Calling Manga Island: Issue #1

Thu, December 23rd, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Tony Salvaggio, Columnist

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Hello and welcome to "Calling Manga Island," a column devoted to news and reviews of Japanese comics, as well as an occasional trip to the outlying barrier islands of the new crop of Korean and Chinese manga. There are also planned side trips to the new and old generations of what is now being termed Ameri-manga. There have been many articles and heated discussions as to what is and isn't manga, but here on Manga Island, all the various incarnations live and breed in relative harmony with each other, to be awakened and battled about in discussion forum monster battles across the web (The CBR Forums are a good place to start). As an explorer and guide on Manga Island, I plan on taking you to new journeys across the ever changing terrain, as well as archeological expeditions to manga's hidden treasures waiting to be unearthed by new fans or rediscovered by old fans.

I first came to Manga Island via anime and whatever articles I could find on "Japanimation." Long before our present golden age of being able to get almost anything we want through retail shops, internet stores, and various other sundry means, I started watching cartoons that I would later find out were from Japan. On certain syndicated channels across the years, I journeyed through "Speed Racer," "Star Blazers," and "Force Five," on through "Robotech" and "Voltron," finally happening upon the first anime feature film I had seen; "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" (in Japanese: "Kaze no Tani no Naushika") in its dubbed and edited version known as "Warriors of the Wind." I was blown away by the quality and emotional impact that the film had (even in this version which is considered a bastardization of the original). A couple of years later I came across the Viz translation (in conjunction with Studio Proteus) of the original manga and thus my journey to Manga Island was complete. Since then I have explored the island as thoroughly as my means have permitted. I have mainly charted the "translated to English" side of the Island, but the exploration still continues with forays into the wild lands of "Japanese language only manga." Because it brought me to where I am today, I have chosen "Nausicaa" as the source of my first dispatch from Manga Island.

"Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" tells the story of a young Princess's quest to protect her small country from outside forces; a toxic forest that corrupts the land, giant insects that inhabit the forest, and a war that threatens to ravage what little is left. Taking place a thousand years after a great man-made cataclysm called the "Seven Days of Fire," humanity is just now gaining a foothold in the world again. Technology and the knowledge of how to use it are for the most part lost. New engines and the like must be excavated from the sites where cities and research centers once stood. The human population must learn to exist in an environment populated by giant insects, acid lakes, and a poisonous forest known as the Sea of Corruption that threatens to engulf civilization once and for all. The question is: can the people of this new civilization learn to forge ahead, or are they doomed to repeat the same mistakes that would drive humanity to extinction?

Nausicaa herself is modeled after a combination of a princess from Homer's "The Odyssey" and the main character from an old Japanese tale of "The Girl Who Loved Insects." Her trials take her from a simple life as the princess of a tiny kingdom on the edge of the Sea of Corruption across a world engaged in a terrible war between Tormekia (a European style kingdom) and the Dorok Principality (akin to kingdoms of the East and Middle East). Nausicaa's empathy with the insects that threaten the human's way of life serves to show us what we might accomplish if we listened to nature sometimes instead of trying to fight against it, a common theme in Miyazaki's work. As Nausicaa is thrust deeper into the war and away from her village, she becomes a more complex heroine who must resolve her place in the world as a soldier and a young girl. She regrets the violent actions she has to take in order to protect her kingdom and her people, and has sympathy even for her enemies. Nausicaa isn't your typical one-dimensional heroine. She is at once a warrior, a princess, and a kind-hearted soul. Equally ferocious and caring, she bears the burden of her station in life and how her empathy with nature sets her apart from others. The key to her survival hinges on whether or not she can reconcile her innate understanding of the insects and animals that she feels most comfortable around, and her growing understanding of how brutal and insensitive man can be to man and nature alike. Throughout the story, she shows compassion for the enemy and a deeper understanding of what is at stake if the war continues unabated. Miyazaki manages to avoid the clichs of most heavy-handed ecological stories where all too often hero vs. evil-entity-profiting-from-destruction-of-nature or hero vs. poacher is the norm. It is a testament to Miyazaki's storytelling abilities that he is able to give us insight not just into Nausicaa, but each of the protagonists and antagonists as well. He always gives us an understanding of the reasoning behind their actions, whether they are altruistic, purely selfish and evil, or caught somewhere between. Many manga fans compare Miyazaki's Nausicaa to Tolkien's Ring Saga, which I somewhat agree with. While the storytelling aspects of each work stand apart, Nausicaa has all the hallmarks of epic literature, in its scale, characterization and the depth of world and its people.

In addition to telling a fantastic story, Miyazaki (like most manga greats) drew his manga himself. The art is complex and dynamic, with strong character design (a hallmark he has carried into all his animated works.) Although his pages are sometimes dense with panels and some of those panels are even denser still, the subtlety and expressiveness of his line work is some of the best ever put to art board. In Nausicaa, Miyazaki also has a chance to indulge in his love of the portrayal of flight and fantasy aircraft. Some of the best and most realized portrayals of heavy aircraft combat can be seen in the pages of his manga. Although the design and style of the planes in Nausicaa are perhaps too fantastic to actually fly, Miyazaki's love of aviation and aviation design can be seen in full. In addition to the interior art, Miyazaki also provided watercolor paintings for all the volumes. The covers are as detailed as the interior art, with a vibrant use of color and texture; making each cover a work of art unto itself (this can be seen in the numerous posters and calendars showcasing them).

Beginning in 1982 Hayao Miyazaki began publishing his first version of "Nausicaa" in the Japanese magazine "Animage." This serialized version was later re-edited with some panels redrawn for a collected edition that contained what would become the final draft of the manga published by Viz today. In 1984 an animated film version was completed while the manga version was still in its early stages (A region 2 DVD is available, with a release date for its Region 1 release by Disney tentatively set for early 2005). However, it would take 13 years for Miyazaki to finish his story (splitting his time between films and starting studio Ghibili) and what seemed like an eternity for anyone collecting Viz's original run of the series (how I first collected it). From time to time, the series would halt as "Nausicaa" fans waited with baited breath in anticipation with no idea when the next installment would appear in retail shops. Over the eight years I collected the original series, I grew along with this edition and it is the high bar that I gauge all other manga against.

Several versions of the manga have been available in the US. The first was the individual issues that were released over a long period of time. The first issue contained a poster drawn by French artist Moebius and a conversation with he and Miyazaki. The early issues of this edition were square bound, while later issues were standard side stapled comics. Even though they are long out print, the covers alone make them worth tracking down.

Versions two and three were closer to the manga size we are accustomed to today. The first collection was seven volumes, while the third collection was in four smaller and thicker volumes and labeled as the Perfect Collection. The Perfect Collection was also available in a box set. All of these editions contained flipped art and retouched sound effects. The graphic novel versions were great if you had missed an issue or wanted to introduce someone to the manga in an easy carry all in one set.

The latest edition Viz has released is quickly becoming my favorite. "The Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" seven issue editor's choice version is stunning to say the least. For the first time the entire series is published unflipped, as it was originally released in Japan. In the editor's choice edition the sound effects are also un-retouched (translated in a panel by panel glossary at the back of each volume) and even the ink is sepia toned, much like the ink that was used in the original Japanese editions. To top off the list of this definitive edition is the inclusion of extra posters, maps, and art materials previously only available in un-translated form in various art books and the "Nausicaa" Roman album (Roman albums are magazine-like information books, usually containing miscellaneous art, making of interviews, fan art and other collected information). These editions are the definitive format of "Nausicaa" and are worth collecting even if you own the previous volumes.

Having re-read them in this new format, I was once again taken back to this epic journey of Nausicaa and her struggles against the forces of nature, war, injustice and the quest for knowledge. To me this is the bar that great storytelling should be measured against. If you have missed out on this gem of the world of manga, rush out to your local comic book retailer or bookseller and pick this one up. This is one of the few stories I can honestly recommend that is timeless and rewarding to read cover to cover, to be taken off the shelf, dusted and re-read periodically. I can only hope the new generation of manga fans will cherish and enjoy Miyazaki-sans manga masterpiece as much as I have over the years.

For more info on Nausicaa, Hayao Miyazaki and other works of Studio Ghibili please visit www.nausicaa.net. This site is a wealth of information and there are many aspects of this manga covered there in more depth than I could possibly in an article. They also have a lively discussion board of all things Ghibili related. It's a real treat for fans and curiosity seekers alike.

Until the next call, enjoy whatever manga you are reading, and please join me in the next exploration of Manga Island.

Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.

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