Friday, January 17, 2014

The Saga of Nausicaä (Part 2 of 3)

The big factions in Nausicaä are two warring empires. On one side is the Doroks, a collection of 51 principalities each with its own tribal leaders. These "Holy Ones" pay homage to a pair of brothers who rule jointly as god-emperors. The father of these two established their dynasty by usurping the previous imperial family. Until that time Dorok society had not been an imperial cult, but rather less fanatical believers in an ancient prophecy:
"And that one shall come to you garbed in raiment of blue and descending upon a field of gold..."
It's also worth noting that the messiah of this prophecy is often depicted with wings of white in addition to having a small animal perched on the shoulder.

Meanwhile, the opposing side is a smaller, but more centralized classical monarchy referred to as the Empire of Tolmekia. At the head is the "Vai-Emperor" along with his mad empress, three princes and a princess. It is the ambition of the Tolmekian princess, Kushana, that acts as a catalyst for the story. Like many characters though she changes over the course of the tale, and is in no small part influenced by another princess, Nausicaä.

So, let's turn our attention to Nausicaä since she is the main character of both the film and the manga. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking of Nausicaä as a kind of Mary Sue at first. After all she is an excellent pilot and fighter, as well as quick witted and wise for her years. However, it is important to stress that she is not perfect. Nausicaä is very proud and has a fierce temper. Her outlook on life also changes over the course of her adventures. When we are first introduced to her she is a reluctant soldier heading off to battle out of a sense of duty for her homeland, The Valley of Wind. Once she witnesses the horrors of war first hand though she quickly takes on pacifistic leanings and increasingly engages in altruistic acts to save the lives of those who yet remain. Nausicaä's selfless actions eventually earn her renown among the Tolmekians, and a messianic status among the Doroks. Our heroine does not eagerly embrace her new-found prestige though, in part because she is plagued by nihilistic thoughts in addition to fear over whether or not she can avoid the tyrannical tendencies that come with power. Ultimately Nausicaä is forced to make some morally ambiguous decisions in addition to concealing the truth for what she believes is the greater good.

None of the themes explored in the manga or movie fit into a simple ethical paradigm such as "Good vs Evil" or "Paragon vs Renegade." Even notions of purity vs corruption are subverted when it is revealed that the Toxic Jungle isn't actually toxic, The Earth is. The poisonous miasma is actually the byproduct of a slow cleansing process meant to eventually purify air, water and soil over a period of about a thousand years. In the film, Nausicaä believes this to be a natural evolutionary process, but in the manga it is shown that the Sea of Corruption was, in fact, engineered by humans as a last ditch attempt to save to planet. This revelation is part of a much larger overarching theme in the story that humans aren't evil, they just sometimes need to be guided in the right direction. Nausicaä is a guide for many people who encounter her and, in turn, many try to copy her example with varying degrees of success. Perhaps the most interesting example of this is the God-Warrior.

The fossilized remains of these nuclear powered bio-mechanical monstrosities are actually quite common throughout the world of Nausicaä.  They are also the direct cause of The Seven Days of Fire.  Over the course of the story it's revealed that one (possibly faulty) God-Warrior remains in a deactivated state beneath the industrial city of Pajite.  When Princess Kushana gets word of the weapon's existence she gathers a contingent of soldiers and invades Pajite seizing the war asset for herself.  In the film Kushana simply wishes to use the God-Warrior to destroy The Sea of Corruption as a form of revenge for severe childhood injuries suffered from a giant insect.  Of course the attempt is futile and the God-Warrior disintegrates shortly after activation.  On the other hand the manga has Kushana follow a much more complex path.  She was not mutilated in her adolescence and desires the God-Warrior not for revenge, but as means of securing a firm grip on the throne of Tolmekia.  Her brothers have long seen her as a threat because of her popularity among the soldiers under her command.  Kushana's father, the Vai-Emperor, shares a similar view and makes several attempts to eliminate her as a political adversary.  The Empress suffers from irreversible dementia as the result of a misdirected plot to poison Kushana.  Worse still the Tolmekian princess's aide-de-camp, Kurotowa, was secretly charged with her assassination.  Wisely, he decides to play double agent instead, fully realizing that the Via-Emperor will have him disposed of once his task is complete.  It's all very Game of Thrones, just swap out "King's Landing" for "The Viper's Nest" (an euphemism for the Tolmekian imperial court).

The God-Warrior has a much larger role in the manga as well.  Nausicaä gains dominion over it by way of an ancient device know as a "Control Stone."  Once she begins to communicate with it she learns that it is of very simple mind and purpose.  It's easy to interpret the God-Warrior as a personification of nuclear weaponry, but there's actually more to it.  Although not obvious from the manga (because it's in black and white) the God-Warrior is a dark red in contrast to Nausicaä's deep blue.  I believe that this juxtaposition is intended to work on more than just a visual level.  The God-Warrior is an immensely powerful arbitrary dispenser of justice.  It cares only for Nausicaä and has no qualms toward killing anyone else.  Compare this to the physically diminutive, but compassionate-to-all Nausicaä and you have two opposites.  More so when you consider that for all its might the God-Warrior is rapidly dying.  Rotting flesh fall from its body and the teeth (fuel cells) drop out one by one as it uses energy to fly and fight.  Worse still it emits a "poisonous light" that causes sickness and death to any living thing that lingers near it.  Nausicaä, on the other hand, is in the prime of life and gives of hope and healing to others.  Together these two feel much like a different flavor of the dichotomy of the black knight and white knight.

Kushana is an opposite to Nausicaä as well.  Not in the diametric sense, but rather like the flip-side of a coin (both are princesses after all).  Kushana is very much a creature of habit, determined to make the world a better place through righteous endeavors.  She makes enemies, but she's also pragmatic and plans ahead.  Nausicaä on the other hand is an idealist loved by all, but lacks any particular agenda save to stop what she sees as the colossal waste of life caused by hatred and violence.  Which is the better path to tread?  Well...both and neither which is what makes the characters of this story so compelling.

Stay tuned for part three where I actually talk about a video game adaptation!

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