Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 13th 2012
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
GN 1-7 - Box Set
In the far future, humanity's selfish ways have ravaged the earth, creating a "Sea of Corruption" where mutated forests and poisonous gases make it impossible to live. Only scattered communities still exist, including the Valley of the Wind, a kingdom where the young princess Nausicaä will soon take leadership. When the power-hungry empire of Torumekia attacks several nearby towns, Nausicaä's desire to protect the innocent pulls her into the conflict. Soon she discovers the true scope of the war: Torumekia is at odds with the southern land of Dorok, whose recent activities have disturbed the giant forest-dwelling insects known as Ohmu. Are they on the verge of triggering a natural disaster? This imperial struggle for power could destroy the balance of life on the planet, and Nausicaä, with her unconditional love for all living things, may be the last hope for peace.
Most fans know of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind through the 1984 movie, which is a shame, because it only covers about a quarter of the storyline. For the full Nausicaä effect, one must turn to the manga, which took Hayao Miyazaki twelve years to finish—an on-again, off-again labor of love that he worked on while producing some of the greatest anime films of all time. Now that Viz Media is releasing the complete series as a two-volume, hardcover premium edition, English-speaking audiences no longer have the excuse of saying that it's hard to find and they'll get around it it later. This fantasy epic is the personal statement and life's work of Japan's most celebrated anime director—which pretty much makes it the ultimate must-read.
Be warned, however: there are times when Miyazaki's magical imagination seems to have shut itself off. Early on, Nausicaä gets bogged down by too much politics and lots of minor battles, trying to chronicle the state of war that our heroine finds herself thrust into. In other words, it makes the mistake that many other second-rate fantasy stories make: the creator is so obsessed with world-building that he insists on including every small-town skirmish, aerial dogfight, and fact-finding expedition that happens. The monotonous pacing (everything seems to happen at the same intensity) and hard-to-spot scene transitions also make it a challenge to get into the flow of the story.
Once the series enters the middle stages, that's when it improves and starts to breathe with a life of its own: the Dorok empire releases a horrific biological weapon, and Nausicaä and friends all get caught in a desperate scramble to stop the crisis. This is where Miyazaki's true creative goals begin to emerge—he's not just chronicling the events of a fictional war, but also spreading his familiar message about how humankind's high-tech meddling with the environment has a way of screwing everything up. But this shift in storytelling doesn't solve all the problems: the pacing still moves in a plodding straight line, and the increasing complexity makes it hard to keep track every single minor character, especially when many of them are on the move.
The big payoff in this series comes in the sprawling second half, where Nausicaä taps into her spiritual side, the biology of the current world becomes clear, the true history of the future is revealed, and all the bad guys are toppled through their own folly. That last point explains why Nausicaä, as a character, stands out so much: she doesn't go around fighting villains in traditional fantasy fashion, but tries to help everyone—and eventually, those still foolish enough to oppose her end up victims of their own hubris. After the final battle plays out, the ending is somewhat abrupt, but the whole journey outshines the destination anyway. With the messianic heroine and her brave allies, magical and technological powers, and a deeply thought-out world, this story takes all the elements of good fantasy and amplifies it to amazing levels.
As if the great storytelling wasn't enough, Miyazaki's artwork also goes far beyond the realm of "pretty good"—the combination of creativity and skill proves why he is one of the all-time greats. From a simple base of character designs, he creates dozens of specific characters thanks to creative costuming, a variety of ages and job functions, and distinct personalities built into their demeanor. The designs of the series' flora and fauna are even more impressive: lifeforms like the Ohmu and forest plants are based loosely on our own world, but are warped into bizarre forms, while human-engineered creations can look both monstrous and divine. Yet the real showstopper in the art of Nausicaä isn't any person or creature, but the backgrounds themselves, where dense lines of hatching and obsessive details give the landscapes their rich, realistic quality (even in an unreal world). The short, impressionistic penstrokes and soft lines do make some scenes hard to read, however—especially in the throes of battle. Between that, and the strict rectangular layouts that force the eye to read each panel one at time, the artwork ends up slowing down the reader in some spots.
As expected for a legendary masterwork, the translation is given the utmost care, with dialogue that uses slightly formal speech to fit the fantasy setting. Of course, there are exceptions—like when characters from foreign lands struggle to speak with each other. The main characters' manner of speech can be a hindrance, though, with paragraph-long narrations and monologues sometimes coming up. Because this edition is intended for serious hobbyists, it leaves all the Japanese sound effects completely untouched, with translations placed in a glossary in the back of both volumes. Serious hobbyists will also want to know if this box set warrants the $60 (although usually discounted) price tag—to which the answer is obviously yes. Not only are the hardcover volumes beautifully bound, but they each feature glossy color illustrations in the front, and the cardboard case is a decorative shade of blue that will add class to any bookshelf.
Within these 1000-plus pages, the mind-blowing events of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind teach a tough lesson: humankind must learn to put aside cynicism, selfishness, and undue negativity if we are to avoid totally annihilating ourselves. But Hayao Miyazaki isn't just some grumpy philosophy lecturer—he makes his point in the story using dramatic battles, grand journeys, and deep spiritual awakenings. The craftsmanship isn't quite perfect, as the series sometimes get bogged down in worldly details, trying to describe every moment and portray every little speck. But overall, Nausicaä's good qualities are unmistakable: it entertains, it educates, it provokes, it may even compel others to take action in the real world. Not bad for the only full-length manga to come from the greatest anime director of all time.
Overall : A
Story : B+
Art : A+
+ This fantasy masterpiece is packed to the brim with unique characters, a sweeping storyline, deep and creative ideas , and incredible artwork.
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