Recommended reads #2

Because I do not feel like a flippant post after yesterday’s quite serious topic, I decided it is time for the next installment of the recommended reads posts.

This one is going to be about Hayao Miyazaki‘s manga/ graphic novel, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which was first published from 1982 to 1984 in a number of installments. Parts of the book were later turned into an anime film of the same name.

In his sprawling magnum opus, Miyazaki portrays a post-apocalyptic world, 1’000 years after the mythical Seven Days of Fire, when a cataclysmic global conflict left behind a world of poisoned seas and bioengineered forests saturated with fungal spores brimming with organisms inimical to the scattered remains of humanity, which is barely clinging on at the fringes of this Sea of Corruption. Of course none of this stops wars and conflicts between the various remaining factions and nations, mainly the Torumekians and the Dorok nation. The arms race between these two causes an escalation within the Sea of Corruption, provoking exponential growth and mutation of the forest, which sets a process in motion towards a daikaisho (which translates as a tidal wave), threatening to cover all of the remaining land and smother all life there.

Enter Nausicaä, the princess of the Valley of the Wind. Her perception of the natural world differs from that of others, establishing bonds to the trilobite-like Ohmu and other creatures of the forest. But before a balance can be re-established, Nausicaä has to confront demons from the past and try to convince the Torumekian King and the Dorok Emperor of the danger they are placing humanity in.

In this timeless story, Miyazaki touches upon many themes, such as deep-ecology, the interconnection between humanity and the natural world, the consequences of greed for power and influence, as well as friendship, courage and standing up for what is right and necessary. Miyazaki comes from a story telling tradition that is definitively not Hollywood, where the bad guys are bad and the good guys good, here there are many shades of gray, the protagonists have a depth that allows them to evolve during the narration. The perception of the natural forces reflects a deeply animistic take on the natural world.

Despite the book being over 30 years old, the themes discussed remain as burning and urgent as when the book was first published, so for instance a number of the topics highlighted in Nausicaä featured prominently in James Cameron’s Avatar. Many recent studies have demonstrated plant consciousness and a high degree of interconnection in forests between different organisms, all in keep with very Miyazaki-esque outlook of nature. And our world is definitively facing some very serious environmental issues cause by humanity’s rampant hunger for natural resources and consumer goods.

Playing on this theme, Miyazaki delivers a deeply moving, important and inspiring story that comes highly recommended – if you do not know it already. VIZ Media published a double volume box set in 2012 that is still in print. If this kind of thing is your cup of tea, get it, read it and let’s hear Miyazaki’s message and not be indifferent to these issues.