For fans of the epic animated classic "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind," reading Miyazaki's manga on which the film is based is akin to finding three long-lost books of the Bible. Written and drawn by the master himself intermittently from 1982 to 1994, the events of the anime version comprise only the first quarter of the manga's story. Nausicaa's prophecy-fulfilling rescue of the Valley of Wind only sets the stage for a much grander tale that takes the heroine to new lands and introduces dozens of new characters. Miyazaki creates a literary fantasy world that is far more intricate and believable than any of his anime creations (themselves awesome accomplishments,) and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the works of Tolstoy and Tolkien as one of the most fully realized pieces of fiction in history.
It is an amazingly complex story, yet remarkably easy to follow. In lesser hands the manga would soon crumble under its own weight but Miyazaki balances half-a-dozen plotlines with effortless grace, constantly interweaving the threads of the tale into a wondrous epic. Nausicaa criss-crosses the globe, meeting many friends and foes along the way, some of whom later end up with Lord Yupa's and Prince Asbel's own traveling company. Meanwhile Princess Kushana and her aide-de-camp Kurotowa desperately try to wage war against an external foe while orchestrating a coup d'etat against her father, the king of Torumekia. We are introduced to an entire nation of people absent from the anime, the Dorok. They are not the aggressors in the war with Torumekia but their condemnable battle tactics make them no better than their attackers. The author intentionally blurs the lines between good and evil, and in the end there are no real villains--a theme he would later revisit in Princess Mononoke. Nausicaa leads a Torumekian army into battle against Dorok High
Priest Charuka in volume two, but by volume three Nausicaa is his close friend and confidant. Even the fearsome God Warrior is given an ambiguous nature when, unlike the anime, he fully revives and thinks Nausicaa is his mother.
No less impressive than the multilayered plot is the expansive world-building. The film drops only vague hints about the Seven Days of Fire, which destroyed our modern civilization thousands of years before. The manga illuminates not only what led to the tragedy but an equally sinister plot set in motion at the same time to counteract the disaster at a terrible cost. The histories and customs of Dorok, Torumekia, and the Valley of Wind as well as many other nations and cultures are fully fleshed out as well. It's all seamlessly woven throughout the fabric of the story, and like any Miyazaki story it is profound and enchanting. One feels he is getting not merely a fictional history lesson but a grand tour of an exciting fantasy universe.
There are many characters here that are unique to the manga, and some like Charuka and the telepathic child prodigy Chikuku are so wonderful one wishes they had been in the anime. But more interesting is the depth Miyazaki adds to the familiar faces of the movie. Instead of a revenge-crazed dictator, the manga's Princess Kushana is a determined commander who, while not afraid to get her hands bloody, is ultimately most concerned about her people's well-being; she is without a doubt the template for Princess Mononoke's Lady Eboshi. The conniving, self-centered Kurotowa not only comes to respect Nausicaa and Kushana, but he is eventually prepared to sacrifice his life for their safety. Even the dark-haired girl who switches clothes with Nausicaa in the movie is a fully-developed character here; her name is Ketcha, and she is swept up in Nausicaa's adventures like so many others.
Set amidst all the political intrigue and multifaceted cast is Miyazaki's favorite theme of ecological awareness. Unlike the film the manga addresses the complexities of humanity coexisting with his natural environment. It is much easier said than done, and sometimes the best intentions can lead to disaster; as Nausicaa finds out near the end of her quest, her own plan to save the planet may in fact destroy it. There is no all's-well-that-ends-well finale, and Nausicaa and her friends must continue to strive for a balance between man and nature--another idea that would be revisited in Princess Mononoke.
Miyazaki is of course a tremendous artist, and it is a rare treat to see his manga work, which is even more personal than his anime productions. There is a lot of care put into each individual drawing, as evidenced by the exhaustive line-shading technique used in every panel. The aircraft are, of course, expertly depicted. It must be said though that Miyazaki is more adept at film production, and his panel work is not as polished as that of manga-ka like Kia Asamiya or Kenichi Sonada. The page layouts are pretty straightforward and tame, almost more like an American comic book than a manga. His artwork, beautiful as it may be, is a little too busy for the comics medium, and often his panels are overly-crowded with word balloons. But in light of the book's many other incredible accomplishments, to carp seems trivial.
The animated version of "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind" is unquestionably an amazing piece of work, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. I dare say the manga is Hayao Miyazaki's finest work ever--animated, printed, or otherwise--and that's saying a lot. Manga allows for a depth of plot and character unattainable in the cinematic medium, and Miyazaki uses it to its fullest potential. It is also the most adventuresome and the most heartfelt of his stories, with action grander than Princess Mononoke's and more emotion than Spirited Away. Simply put, everyone should read this book.