A wounded Miralupa is transported back to the Dorok capital of Shuwa, where a team of surgeons works to repair his decrepit and deteriorating body. Recuperating inside an immersion tank, he warns his older brother Namulith of the threat the blue-clad one poses to their Empire. Namulith dismisses his concerns and seizes on Miralupa’s moment of weakness, pouring poison into the tank. After a century of playing second fiddle to Miralupa with his psychic abilities, Namulith finally has the chance to emerge from the shadows. He checks on the God Warrior brought from Pejitei before mustering a force of heedras, immortal cactus-like behemoths that helped his father conquer the Dorok Lands, to head off to the front lines.
Meanwhile, Yupa and company arrive south to assess the devastated Dorok lands. They learn that the remaining Torumekian army is in full retreat, burning fields and anything they can’t carry, ensuring any survivors will starve by the coming winter. Mito comments that this is a scene from hell. Yupa laments that both the Doroks and the Torumekians have suffered casualties they will never recover from.
Hiding in the trenches and wearing heavy masks, Kushana, Kurotowa, and a few survivors spot the valley gunship overhead and signal for help. Realizing who she is, Asbel rushes straight for Kushana, sword in hand, to seek revenge for the genocide at Pejitei. Yupa holds him in check and tells him to look around. Corpses litter the landscape: more death will do no good.
Kushana provides news of Nausicaä and the Dorok weaponization of the miasma; Yupa is stunned at the folly of the council of priests. Kushana admits that in the past she would have done the same if the situation was reversed, but Nausicaä has changed her. Kushana recounts her experience of casting aside her hatred and fear, but confesses it is not a road she is strong enough to stay on. Nausicaä, Kushana claims, is a far better person that she could ever be.
Kushana and Yupa speak of the last Daikaisho that swallowed the kingdom of Eftal from three centuries ago. According to ancient records, more lives were lost in subsequent fighting for the remaining land than during the apocalypse itself. Both Yupa and Kushana recognize history repeating itself. The surviving Doroks will set their sights on Torumekia, and war for resources will begin anew. Desperation perpetuates the cycle that will lead to more follies and tragedies.
The story switches back to Nausicaä. Charuka’s campaign against the mold continues, but Nausicaä senses that the days of bombings have only intensified the hatred of the mold. Multiple bodies of mold have spawned in different areas, consuming everything in their path while attempting to merge with each other. Nausicaä fears that if they join up, they will generate enough spores to blanket the world.
Charuka notices how pale and worn Nausicaä has become; she describes coming across countless villages wiped out, roads littered with corpses, dead children hidden in ovens. Artificially created for destruction, the mold only seems only to know hate towards others and fear for its short lifespan. Nausicaä states that she has never met such a terrible creature.
Sleeping, Nausicaä dreams of the god worshipped by the blind monks. He proclaims that all is proceeding as planned, that the Age of Purification is upon them: The world will be consumed and a new pure one shall emerge. Nausicaä once again rejects this vision of the future. This time, the god accuses her of being a hypocrite, merely a member of a cursed race that is better off purged. The vision of a single Ohmu suddenly intrudes into the dream. Nausicaä urges it to go back north before waking up. Disturbed, she sets out alone in search of the Ohmu.
Onboard, Charuka is stunned to come across a mass of Dorok survivors that have taken refuge from the miasma at the top of a hill. Seeing Nausicaä leaving on her glider, the people cry out to her, believing her to be the great white bird of salvation. Charuka discovers that the villagers all heard a voice that warned them of the impending miasma and told them to seek safety on the highest hills. Much to his annoyance, the people begin to chant old pagan scriptures that have been banned by Miralupa. With Nausicaä gone, Charuka confronts Chikuku, who admits that he helped deliver warnings with his telepathic powers. In line with his own teachings, Chikuku believes that Nausicaä is truly the white-winged apostle that will bring salvation.
Nausicaä soon discovers the lone Ohmu dying in the midst of the mutant mold. She pleads with it to warn its kin to go back to the Sea of Corruption, that there is nothing in the south for them but death. The Ohmu tells her that their species have always felt close to her, that the Ohmu will come here and become forest. Nausicaä is confused, but closer observation reveals that a profusion of fungi are sprouting from the Ohmu’s body, growing rapidly within the miasma. She realizes that the dying Ohmu is serving as a seedbed for the mold, and that the Ohmu intend to merge with the mutant mold to create a new Sea of Corruption. Nausicaä is overwhelmed by the revelation. She flies to the top of a hill overlooking the convergence point and waits for the arrival of the rest of the herd.
With the help of the valley gunship, Kushana returns to the besieged city of Sapata only to find her regiment gone. She finds signs of a vicious battle, and chances upon the corpse of a Heedra. A survivor reveals that the main army escaped upwind of the miasma, having been warned by Nausicaä and Chikuku. A few soldiers remained to wait for Kushana before they were overwhelmed by the heedras.
The heedras emerge to ambush Yupa and Kushana. Overmatched, Yupa calls for retreat, but Kushana decides to make a last stand. She is denied death, however, and is instead captured and taken back to Namulith’s ship; Yupa follows closely behind.
On board, Yupa confronts Namulith, who reveals that he intends to make Kushana his bride. Kushana awakens in a fit of rage, killing the crew and setting fire to the ship’s quarters before heading up to the bridge. Bemused, Namulith calmly offers her a place alongside him to build a twilight kingdom together. With the Dorok Principalities destroyed by the mold, Namulith plans to invade Torumekia, but he will need Kushana’s loyal regiment to do it.
The story switches back to Nausicaä. She awakens on the hill to discover that the Forest people have also arrived to witness the Daikaisho. After a brief chat with Selm’s sister, Nausicaä takes off again. Overwhelmed by the revelation that the Ohmu are sacrificing themselves to neutralize the man-made mutant mold, Nausicaä chooses to surrender her life to be with the Ohmu and become the new forest. Landing upon an Ohmu, Nausicaä comes to realize that the Daikaisho is not a form of punishment or revenge for human foolishness. Rather, the forces of nature are simply trying to heal the planet.
Nausicaä arrives at the convergence point. From the corpse of the first scout a giant fungal tree has sprouted; she speculates there is something in Ohmu blood that stimulates fungal growth. As the mutant molds converge, the Ohmu swallows Nausicaä into its body. In the distance, Chikuku telepathically senses that Nausicaä is gone.
Nature Cleans up Humanity’s Mess
I don’t need the nothingness to tell me that we are a cursed people. We’re the ugliest of all creatures. We do nothing but harm to the earth – plundering it and polluting and burning it. (Nausicaä, Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 139)
In this volume, Nausicaä discovers that the insect swarms are heading off to contain the outbreak of the bioengineered mutant mold. While this mass migration spells disaster for humans and the insects that sacrificed themselves, consider the bigger picture. The Sea of Corruption has greatly expanded its range, bringing an invasive foreign species back into balance with the rest of the environment. Through its diverse assemblages of flora and fauna, polluted lands are being bioremediated so that they will be eventually be free of contamination. Viewed in this context, the Daikaisho is simply an acceleration of the earth’s repair processes.
I love how the world of Nausicaä is a complete subversion of the typical barren apocalyptic future in which life support systems are damaged and in decline. Here life proliferates in abundance, creating conditions suitable for more life while cleansing the world of the toxins from another age. It’s just a shame that there doesn’t seem to be room left for human beings (except maybe to live as Forest People), but it serves as a reminder that nature is not humane, plays no favourites, and will go on with or without us.
As the Daikaisho unfolds, the remaining survivors are desperate to cling onto anything that can offer them hope. As I wrote in Volume 2: The Acid Lake, human beings crave stories because they provide us with meaning in a chaotic world. What’s fascinating here is how the Dorok peasants have mashed various myths and prophecies of salvation together, resulting in a distorted tale that is nothing like Charuka’s faith. From the blue-clad one and the white-winged apostle to God’s great bird of salvation, Miyazaki seems to suggest that no grand myth, doctrine, and vision can or should stay untainted and pristine. The processes of life and living necessitate change, adaptation, and flexibility; the only sure, pure thing we have in this world, in the end, is death.
are soft and tender.
Corpses are hard and stiff.
The ten thousand things,
the living grass, the trees,
are soft, pliant.
Dead, they’re dry and brittle.
So hardness and stiffness
go with death;
go with life…
(Chapter 76 – Hardness, Tao Te Ching: An English Version)
I won’t say too much more for now, only that this is something Miyazaki will explore in earnest in the final two volumes.
Namulith and Nihilism
Most characters require a great deal of work to flesh out. They need to be properly introduced, demand complex motivations for their actions, and must go through long narrative arcs of redemption and growth in order to become memorable. Then there are characters like Namulith who become so immediately iconic that they are impossible to forget. Unlike the strategizing and scheming Miralupa, Namulith cares nothing about politics or people. Learning that the Dorok principalities have been destroyed, he laughs at his brother’s mess and decides to carve out his place in the world simply to watch it burn.
People like Namulith cannot be reached; they live only in the moment, wielding power and privilege for personal gains. They follow a life philosophy of nihilistic hedonism, a selfish and destructive path that seeks temporary pleasure and novelty but ultimately has no meaning and accomplishes nothing.
“I have waited in the shadows for the time when I could live out fiery days of horror and ecstasy.” (Dorok Emperor Namulith, Hardcover Edition, Second Volume, p. 16)
Such a deliciously chilling quote from a diabolical character. Goosebumps every time.
“It seems I’ve solved the puzzle of your princess to some extent. But I could never do it again. No, I don’t even want to try to emulate her. With all this fierce, burning anger inside, for me to have felt not contempt and hatred, but sorrow…” (Kushana, Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 51)
The emotional core of the story has always revolved around Kushana and Nausicaä. In this volume, we see both of them falter. After being rescued by the Valley gunship crew, Kushana admits that while she followed Nausicaä’s advice of letting go of hatred and fear, she is not strong enough to continue on that path. Later aboard Namulith’s ship, she reverts to what she does best, leaving a trail of blood and destruction in her wake.
Walking the road for a while and keeping to it are two very different things. To live our lives constantly in line with our values and morals is a daunting task, even if we know it is something we should strive for. As humans, we all falter, make mistakes, and revert to our old and easy ways of thinking and acting. Kushana’s journey reminds me that the path of redemption, growth, and maturity isn’t a linear road with an end goal, but rather an uncertain process with twists and turns, enacted through daily personal choice and constant internal struggle. At this point in the story, Kushana has seen the light, but falls back to the path of bloodshed and destruction she knows so well. From her decision to seek death’s solitude at the hands of Namulith’s heedras, she appears resigned to her fate and genuinely believes she is not worth saving.
Yet there are those who will think otherwise.
The Fall of Nausicaä
Confronted with the overwhelming scale of human suffering and death, the unrelenting hatred of the artificial mold, and the sacrifice of her beloved Ohmu, the Daikaisho pushes Nausicaä past her breaking point. Our superhuman heroine, so full of compassion for others and beloved in return, gives up. Succumbing to despair when faced with the unfolding apocalypse, she decides to seek death and solace with the Ohmu and become part of the new Sea of Corruption.
In Volume 1: The Valley of the Wind, I mentioned one of Vonnegut’s rule for writing a short story: The author must make awful things happen to leading characters so that readers can see what they are made of. Miyazaki evidently took this rule to heart. Over the first half of the saga, we have seen horrific events unfold around Nausicaä. We have come to see her character tested and know she is stronger, sterner, and wiser than any normal person can hope to be. But the burdens she shoulders is more than anyone can handle alone. As I wrote in the Brené Brown piece, Nausicaä is also highly vulnerable; her open heart is both her main source of strength and weakness. Here her love for life tragically gets her into trouble; she is overwhelmed by the collapse of both the natural and the human world. For me, her decision to descend into the ultimate darkness is undoubtedly the emotional climax of the saga so far.
Yet as with Kushana, Nausicaä’s fate is not only her own. Even though she has given up, others subjected to her empathy and love have not. The Ohmu, recognizing her as a kindred spirit and her unique role as mediator between nature and humans, choose to preserve her in stasis. Because of that bond of empathy, Nausicaä’s journey does not end, but is rather channeled inwards into a personal inner quest.
The Light of the World
In light of her decision to die with the Ohmu, Miyazaki offers his heroine a moment of repose. Even though the panels are drawn in black and white, Miyazaki manages to convey a profound beauty and serenity to his fictional universe. I can see what Nausicaä sees when she looks out from the hill: the grandeur of the vista, the joy of life’s play, the vitality of the world.
“For first we two must stand upon the balance point, the very fulcrum of the world. And if I fall, you fall, and all the rest… For a while, for a while. No darkness lasts forever. And even there, there are stars…” (The Farthest Shore, p. 205)
These brief scenes of tranquility in the backdrop of an apocalypse help ground the saga in the moment while providing perspective. They remind me that beyond tragedies enacted and atrocities committed, a greater world will continue to exist and change according to its own rhythms and processes. Even in the bleakest times, there is still opportunity for light, beauty, and wonder.
Next Up: Nausicaä Vol. 6 – The Place Dreamed.
- Nausicaa Vol. 1: The Valley of the Wind
- Nausicaa Vol. 2: The Acid Lake
- The Power of Vulnerabilty, by Brené Brown
- The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin, Ursula K. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1997.
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Farthest Shore. New York: Simon Pulse, 2001.
Miyazaki, Hayao. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – Deluxe Edition 2. Translation by David Lewis and Toren Smith. Viz Media, LLC: San Fransisco, 2012.