What would I(we?) do without science fiction? It fires neurons you never knew existed in your brain. These freshly opened up pathways are most probably going to rattle daily life as you know it, in bad or, in most cases, good ways. Science fiction, both the “soft” and the “hard” kind, have to do more with creativity and extrapolation, rather than the actual science of the future. It can be said to seed future ideas and lead to new discoveries.
Lately, I’ve been gorging on a lot of manga and graphic novels, as they give a faster “hit” than dense novels. Particularly some manga, which I discovered quite recently, have the same or higher caliber than any Western graphic novel that I have ever read. Last year, I read the psychological masterpiece that is Monster. A couple of years prior, I binged on Akira and finished it in one day. At that time, I was pretty sure that nothing could surpass Akira in it’s vastness of scale, artwork and story-telling.
Today, I am happy to tell you I was so wrong. Yippee!
What does one do when they encounter something so epic that you start contemplating your existence and life itself? You spread the joy by writing about it, of course!
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is the magnum opus of acclaimed director and animator, Hayou Miyazaki. He’s basically a jack-of-all trades. His biography is very impressive. Most of you probably know him for Studio Ghibli and the multitude of animated films that came from it. Nausicaä is credited as leading to the inception of Studio Ghibli. The movie adaptation spans the first two or so volumes of the manga. But the manga is so much more epic and spans seven volumes. That’s right, seven!
Nausicaä can be thought of as fusion of fantasy and sci-fi. It’s the story of a princess in a post-apocalyptic world of our doing. A thousand years have passed after human beings have been almost wiped out and replaced by mutated fungus and fantastical insects that roam the planet helping this ‘miasma’ eliminate any obstacles. The surviving humans have been pushed into pockets of clean land and incessantly battle against each other to expand their empires. Almost all types of technology has been destroyed, except for flying machines propelled by prehistoric engines from times past. Yes, this is a shaky plot point but I will let it pass ’cause I like anything that flies :P. Alliances are formed and broken on a daily basis and backstabbing abounds.
The current state of the earth is attributed to giant bioengeneered nuclear-powered humanoids, known as God Warriors, that laid waste to the world during the Seven Days of Fire (seems like a run of the mill nuclear extinction event at first but not really). In the middle of it all, is our protagonist Nausicaä, the princess of the Valley of the Wind. One of the ‘good’ guys (I use quotes as Miyazaki blends good and bad so effectively that in the end it’s hard to distinguish and becomes a matter of perspective in most cases. Let’s just call her the most pure of heart and conviction). She has an uncanny connection to all living beings and can communicate with even the harshest of insects (the misunderstood Ohmu).
The manga takes us along on her journey to uncover the past, present and future of all life on the planet, and disrupt the forces that be from returning all beings to the primordial soup from which they(we?) originated. Kinda seems like Neon Genesis Evangelion in that aspect, but the similarities end there.
On the surface, this is a tale of conflict between the different tribes and nature itself. Some of them embrace nature and live in harmony, whereas others are destructive and modify the ever-present fungi to act as a weapon of mass destruction. But deep down, it’s so much more. It’s a look into human psychology. How could one person create such a fantastical, yet relatable, world confounds me. Rather than the action sequences, of which this manga has no lack of, it’s the conversations between the characters and the introspection that makes this a tale of epic proportions. And the art is amazing! the insects and mild gore might gross you out but it really brings out the realism. The movie was more PG rated but this goes all out, with death around every corner. Special mention for a very impressive MC, in depth and action.
Normally, I wouldn’t want to buy physical copies of any comic/manga/graphic novel as I would get bored of it eventually. But I definitely will be getting the box set of this in the near future. Not just to reread, but to lend it to anyone who wants a taste of the infinite awesomeness. Unless someone buys it for me (hint hint! I will have a birthday………eventually). If you don’t want to read all seven volumes, watch the movie for a taste of what it’s about to get you salivating for more. Pair reading this with some suitable music for best results (I recommend a mix of Eluvetie, Porcupine Tree, Color Haze and Monkey 3).
And yes, I too wish I had a mehve to zip around and float like a leaf on the wind (cross pollination of Firefly and Nausicaä, don’t get mad at me fanboys!)
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch some mindless sitcom to reset my brain.