Mononoke and Nausicaa + Genres

  1. In what ways is Nausicaä intended as a warning, and what attitudes does it express towards humanity, nature and the future?

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind is essentially an environmental parable in which acts as a messianic figure and intermediary between nature (represented by the toxic jungle and the Ohmuu, giant insects who roam it) and humanity. Nature is portrayed as a force that will outlast humanity and on same level is fundamentally good for the planet as a whole, but the Ohmuu themselves are neither good or evil. They are a purely automatic and reactionary force who only react violently to human beings when they interfere in their purification of the soil. Thus the onus is on human beings to live responsibly and realize that they are not the cause of the toxic jungle but it’s solution. Co-existence means humanity must accept it is no longer the apex predator, and the post-apocalyptic landscape of the film is a result of human arrogance. The film is not anti-scientific however – the irony of producing a piece of art only possible through technological means would be enough to discount this as a serious interpretation – Nausicaa only discovers the truth behind the toxic jungle through experimentation. The people of the valley are also shown to act in self-defence, claiming that while they use fire like the Tolmekians they do so in small amounts. In order to survive human beings must show mercy and compassion to the environment, and play their part in the ecosystem rather than hunger for power.

While a fundamentally simple story about the virtues of self-sacrifice Nausicaa raises interesting questions about environmental issues and how human beings should negotiate their relationship nature. Much of the nuance and political intrigue of the manga did not make its way to the feature film but nonetheless a clear theme is established and a delivered on.

An interesting comparison can be made between Nausicaa and Miyazaki’s later film, Princess Mononoke. While they deal with similar themes and questions the latter offers more complex answers and situations, and as such both films can be seen as sort of thematic sequels or prequels to each other.

The most obvious differences are the visual aesthetics of the films. Princess Mononoke portrays a mythical version of 14th century, where rampaging Samurai and peasants live alongside animal gods of the forest. In contrast Nausicaa takes place in a futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland drawing on various cultures and influences – Nausicaa herself takes her name from a Princess from the Odyssey and her affinity with insects from a Japanese folk tale) (Miyazaki, 2004 Nausicaa), and various implications scattered throughout the manga imply the story takes place somewhere in the Middle East. In this way the films are set apart by their perspectives. Nausicaa’s world is one where humanity is at the mercy of nature personified by the Ohmuu, while Princess Mononoke’s gods of the forest and humans are on roughly even footing and fighting for supremacy.

In contrast to Nausicaa’s straightforward morality play Princess Mononoke at its “most fundamental level… asks: Can we live ethically in a cursed world? And if so, how?” (Napier, 2018). While Prince Ashitaka is compassionate and prefers pacifism martyrdom is not his defining trait, and he kills several people throughout the film in self-defence, unlike Nausicaa. He is first motivated by the chance of saving himself from a curse and the wise woman of his village tasks him to “See with eyes unclouded”, rather than save the forest or his people. He is an outsider to all the factions involved in the story and his goal is not to side with any one of them (and finds himself accused by every side of being part of another group) but to understand them. This is a difficult task as the people he meet are complex and morally ambiguous, questioning his true allegiance at any turn. Like Nausicaa he also longs for peace.

The titular Princess, San, is filled with disdain for humanity and prefers the . In many ways she is a more appropriate mediator than Ashitaka or even Nausicaa, with connections to both worlds through her nature and . However, she is unable to forgive the humans for what they have done by the end of the film, despite loving Ashitaka the two are separated although they promise to keep in contact.

Lady Eboshi has the traditional markers of a villain – heavily associated with industrialization and the cause of Ashitaka’s injury, as well as displaying deep ambition. However, these qualities are not shown to be inherently evil, as it allows the village to sustain itself and allows her to do good things. Lady Eboshi uses her power to set free prostitutes and help the sick, giving them all fair work in her village. As such she is as well-beloved in her Ironworks as Nausicaa is by the people of the Valley of the Wind.

Nature is portrayed as less of a monolithic, passive or automatic force than in Nausicaa. The Gods of the Forest have their own voices and can explain their reasonings, and do not need a human being to speak on their behalf. The wolves, apes and boars come into conflict and alliance at various points of the film, and rather than being a dominating force is in the process of being subjugated. The only exception to this is the Deer God who represents a level of order above nature. The Emperor of Japan is never seen in the film but has a huge presence in the plot, sending his assassins to kill the Deer God and residing over humanity in a similar role, representing an order above normal humans – even Lady Eboshi finds herself in his service, albeit unwillingly – but never actually has to participate in violence and destruction he has caused.

In many ways the environmental message is superseded by the anti-war themes, but an overall optimistic outlook is still portrayed despite what could be interpreted as a very bleak. Miyazaki’s intentions seem to fall within Napier’s (2019) interpretation of the film, in which characters are celebrated for living a persevering rather than winning. “We are not trying to solve global problems with this film. There can be no happy ending to the war between the rampaging forest gods and humanity. But even in the midst of hatred and slaughter, there is still much to live for. Wonderful encounters and beautiful beings still exist.” (Miyazaki 1997b, p.20; cited in Callavaro, p. 123).

Overall, while Nausicaa is much more idealistic and didactic in its message and acts as a cautionary tale of the consequences of destroying the natural world, Princess Mononoke is a deconstruction of conflict itself. Both films highlight the challenges of pacifism and conversation.

 

References

Miyazaki, H. (2004). Nausicaa: valley of the wind, volume 2. Retrieved from https://kissmanga.com/Manga/Nausica%C3%A4-of-the-valley-of-the-wind/1?id=75669#138

Napier, S. (2018). Hayao Miyazaki’s cursed worlds. Retrieved from  https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/10/22/hayao-miyazakis-cursed-worlds/

 

  1. What genres/subgenres of anime can you identify?

As I previously discussed much of anime is commercially driven and as such has created a unique creative culture around it. Most genre descriptors used for anime originally come from manga which, although cheaper to produce, are also intensely commercial. Manga magazines market themselves heavily towards key demographics, the most famous of which being Weekly Shounen Jump/Weekly Boy Jump (the magazine which serialized Dragonball, One Piece, Naruto and various other mainstream hits). Therefore many subgenres that can be housed within these demographics – a shounen romance and a shoujo romance are two very different genres and follow different convetions. As such there are too many variations to define in this blog post so I will instead some of the more unique genres found in anime rather than subsets of generic genres (e.g. action, romance, comedy).

In addition anime is not limited to commonly accepted Japanese genres. Director Shinichiro Watanabe is famous for taking on Western and global cinematic influence to create his most critically acclaimed work, Cowboy Bebop, and appropriates hip hop culture for Samurai Champloo – a jazz-infused Space Western (with additional influence from Chinese heroic bloodshed, Kung Fu, noir, Kubrick and various other sources) and meditative chambara road trip adventure respectively. His work shows a playfulness and awareness of Western genres that, within the anime industry, is largely unique to him as a director.

Two genres which find few true counterparts in other cultures or forms of animation are the mecha genre and iyashikei. Mecha anime portray giant robots and machines, and can be further subdivided into Real Robot and Super Robot, with the former placing more emphasis on the how the mecha actually functioned and portraying the effects of war, while the latter was closer to a Saturday morning cartoon in tone and content and more generally aimed at children. Landmark titles in the genre include Gundam, Armoured Trooper Votoms and Macross. This genre saw it’s peak in the 1980s largely due to the merchandising, toys and models of the mecha portrayed in the show, as well as the cult popularity of science fiction stories at the time.

Iyashikei is often translated “healing story” and is often used interchangeably with the “Slice of Life” genre but has a more specific meaning than that. These stories often feature alternative realities or rural environments, with little to no conflict, portraying the everyday lives of its characters in great detail. Their intention is to elicit positive emotions within the viewer and to act as escapist fantasies, but they are not thematically weightless. A notable example is Yokohama Kaidashi Kiko (Yokohama Shopping Log) which is a post-apocalyptic take on the genre, taking place on a future version of Earth that is slowly being flooded and retaken by nature. The plot is largely unconcerned with explaining how or why this happened, or how so much of the small remaining population of the planet are ageless androids largely indistinguishable from humans. Instead the story follows the main character (an android herself) in her daily life running a café. Despite what would normally be a dark setting and distressing topic the story is able to subtly explore the quiet acceptance the characters feel towards humanity’s extinction. This very much originates from the concept of “mono no aware” – a Japanese term which is difficult to translate but roughly means an acceptance of the impermanence of things. (Afshar, 2018)

Much of what makes anime fascinating is the cultural perspective it offers, and iyashikei in particular offers an appeal that is very different Western media generally more conerned with conflict based storytelling. Many people around the globe are able to emphasize more strongly with anime than their own culture’s art for the alternative viewpoint it provides.

 

References

Afshar, S. (2018). What Is mono no aware, the Japanese love for impermanence?. Retrieved from https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/what-is-mono-no-aware-the-japanese-love-for-impermanence/

(n.d.). Manga demographics. Retrieved from https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/MangaDemographics

 

Dominic McAlpine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s