movie is a good starting point. It effectively covers the first two volumes I’ve gone over here, with a few significant deviations, ending with a deux ex machina that doesn’t happen in the manga. It’s a lot more simplistic in terms of themes and characterizations, but gives you a feel for the world and the protagonist. So yeah, check it out.

  4. Great job once again, Isaac.

    Kushana’s story becomes extremely moving in this chapter, and I think that her revelation about revenge, which you unpack very nicely, shows her becoming very much like Nausicaä’s double or her mirror image.

    For me, the monks Nausicaaä finds mid-way through this chapter are only slightly less terrifying than the being she encounters in the crypt at Shuwa (about which I will remain vague for those who don’t want to be spoiled). In fact, I think that the two are complimentary in many ways, and point to a philosophical and ethical critique that is my own primary take-away from the book. These ghoulish, unnatural, undead creatures are committed to a vision of a world reborn into purity from the utter destruction of the present world, some sort of paradisical existence where humanity transcends to a higher form and is divorced from suffering and death. Nausicaaä knows, however, that this is nihilism of the highest order, that such a vision is about conquering and annihilating the world to selfish ends. For her, to love life is to strive for a better world here and now, rather than to hold out hope for a more perfect life beyond this one. What I find contemptuous about the shrivelled monks is their utter passivity of their faith. They just sit in their shrine, endlessly dying, waiting to proclaim a destruction that they don’t even have the courage to witness themselves.

    Ultimately, Nausicaä is an apocalyptic figure, but don’t forget that the Greek word “apocalypse” doesn’t mean “catastrophe” or “destruction.” It is a revelation, as the Biblical text translates it—a revealing or an uncovering, like pulling aside a veil or lifting a lid. Nausicaä’s revelation is about the possibility of transforming this world without subduing or obliterating it. I feel that, if Miyazaki is critical of contemporary science and technology, it is that contemporary pursuits in these fields are put into the service of these nihilistic ends. The things we create to enhance human life—or the lives of particular groups of human beings—may be actively destructive in only the most extreme cases, yet the products of science and technology seem most often to promote (certain) people’s way of life at the expense of others, both human and nonhuman.

    • 1.) Thinking more about Kushana being a foil for Nausicaa, I realize that the next volume is really about the both of them faltering, albeit in different ways. I’ll try to remember to address this, thanks!

      2.) Concerning the monks – this is what happens when there is detachment from worldly concerns. I like your take that this unbalanced approach is essentially a cowardly act, a form of running away instead of facing life’s challenges. Whether it is in an ivory tower or in a monastery in the mountains, Miyazaki seems to suggest that seeking enlightenment at the expense of experiencing the daily toils of life is not only unhealthy, but can become actively dangerous. To possess worldly burdens is to understand the full range of the human condition. People may perceive Nausicaa the story as an “environmental” story, but what I love about it is that Miyazaki actually infuses his protagonist with a very humanistic streak. She loves not just nature, but also people and tries always to have faith in them.
      I actually wrote about this in a piece on the show Avatar: The Last Airbender.

      3.) Wonderful comment concerning the technology question I posed. Your comment makes me speculate that Miyazaki is actively critical against technologies that have the potential to strip us of our humanity, especially they are developed from the premise of developing a grander and more convenient society. Without the feedback loops that trigger our ethics and morals and empathy, we are capable of doing some terrible things, and that’s what he has an issue with. In Nausicaa, he draws the line at the development of a bioengineered weapon of mass destruction, which operates remotely and indiscriminately on an incomprehensible scale.

      Really appreciate the time and effort you put into the comments. It makes me think more deeply in the work as well.

  5. Pingback: Series-ously! | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

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