Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 25

Nausicaä Of The Valley Of Wind

by Hayao Miyazaki
Genre notes: epic, adventure, politics, environmentalism, post-apocalypse, fantasy
1088 pages
ISBN: 1421550644 (Amazon)

This could comfortably sit in probably any critic's Top 10 Comics Of All Time list. I know it does in mine.

The story of Nausicaä is robust. It travels a lot of territory and the narrative terrain shifts constantly. The story at page 100 is different from the story at page 200 is different from the story at page 300. Et cetera. Miyazaki keeps the reader off-balance, constantly renegotiating what his story is actually about. In the hands of a lesser author, Nausicaä would seem a confused jumble of ideas, an evolving puzzle its own author could not solve. Fortunately, and I think most of the world probably knows this by now, Miyazaki is among the best storytellers of our age. It shows in Nausicaä. The sureness of his authorial footing in this book is never at doubt. From beginning to end, we are on his ground and it’s a good place to be.

Nausicaä tells the story of the post-cataclysmic Earth, a millennium after its destruction by the hands of a weaponized robotic army (presumably created by mankind herself). Humanity has barely survived the nuclear fires that tore civilization apart. The earth itself, polluted beyond its ability to heal in a normal manner, has given birth to a terrible new forest. Called the Sea of Corruption, this roiling swath of strange new flora means death to those that it engulfs, for its air is unbreathable. As land becomes more and more scarce due to this growing threat, wars break out and the future of humanity is threatened all the more. In the midst of this, Nausicaä, a princess of a small outlying tribe, seeks to unravel the mysteries of the Sea of Corruption while negotiating a dangerous path between two warring nations. The princess herself is a mystery to all those she encounters, part chaos, part mercy, and always navigating her own path.

For those familiar with Miyazaki’s films, the art will seem a familiar prototype, an early version of what would become the Ghibli house style for the next thirty years. In tone, Nausicaä probably closest resembles the sometimes violent action and environmentalism of Princess Mononoke (though those that weary of that message shouldn’t be overly put off by its expression here). The story is long and many panels are more text than imagery as Miyazaki attempts to sensibly exposit his narrative. The tale requires patience and perseverance, but it rewards its pursuers. There are a number of great adventures told through the comics medium, but Nausicaä is so far—and pretty easily—among the best of show.

This was made into an animated film that is sad and tawdry by comparison. The film was made when the story was 1/4 complete. It sits as a good mid-'80s proof of concept, but it's got nothing on the comic.

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