Welcome to the last two entries of The Nausicaä Project. All the major themes discussed in past entries return in force in the complex, unexpected, and stunning conclusion at the end of this seventh and final volume: Purity and corruption, nature and humanity, revenge and redemption, meaning and nihilism, life and death. You know, all the light and fluffy stuff.
Whew. Let’s get started.
On board Namulith‘s flagship, Kushana questions the Dorok emperor on details about the Master of the Crypt, but he tells her to go visit the crypt at Shuwa and find out for herself. Namulith begs Kushana to kill him, as the pain from his immortal body is too great to bear. Kushana rips his head off and heads up to the upper deck to meet with Nausicaä.
On top of the ship, the newborn God Warrior treats Nausicaä as its mother, wishing to do her bidding and destroy her enemies. When Nausicaä says there are no enemies, it grows impatient and petulant. Realizing her influence on the monster, Nausicaä tells Kushana and Yupa she will take the God Warrior to the crypt of Shuwa to seal its doors. Kushana stays behind with Yupa to land the ship and promises to rendezvous with Nausicaä at the Dorok capital. Namulith’s head, still talking and alive, is blown off the deck and not heard of again.
The God Warrior speeds west towards Shuwa, but Nausicaä quickly grows sick from the pale light it emits. She asks it to land so she can rest. They stop on top of a mountain in the borderlands. The God warrior is also not faring well, with its body showing signs of decay. A scouting party from the two Torumekian princes’ regiment chances upon them, but is incinerated by the God Warrior. Fearing its destructive powers, Nausicaä decides to adopt it as her son and teach it to become “a fine person”. She names it Ohma, a word that means “innocence” in the old tongue. Ohma eagerly accepts his new identity and grows more obedient and intelligent, forming a distinct personality. Nausicaä marvels at this development. She had previously assumed that these machines were created to be simple weapons of death, but now she wonders if they were meant to be something more.
After the accident with the scouting party, Nausicaä gets Ohma to fly them over to Torumekian princes’ fleet, telling the two princes that the Dorok Emperor is dead and that the war is over. She knows that they are after the secrets of Shuwa, but warns them to stay away. Weakened by Ohma’s poisonous light, Nausicaä collapses after her warning. The princes separate Nausicaä from Ohma under the guise of being concerned for her health. Ohma sees through their motivations, but goes along with it for the moment, and takes off in formation with the fleet towards Shuwa. Ohma telepathically communicates with Nausicaä, telling her that it will observe the Torumekians and decide if they deserve to live or not. Rapidly growing in intelligence, Ohma begins to call itself arbitrator, warrior, and judge, the one who metes out justice.
The story returns to the Mito, Asbel, and the wormhandlers. Learning of Nausicaä’s decision to journey to Shuwa, they prepare to meet up with her. The wormhandlers want to join their party so they can serve their deity, but Mito points out that they are carrying too much baggage, as wormhandlers travel with all of their life possessions and their companion worms. After a brief discussion with each other, they decide to sacrifice their possessions and kill off their beloved worms just so they can come along. Asbel looks on, recognizing that once again, Nausicaä is the thread that binds them together, from the Doroks to Kushana and now the wormhandlers.
Back on the mountain of Dorok survivors, Yupa and Kushana show the headless body of Namulith to the Dorok populace. Many rejoice at the death of the immortal tyrant, chanting ancient forbidden scriptures speaking of the end of a polluted world, a new age of purification, and release from life’s burdens.
Disagreements break out between the groups of survivors, and tensions between Torumekian soldiers and aggrieved Doroks come to a head. Dorok women sneak into a Torumekian ship and plant bombs to avenge their dead husbands and children. Yupa discovers the plot and saves the ship, but the ensuing explosion blows off his arm.
Outside in the night, Kushana looks on grimly as she watches Dorok soldiers attempt a sneak attack on her remaining regiment. Preparing for the incoming assault, she stands her ground and readies herself for more bloodshed. But at the last moment, a host of Dorok priests and peasants form a wall between the two opposing forces. Most people have seen too much death and want the fighting to end.
Yet there are those who still crave vengeance. A small group of Dorok soldiers charges Kushana, but Yupa steps in and sacrifices his life to save her, believing that the new world will need her strength and leadership. His sacrifice finally breaks the cycle of violence and hatred between the two groups. With his last remaining breath, he speaks to Kushana, telling her that blood has not sullied but cleansed her.
Far away, Nausicaä senses and grieves for the passing of Yupa; Teto also has died from exposure to Ohma’s light. Nausicaä wants to land to bury her animal companion. Ohma obliges, snatching her and the two princes away from the fleet. He warns the rest of the army to head home with an enormous energy blast, and they have no choice but to retreat.
Ohma sets down by the ruins of an old town. Nausicaä buries Teto underneath an ancient tree, noticing some fresh goat droppings on the ground. A goatherd watches her from the ruins. He approaches, curious to see one grieve for a small creature while being accompanied by a weapon of death. He invites Nausicaä and the two princes into the ruins for a rest and tells Ohma to wait outside. Ohma obeys.
The ruins are an illusion; within its interior lies a garden full of life and knowledge from the old world. Nausicaä recovers from radiation poisoning, but her mind is hazy and she struggles to recall her mission to Shuwa. She finds the two princes lost in bliss inside a vast library, playing music from a lost age. Nausicaä feels overwhelming contentment, but grief from Teto’s death jolts her back to reality; she realizes she is a prisoner in the garden and attempts to escape. Overhead, she spots the valley gunship flying towards Shuwa, but realizes that the garden cannot be seen from the outside. She calls telepathically to them, not knowing if they heard her.
She confronts the goatherd, finally revealed to be an artificial heedra known as the Master of the Garden. Surprised by Nausicaä’s tenacity, the master comments that once in a long while, he gets special visitors like her. Two centuries ago, a boy visited here. He spent time learning from the Master before leaving one day with four heedra with the intention of “saving humanity”. He was Miralupa and Namulith’s father, the first Dorok Holy Emperor.
The Master notes that humans tread the same paths over and over, each believing that they alone are different. Yet he sees that “none can escape from the cycle wherein karma gives birth to karma, sorrow gives birth to sorrow (p.432).” The Master offers Nausicaä the chance to stay in the garden, the only place where cycles of folly can be broken.
Her conviction shaken, Nausicaä summons Selm telepathically for help, and he arrives in spirit. The Master recognizes Selm as one of the forest people, noting that several of them have come to stay with him in the past. The Master then reveals a secret that Selm has kept from Nausicaä. The Forest People have sent scouts to the purified land, but none of them returned alive. The cleansed lands are fatal to humans as they are now.
Selm attempts to shield Nausicaä from this truth, but from it Nausicaä finally deduces the truth of the Sea of Corruption: it is an artificially engineered ecosystem created to cleanse the world after the Seven Days of Fire. The Master states that the creatures of the current world are part of a grand plan, transitional life forms designed to die out and be replaced once the world is reborn.
Selm is rocked by this discovery, believing it will shake the foundations of his tribe because the forest can no longer be considered a sacred and natural lifeform. Yet Nausicaä still feels love for all life, believing that a life is a life, regardless of how it came into being. She notes that the original creators could have never foreseen the complexities of life and the depths of suffering experienced by their creations, by the Ohmu.
The Master of the Garden is sad that Nausicaä has decided to leave. He reveals that this garden is a storehouse, a repository for genetic material and collected knowledge necessary to rebuild the world once the Sea of Corruption has completed its work. The Master claims only things humans deemed necessary have been passed on, but Nausicaä disagrees; she has seen firsthand the horrors that have been leaking out of the crypt. The Master has no response. Along with Selm, she resolves to journey to the crypt of Shuwa. She thanks the Master for giving her a precious moment of bliss and tranquility, even though she could not stay to enjoy it, before leaving the garden.
The Act of Naming
“Before we fly, I want you to listen very carefully to what I have to say. You are a very kind child with very strong powers… But it takes more than power to become a fine person… You have to learn how terrible your powers can be… If you divide the whole world into just enemies and friends, you’ll end up destroying everything… Now, are you going to do as I say and become a fine person? Then I will give you a name.”(Nausicaä to Ohma, p. 343)
In the essay Nausicaä and the Fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki, Andrew Osmond speculates that Miyazaki derived this pivotal sequence from Le Guin’s fictional realm of Earthsea, a world in which true names are true things that contain great power. By adopting a monster of destruction as her offspring and giving it a name and identity rooted in innocence, Nausicaä imbues the newborn God Warrior with both sentience and morality. Desiring to please its small mother and become a “fine person”, Ohma develops both personality and purpose that keeps its power in check. The fact that even an artificial god of death can grow and adapt beyond its original purpose is an important idea I will touch on later.
The Redemption of Kushana
Curiously, Kushana’s arc of redemption comes to a close not of her own volition, but rather through others who recognize her potential even when she cannot see it herself. Yupa, realizing that the world will need her strength and leadership in the days ahead, sacrifices himself so that Kushana can finally break free from the cycle of violence. Chikuku, trusting in Nausicaä’s assessment of Kushana’s gentler and more compassionate side, reaches out to her in friendship. Moved by these gestures and Nausicaä’s own example, Kushana finally arrives at a place where she is able to accept support from those who believe in her, and begins to walk on a new path.
In life, we all crave to be strong and self-sufficient. But some shadows and battles cannot and should not be fought alone. Inner strength and personal conviction are valuable assets, but life is too strange and difficult a journey to endure in solitude. Sometimes other people are able to see our better selves, even when we cannot. Sometimes others have faith that we will find our way even when we are mired in uncertainty and self-doubt. To be able to accept, appreciate, and learn from the support of others is crucial step on the road to redemption and growth.
Miyazaki Breaks His World
The climax of the first half of Volume Seven comes in the form of an incredible exchange between the Master of the Garden and Nausicaä, culminating in the revelation that the lifeforms of the current world are transitional beings created by ancient humans to clean up the contamination caused during the Seven Days of Fire. Nausicaä realizes that the journey she undertook in Volume 6: The Place Dreamed to the purified land can only take place in spirit; humans as they are now have no place in the cleansed future. The vision she communicated to the Doroks is thus a false hope; their extinction is pre-destined and part of the grand plan. There is also no idyllic balance between humanity and nature, because there is in reality no nature at all.
Miyazaki is savage in deconstructing the foundations of his fictional world, a world created by his young and more starry-eyed self. Over the decade-long project, he became increasingly unsatisfied with the harmonious conclusion reached in the movie version of Nausicaä, seeking constantly to ask himself hard questions. How can humans survive in such toxic environments wearing flimsy masks? Why would an ecosystem work selflessly to purify the land when the process of evolution is blind and doesn’t work towards a specific endgoal?
Out of those questions came the startling answers he used to forge the conclusion of the manga, that humans were genetically engineered to tolerate the toxic environment, that the Sea of Corruption was artificially created with a purpose in mind. It is a testament to Miyazaki’s storytelling ability that he is able to address his concerns in the narrative through narrative, being willing to tear down his creation to remake it into a more complex, durable, and meaningful story, one with profound and world-shattering implications.
The Worth of Life
“Every life form, no matter how small, contains the outside universe within its internal universe.” (Nausicaä to the Master, Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 443)
The artificiality of the Sea of Corruption caught me completely off-guard the first time I read it years ago. Like Selm, I was dismayed to discover nature’s beauty and complexity could arise from human hands. But as I touched on in Volume 2: The Acid Lake, the Nausicaä saga constantly asks uncomfortable and necessary questions about perception and values on life. In a time where the ethics of synthetic biology are becoming increasingly relevant, these are questions worth asking. Does human involvement in the processes of life diminish its beauty and value? Are genetically modified organisms inherently worth less than conventionally bred organisms? Are the miracles of biology lessened because humans had a helping hand in a creature’s development? How do we separate judgement of the lifeform from the creator?
Nausicaä’s stance is firm and unwavering. To her, a life is a life, regardless of how it came into being. She understands that it is the nature of life to transcend its limitations, to grow in complexity and adapt to ever-changing surroundings. Over and over throughout the saga, artificial beings are shown to grow beyond their creator’s intentions. The mutant mold rejected Dorok containment and destroyed their lands. The Ohmu, originally intended to act as mere seedbeds for the spread of the Sea of Corruption, became intelligent and compassionate creatures. Even Ohma, a weapon bred for war, develops a personality, with fears and a desire to please its small mother and become a “fine person”.
A Second Rejection of Utopia
After refusing life in the forest with Selm, Nausicaä rejects life where she can be free of her burdens in a literal Eden. Once again, her attachment to the world grounds her and helps her break free from the hold of the Master, this time coming chiefly in the form of her grief for Teto and her love for Ohma.
Realizing the price for staying in paradise is too high, Nausicaä chooses to stay bound to the worries and messiness that is life. Nevertheless, she thanks the Master for offering her a moment of tranquility before continuing on her journey. This rejection of utopia marks the second time she has steered away from the easy road. It will not be the last.
Next Up: The conclusion of the Nausicaä saga.
- Nausicaa Vol. 2: The Acid Lake
- Know Thyself: A Wizard of Earthsea
- Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-wild World
Miyazaki, Hayao. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – Deluxe Edition 1 & 2. Translation by David Lewis and Toren Smith. Viz Media, LLC: San Fransisco, 2012.
Osmond, Andrew. (1998). Nausicaa and the Fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki. Retrieved from http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/nausicaa/article_ao_foundation.txt.
Saitani, Ryo. (1995). 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 © 1991, 1993, 1994 Nibariki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. New and adapted artwork and text © 2004 VIZ media, LLC.