Archive for the ‘Nausicaä Under the Microscope’ Category
This is the second part of my in-depth analysis of Hayao Miyazaki’s original manga Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind. You can go back to the first part.
Moving on to page 16, Miyazaki surprises us. The first panel shows just a column of light, a diagonal slash of some kind, and a ”SHOOM” sound effect. What’s going on?
Thanks to the slightly angled gutter, we’re drawn to the panel below, which reveals Nausicaä’s Mehve ascending vertically from a jet beneath it, startling the insects.
This is a bold move: showing us an action in isolation, followed by context.
Contrast this with the smooth action of the upper-right panel on page 17: the powerful explosion pushing Nausicaä forward, followed by Nausicaä on the right-hand side of the panel, the stress lines implying g-forces as we are pulled in the same direction as the Mehve.
Later in that page, Miyazaki half-fills a panel with an Ohmu’s black eye. Right next to it, Nausicaä murmurs, “His eyes are burning ruby-red with anger…” This telegraphs to the reader an important fact: a black eye means an angry Ohmu.
(Also note that the Ohmu is a ”him,” not an ”it.”)
Nausicaä’s mood then lightens to a surprising degree. Here is where our protagonist becomes a little moe, as she says: “That cry I heard…could it have been this Ohmu? Tee-hee…surely not! I’ll have to play a little rough, I’m afraid…”
She drops several strobe grenades, and we’re treated to Miyazaki’s masterful use of space: the flash highlights our heroine in the upper-left, and below her (literally under her wing) are the mysterious fleeing stranger. The Ohmu is just visible over the top of the flash, orienting the viewer in space.
The Ohmu screeches to a halt, its eyes white now, and Nausicaä uses a flute to draw the Ohmu back to the forest.
We then cut to the fascinating page 20, which rewards panel-by-panel analysis.
The first panel is a sweeping vista, showing a dune that stands before a large crevasse. The stranger from before is a tiny smudge, and Nausicaä is nowhere to be seen. It’s a foreboding and lonely image.
Below, we see Nausicaä gliding towards the stranger. She’s hanging off the bottom of the Mehve (telling us that the Mehve can be used this way as a glider). Miyazaki orients us to the two to show us that Nausicaä is coming to meet the stranger.
The following panel shows her feet hitting the ground, then the next is a very dynamic image of her braking in the sand and letting go of the Mehve, presumably letting it drift to the ground. This is confirmed in the following panel, where she runs towards the viewer, hands over her face, with the Mehve settling downwards near her.
Note the pacing of these panels. We’re watching Nausicaä in quick beats, without dialogue.
This is contrasted with the following panel, in which Nausicaä throws off her mask (the Mehve now in the sand behind her), revealing a pretty girl. She’s quite moe at this point, her mouth wide open in a delighted shout of ”Master Yupa!”
From here, we’re introduced to the two characters: Master Yupa is an old friend, judging from his reply “I’ve been saved by the little girl I used to carry!” Note how much is revealed here: he last saw Nausicaä when she was quite small, so he’s been gone for quite a few years.
We then learn more about Nausicaä, as she first encounters a jumpy foxsquirrel that we will soon know as Teto. The use of black and white here is masterful. Teto’s bite is accompanied by quite a lot of speed lines, on an otherwise calm and conventionally-drawn page. Our eyes are drawn to that particular panel, because of the dynamism of those lines, like a bull’s eye on a target.
Miyazaki uses black backgrounds for Master Yupa’s surprise and Nausicaä’s calm reaction. This harkens back to the psychic conversation between Nausicaä and the inhuman voice on page 11. While the moment clearly occurs in the physical world, the use of black emphasizes the personal, internal qualities of each character’s reaction. Nausicaä’s calm is intentional, coming from her character, and her thoughts are directed towards the foxsquirrel.
At the bottom of page 22, we get a dramatic moment, and our first divergence from the film. The ”Vai Emperor” has ordered the Valley to war, and Nausicaä herself will go. This is a dramatic contrast: all we’ve seen so far of Nausicaä paints her as a kind, nature-loving girl, a scientist who calms animals and lets herself be hurt by them. Now, she is being sent into a war.
Miyazaki must now resort to infodumps to explain a few facts about the world, particularly the Sea of Corruption and the Valley of Wind. Even so, he’s done an admirable job of not needing to up to this point.
Nausicaä and Yupa return to the Valley, and here Miyazaki’s art shifts again. As the villagers celebrate Yupa’s return, note how the panels are crowded with characters. These are very busy pages, suggesting several facts: the people here get along well, and they have little living space.
We get a few more hints about the population. Yupa asks for ”all the young maidens who had their hair put up while I was away.” This implies a coming-of-age ceremony. Nausicaä replies: “Very well. Nekari…Tocto…come forward!”
In all the time Yupa’s been away, only two girls have come of age. This is even made a joke: as they’re given wedding accoutrements, Uncle Mito remarks, “Hahaha…Now, then…for whom will you wear them?” And Nausicaä grows serious (accompanied by an internal black background) as laughter reverberates around the room.
This is reinforced in the following page, where we enter Lord Yupa’s thoughts. The cramped, busy pages full of people contrast with Yupa’s dark thoughts of the Valley’s decreasing population.
Page 26 cuts to a dramatic shot of a gunship. Note the viewing angle: near the ground, pointing up at the ship and the revolver-like nose, emphasizing its nature as a weapon. The dramatic lighting highlights this ship from below, throwing the surrounding equipment into darkness.
Let’s take a moment to look at that equipment. Nothing looks familiar; the unfamiliar shapes look like mushrooms, echoing the fungal plants of the Sea of Corruption. It’s a reminder of how far in the future we’ve come, that even technology mimics the alien plant life without.
On page 27, Nausicaä launches in the gunship, and we see an interesting transition in the middle of the page. We see the gunship flying towards the viewer with the castle in the background. The next panel reverses the perspective, viewing the gunship from King Jhil’s room as he and Lord Yupa discuss Nausicaä. Here, Miyazaki must resort to an infodump to explain Nausicaä’s position as next chieftain, and that she must pilot the gunship for the Torumekian empire. The infodump is presented by simply throwing speech bubbles next to a shadowed image of the castle. (Note that the castle, like the equipment in the gunship hangar, is a lumpy, fungoid structure.) The bottom few panels continues the conversation, with close-ups on Jhil and Yupa. This humanizes the conversation, so that we see the lowered-brow seriousness of both characters.
We cut, dramatically, to the gunship flying straight across the page. Nausicaä’s speed is contrasted with Jhil’s sedentary stillness. In fact, Nausicaä pushes the gunship’s engines to maximum and flies through a wreck (note how Miyazaki reinforces the constant presence of past civilizations’ wreckage). This flight is accomplished with a beautiful use of comic motion: Nausicaä staring forward in one panel, then speed lines fly through the wreckage and up, pulling the eyes into the same trajectory, up towards the top of the panel.
On the bottom of page 29 Nausicaä ruminates about the gunship, “Still, what an ugly ship it is. I prefer my Mehve. The gunship cuts through the wind, but the Mehve rides upon it.” This is an important element of Nausicaüa’s philosophy: rather than push ballistically through a problem, she prefers to ride naturally above it, Buddha-like.
The final panel uses an interesting bit of imagery. Nausicaä is clearly visible in the left-hand side of the panel, saying “That cry! Again!” The back half of hear head is thrown into shadow, along with the psychic exclamation “We will kill! We will kill them!” Moreover, her eyes are glancing behind her, at the words. It’s as though her body is divided in half, part receiving the message and part still pure.
Her reaction is interesting: she pulls the thought in on herself, holding it over her heart protectively as shafts of light burst all around her. This nearly costs her her life, as she is awoken by Teto screaming in her face; she has lost control of her Mehve.
She reacts by heading straight to the Sea of Corruption…wanting to save the person who must have angered the Ohmu.
Note how, on page 32, Nausicaä sees the troubled brig. Miyazaki gives us a huge vista, shafts of light shining down on the jungle below (reminscent of the light from the mental communication earlier). The brig is a smudge on the horizon, barely visible. In fact, my eye didn’t pick it out; it wasn’t until I saw the insect-covered brig in the lower panel that I connected it with the image above. We’re shown how much better Nausicaä’s eyes are than our own, with no dialogue needed.
The next few pages develop an action-adventure tone, as Miyazaki must provide world details (signal flags), share Nausicaä’s and Uncle Mito’s knowledge and experiences, and push the intensity of the brig’s danger. More on that in the next installment of this series.
This is the first in a series of articles in which I’ll be analyzing Hayao Miyazaki’s manga Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind. I plan to analyze the intersection of storytelling and art in this work, looking at how the art tells the story.
The nature of this analysis requires that I show a number of images from the original manga. I’ve no wish to impinge on copyright here, or to tick off Viz. I have contacted Viz several times through their Twitter account, requesting contact for permission to use these images. I’ve received no response. I will happily negotiate with Viz on this, if they’d just talk to me.
I’m using the 1995 Viz edition. As such, be aware that the art is flopped. Also, I number panels starting with the upper-left corner, and continuing to the right, then down, since that’s the normal reading order of this edition.
We begin on page 6 with two panels of ballistic movement, as a figure flying on a glider heads straight towards the reader. At the risk of sounding precious, I can’t help but wonder if this is a callback to the opening pages of Osamu Tezuka’s seminal New Treasure Island, which was famous for its ballistic opening pages.
Either way, this is a visually arresting image, and an interesting way to start. No dialogue, no explosions: just a peaceful image of a glider in the sky.
We then see the glider flying over a giant petrified helmet or head, clearly something not found in the real world. The glider casts a dark shadow on the head, drawing our attention to it. Note how the lack of background in the second panel keeps our attention from being distracted by it. Also note the glider’s shadow in panel three, sitting in almost the exact center of the page. This head is clearly what we’re supposed to focus on.
The head is covered in vegetation, which the final panel of the page shows to be a weird jungle unlike anything we’d see in reality. So, the first page has clearly established a fantasy or science fictional setting. The figure disembarks and heads into the jungle, a rifle slung over the figure’s shoulders.
We’ll realize shortly that the figure is Nausicaä, but note that there’s nothing feminine about her here, and indeed with the rifle she looks more masculine than feminine. While this page has established the otherwordliness of its setting, it has said very little about this character. We don’t even know if this is the protagonist.
Pages 7 and 8 show Nausicaä wandering in the jungle, carefully selecting specimens. One panel shows her with a pad of paper and what looks like a pipette, and in another she taps a spore into a glass test tube. These are clearly scientific instruments, implying that Nausicaä is peaceful scientist. Despite her rifle, her overall attitude is gentle and non-invasive.
Page 8 reveals an Ohmu shell. Note the use of shading in panel three: the nearly black shadows ringing the top of the panel, then the dark figure of Nausicaä to highlight her position in front of the white Ohmu shell. Contrast that with the lower-left panel, in which her figure is almost completely lost relative to the shell. Panel three describes scale; panel four describes the Ohmu itself in almost obsessive detail: we see the highly insectoid nature of the creature. This mimics real life; we see vague shapes before we see detail.
In page 9, Nausicaä busies herself with the Ohmu shell, inspecting it and carving out one of the eye shells. Page 10 gives us the lovely spore “snow storm.”
The forest is consistently portrayed as a gentle thing in these pages. Miyazaki consistently uses soft, rounded lines for the forest’s flora; there’s not a single straight line in the forest. Everything appears to move slowly, and Nausicaä is able to move through the environment without danger.
So, Miyazaki must use an internal monologue to establish the dangers of the forest. After she removes one of the Ohmu’s eye shells, she muses to herself, “But humans can’t walk here unmasked for even five minutes, or our lungs would decay. A forest of death….”
This establishes one of the major themes of the story: the problems of co-existence among different creatures. This environment, which to an Ohmu “must seem a warm and comforting place,” is lethal to humans.
Then Nausicaä receives her first psychic message. A calm, primarily white panel that shows Nausicaa peacefully buried in the spore “snow” is followed by a primarily black panel, centered on only one of Nausicaä’s eyes. Note the starburst speech balloon, filled with text in a bold, calligraphic font in high contrast to the normal block print of Nausicaä’s monologue. I love this font; it feels alien and formal. Perfect for the Ohmu.
This is followed by another mostly-white panel showing Nausicaä raise the Ohmu eye shell, her expression alert but not panicked. Note her posture: one hand comfortably gripping her rifle, the other carefully raising the ohmu shell. This is a woman who is not easily spooked.
The top of page 11 is split into horizontal bands, which gives the incoming psychic messages a certain telegraphic feeling. This evokes the image of literally a stream of consciousness: a long, linear stream of thoughts.
We see the same message repeated: “He killed us,” which morphs into “We will kill him!” Note how the starburst speech balloons grow softer, and the text itself grows smaller within the balloon, suggesting that the message is growing faint. The fifth panel stands in shocking contrast: strong horizontal lines leading from Nausicaä’s squealed “Aa!”, followed by a positively sketchy image of Nausicaä’s face, then a bold, all-capital “KILL!”
That fifth panel reminds me of apocalyptic images of people obliterated by nuclear strikes. It makes an impression as though Nausicaä is being overwhelmed and obliterated by the force of the message.
Miyazaki uses a neat trick here to take maximum and efficient advantage of panel size. Because the fifth panel is so small, the word “KILL!” seems huge, despite only taking up little absolute space on the page.
Nausicaä hears a sound, a ”siren shell,” which distracts her from her psychic reverie. She races through the forest to get a vantage point, climbing up inside the skull of a god warrior to look out through its empty eye socket. We then see a forest littered with at least three god warrior bodies, and an enraged Ohmu. She fires what we assume is another siren shell, sees and hears an answer, and runs back to her air craft.
Miyazaki spends a full page–seven panels–on Nausicaä getting onto her craft, launching it, and flying towards the fleeing figure. From a pacing perspective, this draws out the action and adds tension, reminding us of all the little everyday actions that we must perform to use technology. Hollywood scenes of characters leaping into cars cut around the reality of opening the car door, climbing inside, turning the key, switching on the headlights, putting the car in gear, etc.
Nausicaä signals to the lone figure to go “up wind.” Her attempt to rescue him is significant in itself. Nausicaä’s already established as a woman who respects nature, and has just observed someone angering a huge forest creature. Many would say that the interloper deserves the Ohmu’s wrath. She attempts to save him.
Page 15 treats us to a huge action image, one which deserves some attention.
Panel one is a relatively clean image; Nausicaä on her mehve in almost the exact center of the panel, with huge pieces of the forest scattered in mid-air behind her. The sheer size and variety of the pieces implies some massive, destructive event. Note how the slightly off-center position of the mehve implies the direction of the destruction, as does the relative scarcity of pieces on the right side of the image compared to the left.
The second panel shows an Ohmu, drawn mostly in threatening black, its mandibles literally chewing through the forest. Nausicaä is barely visible in the panel’s lower-left corner, easy to miss, and I think that’s intended: your attention should be on the Ohmu.
Note the order of the panels here. Dramatic theory would tell you to start with the Ohmu, the creature that’s causing this destruction, then show the destruction it caused.
But this is ordered according to Nausicaä’s perception. First she sees exploding trees, then the Ohmu.
In the third panel, Nausicaä strains to hold onto the mehve, her arms locked in a position of physical stress. This is our first evidence of Nausicaä’s physical strength. We know her first as a scientist, then as a humanitarian; now as a figure with significant constitution.
The background of panel three is a horizontal blur, almost undecipherable. We see what may be two Ohmu mandibles behind her, but the background emphasizes speed, both of the debris whipping around Nausicaä and Nausicaä’s own movement as she strains to control her craft.
This introduces another major theme of Nausicaä: humanity’s relationship to technology. Science fiction often revels in its effortless technology, from Kaneda’s motorcycle in Akira to the hardsuits in Bubblegum Crisis. To lapse into poetics, in Nausicaä‘s world, man must physically grapple with and control his technology, which can be as temperamental as a beast.
We continue with a few relatively pedestrian pages of Nausicaä calming the Ohmu using strobe grenades and leading the mysterious interloper to safety. And I’ll end this first entry here, before the article gets unwieldy. Next time: surprising uses of white and black negative space, and fun with Nausicaä’s hairstyle.
For more on this subject, see “At First, I Wanted to be a Manga-ka”: Analyzing the Nausicaa Manga by Kumi Kaoru and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.