Anime Film Reviews: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
One of the reasons anime fascinates me is because of how many of their stories focus on girls. Slice-of-life comedies, science fiction epics, giant robots…whichever genre you look at, you will come across a series or a film with one, two or several leading ladies. They come out with a few of them every year, and some of them are actually pretty damn good. Azumanga Daioh, Paniponi Dash, Princess Jellyfish, Magic Knight Rayearth, Little Witch Academia--the list goes on.
Granted, their target audiences are mostly male otaku and shut-ins, but when they do it well, you know it.
Meanwhile, what we are experiencing in America today is a cartoon sausage fest. Nearly every animated movie or TV show that has come out in recent years have all been about dudes. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but more often than not the guy gets all the character development while the girl is reduced to being the token chick, or worse, the bleach-blonde, boy-crazy damsel in distress.
In other words, the “princess.”
Disney has been pushing this gender stereotype for decades. You’ve seen their “Disney Princess” line of dolls, games, clothes, DVDs, greeting cards and other merchandise that make good zero-effort gifts for your six-year-old niece every birthday and Christmas. Ever notice how they package Belle and Mulan as princesses even though they were only commoners? And where’s Nala from The Lion King? Isn’t she technically a princess too?
And yet in a bit of irony, Disney was the company who first brought Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to American shores (unedited, anyway). And Nausicaä has a special place in anime history as the film whose success helped build Studio Ghibli, where Miyazaki would make other movies such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, which ALSO have strong female protagonists.
In this film, the title character is a princess who is the exact opposite of the Disney princess image. She’s more concerned with the welfare of the village where she lives than finding someone to wed, she’s brave and strong and not constantly in need of rescue, and she plays the hero while maintaining a solid grasp of emotions like love and compassion without the help of some talking animal or inanimate object.
Of course, it helps that the movie takes place in the distant future on a war-ravaged, post-apocalyptic Earth where giant bugs are the new dominant species and toxic spores are spreading throughout the planet, and that your princess doesn’t really have time for boys when it’s up to her to stop two opposing armies from bringing their interminable war to her peaceful homeland.
A lot of the other Miyazaki trademarks you find in his later films are present and accounted for--the lavishly-detailed backgrounds, the unique character designs, the fantastical aerial shots where Nausicaä takes to the skies on her rocket glider, even the music from Joe Hisashi of which my only complaint is that some of it uses 80s-style synthesizers which make the film sorta dated. There is also the overarching theme of the atrocities man commits upon himself and nature, moments during which Nausicaä as a fearless yet human character flourishes. One particular scene is where Nausicaä bursts into her father the King’s bedroom to find him dead with enemy soldiers standing around him—you don’t see the soldiers kill her father, but seeing this is enough to send her into a moment of blind rage, and I thought it was handled particularly well. Many of the other characters you will genuinely love or hate, from the victims to the aggressors, which makes for an overall engaging cast all around.
It’s not hard to make a fun show about a girl. Domestic animation like Pixar’s Brave and Nickelodeon’s Avatar spin-off The Legend of Korra are trying to fill in the gender gap in the Western world, plus several thousand bronies could tell you that you don’t need to be a girl to like a show aimed at girls. It has been proven multiple times that you don’t need to make animated movies and series with female protagonists and have it dripping with unicorns, frilly laces and fairy tale things, that you can make a cartoon with a heroine that anyone can watch. and Nausicaä is definitely one of those examples. I’m not saying that Japanese imports are entirely free of chromosomal favoritism (*coughBleachcough*), but it’s titles like this one that reaffirm some of my faith in media gender representation.
Come on, America, Japan does it all the time. It’s really not that hard.
Miyazaki's trademark style of art and characterization
Background music dates the film