Everybody loves Hayao Miyazaki, the man behind Studio Ghibli, whose output — beautiful, deeply resonant animated films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away — has not only made fans out of people who don't give a toss about anime, but also basically gave birth to Pixar. Less known, however is Miyazaki career as a creator of manga. While he only has a handful of comic works to his name, the most notable is a biggie — his seven-volume saga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which most people know as an animated feature that only covers a small portion of the source material. Viz has published a few different versions of it in the past, but now they've put it out in a definitive edition — a beautiful, oversized, two-volume hardcover collection in a slipcase box.
Nausicaä takes place in the post-apocalypse, on a future Earth where a most of the population has been destroyed and the remaining bits of humanity reside in he tiny bits of the planet that aren't part of the pollution-based environment called the Sea of Corruption, and the only factor in preventing total catastrophe is the eponymous princess, with a strange psychic rapport with nature and hailing from the equally eponymous Valley of the Wind. While the plot sounds very environment and conservation-themed — and it is — the message isn't overwhelmingly preachy. And maybe you can't be too preachy if the fate of the world hangs in the balance? Anyway, the environmental themes make for good planetary crisis, with our heroes struggling to survive in a world where nature has gone toxic — as if it were an organism that was trying to expel from itself the foreign bodies of the living beings that reside on it. It shouldn't, then, be a surprise when I mention that Final Fantasy took liberal influence from Nausicaä — right down to the Chocobo-type creatures that some of the characters ride in this comic.
While mainstream-friendly female protagonists who can hit things with swords feels like a recent development here — John Carter features an amazing recent example of a strong warrior-princess type and sadly nobody saw that film — the more than 30-year-old Nausicaä gives us a female protagonist with a cute furry animal sidekick who flies a glider and swings a sword at the bad guys. As someone who's nearly as old as the manga, it's a bit of a bummer knowing that most of my peers all grew up with soft-ass Disney princesses while Japanese kids grew up with a much more capable take on the same tropes — a princess who, upon first meeting one of the antagonists, challenges her to a fucking duel. Meanwhile, we got a fish lady who rebels against her dad to find a husband.
Beyond the epic story, the biggest appeal is Miyazaki's art. His illustrated style is very familiar to that of his animated films, so reading Nausicaä is like witnessing an incredibly long Studio Ghibli movie put to paper — I mean that in the good way. While most action manga tend to favor small panel counts per page, Miyazaki goes for dense, Tezuka-esque layouts that regularly dip into double-digits. While he loosens up on the high panel counts during big action scenes, I still couldn't imagine reading this comic in normal tankobon size — Miyazaki's heavy on the intricate linework and crosshatching and a ton of shit happening on every given page, and in the standard manga format the art would seem microscopic. This oversized edition, beyond being a simply beautiful package, blows up the pages so that Miyazaki's detail-heavy style looks even better. And it still doesn't feel like enough, which speaks to the scale and Miyazaki's art style. By manga standards, this hardcover is gigantic.
Shockingly, despite his fame through animated features, we haven't seen much of Miyazaki's comic work make their way to the English speaking world. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one of the few, and it's rightfully endured. In this current deluxe edition, Viz gives Nausicaä the treatment it deserves — a fancy (but not too fancy) repackaging of a great fantasy epic that looks nice on your shelf, but that you can also read without being too afraid of messing it up. This is an essential edition of a series of essential comics.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.