#1 Strong messages
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is set in a post-apocalyptic world of mankind’s own making. Centuries prior, our lust for power led to the creation of devastating weapons that ended civilization as we knew it. Its legacy: a polluted, war-torn Earth where the few remnants of humanity struggle to eke out a living.
People in this anime live in small communities, which are under the constant threat of the Toxic Jungle. It’s a horrid place where nothing except giant insects can live. If its spores land somewhere new, this land is rapidly swallowed up, along with whatever people were unfortunate enough to live there. Many have sought to purge the toxic jungle by fire, but they didn’t live to tell the tale.
It’s not hard to grasp the underlying anti-war and pro-environmentalist messages that Nausicaä revolves around. Humanity’s carelessness caused its own downfall, and left future generations to cope with a literal toxic wasteland. Even after all that, people still foolishly attempt to solve problems with military might; acts that only serve to exacerbate everyone’s suffering.
Nausicaä, the movie’s protagonist, is a princess of a people that live differently. They coexist with the world around them, don’t fight others, and take care not to worsen the Toxic Jungle. Nausicaä herself is a selfless heroine that always looks out for her people, as well as something of a scientist. She wants to understand the jungle and its creatures, to see if there are more rational solutions than putting it all to the torch.
Many anime that advocate messages like these tend to come across as dull. Their stories are boring, they keep lecturing at you, and want the moral of the story to be front and center at all times. Nausicaä handles this with far more grace, mainly by being actually fun to watch. It gets you invested in the story and characters first, then weaves its messages neatly into the narrative. it doesn’t feel like you’re being lectured at; you’re experiencing an exciting, post-apocalyptic story.
I also appreciate how the film doesn’t spell everything out. It’s impossible to miss the message itself, but there’s enough background detail and nuance to ponder about that reveal more of the story’s depth. I’ve rewatched it 4 times now and walked away every time with new revelations about the plot.
#2 Amazing female protagonist
Despite her young age, Nausicaä is already a hero to the people of her kingdom. The Valley of the Wind lies in close proximity to the Toxic Jungle, which Nausicaä often heads into to scavenge for supplies. It’s a life-threatening job, but with her exceptional skills at flying, survival, and fighting, she’s managed to do so for years.
Like the rest of her people, Nausicaä has an aversion to violence and prefers to live in harmony with all things. This belief is tested when war is one day brought upon the valley, and Nausicaä must volunteer to fight so that her people can stay safe. From there, her journey becomes a deeply emotional one. She experiences the horrors of war and must go to great lengths to save both her people and their way of life. She makes personal sacrifices, forgives the unforgivable, and puts everything at risk, just for that dream of returning to a peaceful life.
Her closest comparison would be San from Princess Mononoke, but mixed in there is the soul of a leader and great thinker. Nausicaä is not just a fighter with a good heart, she is also capable of letting that heart resonate with people. She makes hard decisions and gets her people to follow along with them.
While she and San both have folksy knowledge about how to live in accordance with nature, Nausicaä also backs this up with hard science. She is actively researching how the world works, coming up with scientific solutions and unearthing long-forgotten mysteries. Maybe she could also be compared to Zelda from Breath of the Wild in that regard, though I have yet to see the Hyrulean Princess take on armored knights in a swordfight.
#3 Apocalyptic landscapes
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind predates the founding of Ghibli itself, though that doesn’t mean it lacks behind in visuals. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Miyazaki’s vision of a post-apocalyptic Earth is an astounding one. The movie’s landscapes manage to be strangely beautiful, in spite of being utterly harrowing. It’s a world destroyed so thoroughly that our marks on it are long gone. The ruins we see are not of our modern day, but of the nations that rose from our ashes and met their own, horrible ends. They look otherworldly, though not as alien as the fauna that has since consumed them.
The Toxic Jungle has a fearsome presence in the narrative, but it’s hard not to appreciate its beauty. Even if it’s frightening, it also feels so alive. It’s so enchanting, in fact, that I paused writing this segment to go buy the artbook.
#4 Soundtrack by a 4-year-old
That’s a bit of a lie, I admit. The soundtrack was handled by Ghibli’s mainstay composer Joe Hisaishi. As to be expected from the man, his work is impeccable. A close second to Castle in the Sky in the ranking of my favorite Ghibli OST’s.
The track that stands out the most—and which justifies the bold claim in the header above—is Nausicaä’s Requiem. It’s a simple song on the surface, but one that the movie uses to great effect. The lyrics are sung by Mai Fujisawa, Mr. Hisaishi’s daughter who was then 4-years-old. It lends the song a tender feel, an innate innocence that perfectly fits its placement in the movies.
#5 Dramatic war story
Another good comparison for Nausicaä would be Porco Rosso. Both are Ghibli movies with anti-war sentiments, which still manage to be thrilling action movies in spite of their peace-loving ideals.
Nausicaä has excitement aplenty. Large battles on the ground and in the skies, close encounters with the giant insects, and tense duels between rivals. Some of the action scenes in this movie are outright legendary, particularly those that Hideaki Anno had a hand in making. It all feels hectic and exciting, with a lot of amazing shots scattered throughout.
Of course, this being a Ghibli movie means you can count on plenty of awe-inducing flight scenes too. Nausicaä luring a giant insect away from its prey and the battle with the Tolmekian fleet are particularly memorable scenes for very that reason.
Just as important as the action itself are the emotions that drive it. The stakes are apocalyptic, something that is reflected in the sheer desperation of the people involved. These aren’t battles over mere bits of land. These are people desperate to avert the coming end, whose leaders pursue what they believe to be THE ONLY solution.
More like this…
Secret of Cerulean Sand: Adventure anime with an amazing female protagonist.
Porco Rosso: Ghibli movie with anti-war themes.
Simoun: Anime in alien worlds centered around aviation.