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Nausicaš redux

The Miyazaki masterpiece manga returns to the waiting arms of fans in the West

by Patrick King

Nausicaš is arguably the greatest manga series ever created. It's hard to single out any one of Hayao Miyazaki's creations as better than his others, but many fans agree that if they were forced to make a list, this series would top it. Now that Viz has re-released this classic series in completely overhauled editions (they read from right to left, they're larger than the originals, they include color posters, and the sound effects are untouched), and with Disney's domestic release of the anime version of the tale coming up in only two months, it's time that we take a look at what makes this story so great.

In the future, mankind eventually makes one last error to seal its own fate. Technological advancement progressed just as fast as human nature and morality degenerated. As now, we have the power to destroy ourselves, but lack the wisdom to wield it properly. One small event unbalanced the entire planet, and the eradication of mankind looms in the near future. Most of man's technology was lost during a terrible cataclysm, but ambitious nations hungry for war are beginning to rediscover the lost artifacts of destruction, and the finishing blow to the human race is about to be dealt by its own hand.

When the last great human civilization collapsed, the earth was forced to respond to the damage that society had done to its surface. A great miasma began to spread across the planet, killing off almost any living creature that inhaled its spores, but leaving in their place purified land. The problem is that for the miasma and the forest of odd trees and giant insects that feeds off of it to cleanse the land, it must erase every bit of pollution first.

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Humanity, it would seem, is nothing more than pollution, or dirt on the surface of the Earth. After thousands of years of misusing the land we had been given, nature decided to take it back.

The appeal of Nausicaš comes from more than Miyazaki's concern for the fate of mankind. Aside from the striking moral of this story, the title character, Nausicaš, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, is also one of the finest heroines in any sort of story I've ever come across.

Nausicaš is merely a young girl, and yet so much more. She is fiercely loyal to her people, and yet finds kinship with all of nature. Nausicaš possesses an instinctual affinity for plants and animals - even the frightening mutant creatures in the forest of the miasma. Part mother figure and part unbeatable warrior, Nausicaš embodies everything that can be good about a human being. She's intelligent, strong, nimble, and wise beyond her years. Miyazaki is known for his strong female characters, and none have matched Nausicaš in strength or appeal.

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Of course, the supporting cast is equally impressive. There's the Lady Kushana, a beautiful and formidable woman who has been sent off to the outskirts of what remains of human society by her family, many of whom would like to hear of her untimely demise to serve their own purposes. Another fascinating character is Master Yupa, an older warrior who is renowned for his skill as a swordsman. Master Yupa has known Nausicaš since she was young, but she has matured far more than he could have ever predicted when he encounters her in the first book. Yupa is governed by honor and logic, and he is no foe to take lightly.

An agent from Lady Kushana's family sent to spy on her, the minor Lord Kurotawa is a shrewd man with inscrutable motives. He grew up as a ship hand on one of the airships still in service from the age wherein technology was still being produced. Whether he's a true agent of the king and seeks to ignite war at any cost, or if he actually supports Kushana - the woman he is supposedly serving - remains to be seen.

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In this richly detailed world, there are three primary areas of geographic significance. There's the Kingdom of Torumekia, the land from which Kushana and Kurotawa hail, and a kingdom with which Nausicaš's people share an ancient alliance. Nausicaš's realm is a small valley, one of the Autonomous States of the Periphery. Places like the Valley of the Wind tend to go unnoticed by large kingdoms such as Torumekia in times of peace, for they are too remote to waste resources on bothering.

However, there's a war brewing between Torumekia and The Dorok Principalities, and the Torumekian government demands the aid of the Periphery States to help battle their foes, though the folks in the Periphery have no quarrel with the Dorok tribes.

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The story starts when Nausicaš is drawn into this unnecessary war, but there are more significant events occurring than the mere squabbling of boundaries, and only the young princess is able to sense it.

Nausicaš is a tale of sorrow, shame, and the promise of hope for humanity's future. It isn't merely a series that will get readers into anime or manga - it's a story that will inspire those who experience it to live better lives, and to see nature from a new perspective. The tale may be a fantasy, but the problems handled within and the consequences of irresponsible behavior are frighteningly realistic. It's easy to see why this series is so beloved among the ranks of anime and manga fandom, and with two major new editions of Nausicaš coming to the States this year, you owe it to yourself to watch and read it.

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