As many of you know, a lot of popular anime series (and not-so-popular ones as well) are based on a manga that came before it (and, more rarely, vice versa). While in some cases this can result in a very close adaptation, almost frame-by-frame, panel-by-panel, it’s not uncommon for one to differ from another. In turn, sometimes those differences are as simple as a few throwaway “filler” arcs (usually used when the anime has to waste time while waiting for the manga to “catch up” as it were), but in others the entire backstory or narrative is altered in one medium or the other. And so the idea for a new anime feature article series is born; comparing corresponding anime and manga (and, potentially, their other spinoffs), noting their major narrative and tone differences, and weighting in on which (if either) works better.
We’ll start off with an undisputed classic among anime movies and its slightly lesser-known manga version: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
Both movie and series start off with the same basic premise. It’s half-past the future and mankind has polluted the earth almost irreparably as well as setting the world ablaze, leaving civilization stuck in a weird steampunkish level. The titular heroine, Nausicaa, is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, a pastoral kingdom on the edge of a lethally toxic and insect-infested jungle (known in some version as the Sea of Corruption). Nausicaa herself is a wind-rider – she can read the wind and use a mechanical glider to fly – and a friend to all living things, including the monstrous insects of the forest (particularly the giant Ohmu, a titanic cross between a beetle, a crab and a pillbug) One day, a ship crash lands near the Valley, and a mortally wounded survivor tells Nausicaa that they were carrying either the control stone or the body (depends on version) of a God Warrior, one of the creatures responsible for setting the world on fire. Soon after that, soldiers of the Tormekian Empire show up, led by Princess Kushana, demanding the God Warrior thing in question, and generally being jerks about the whole thing.
However, despite sharing a large number of the same scenes (e.g. the scenes near the end with the baby Ohmu), the actual plot itself diverges quite widely between the anime and the manga. Indeed, many of the scenes play out similarly but with entirely different factions or context attached. In the manga, the Torumekians come to the valley explicitly to conquer it. The conflict is mostly between the Torumekians, the Valley people, the Ohmu, and the people of Pejite (another kingdom which got its butt kicked by the Torumekians), and it all takes place in or near the Valley. The manga, however, has a much more epic and long-spanning plot; it’s four volumes long, and the movie barely “covers” the first manga. The main conflict here is a war between the Torumekians and another empire known as the Dorok Principalities, and the battlefield takes place almost on the other side of the world. Rather than conquering the Valley, Kushana comes partly to force them to obey ancient treaties and send their gunship and best pilot in support. Nausicaa agrees reluctantly, but soon gets swept up in an even LARGER plot about the toxic forest, an ancient crypt with forbidden biological knowledge, and the way the Dorok empire abuses them both in their war against Torumekia.
Given the much smaller and shorter scope of the anime, one would expect it to be in a rush to get where it’s going. In some cases, this does happen and in a way that makes sense; the characters are streamlined, certain sequences are tied together more tightly, and so on. However, the movie isn’t afraid to take its time, sometimes even more than the manga. This is particularly notable in the flying sequences or many of the scenes in the forest; the audience is allowed to soak in the beautiful images and motion in a way that the comics do not allow.
I think Nausicaa benefits the most from the streamlining of the movie vs. the manga. While it’s still clear that she’s a very special young woman and that she does have some sort of vague power that sets her apart, it fails to reach the messianic levels of the manga (more on that later). She’s just a young girl with a big heart, an uncanny insight, and a lot of determination. More importantly, sometimes she just genuinely fails in her attempt to create peace, and there’s a lot of heartache to the moments where she’s screaming at people, “There must be no more killing!” and no one is paying the slightest attention to her.
Special note also should go to the sound. The movie of Nausicaa really embraces the aural senses with a rich and beautiful soundtrack that suits the mood to a tee, whether it’s the mysterious strings of the Ohmu music or the sweeping orchestral main theme. This movie really appeals to all the senses. A quick nod to the dub should also be made; the cast here is as star-studded as any other Miyazaki/Disney dub, featuring Patrick Stewart, Shia La Boeuf, Uma Thurman and Mark Hamill. It suffers a bit from awkward exposition at times, but it’s a very solid work and well worth a listen.
My main issue with the anime is that, in the process of stripping down and simplifying, the Torumekian Empire, and Kushana in particular, get left holding the Villainous Mustache of Twirl. While there are certainly hints of vulnerability and nobility to Kushana – we can see the beginnings of a proto Lady Eboshi from Mononoke Hime – for the most part she exists to bark orders, tell people to shoot their guns, and generally be a bit of a dick to everyone. The Torumekians themselves are reduced to literally faceless minions thanks to their helmets (which they also have in the manga, but they are regularly shown with them off and interacting in warm, human manners), and almost every atrocity (with one very significant exception near the end) involves them as the aggressors in some capacity. It’s a bit of a shame, particularly coming from Miyazaki, who’s always had such a good track record in making his villains sympathetic and giving them some sort of positive closure at the end. About the only “villain” who stayed pretty much in line with his manga version was Kurotowa, the second in command, and even here he had little to do other than stand around, make snarky comments and be either bored or flustered.
The manga of Nausicaa is an odd beast; while it did come first, it was actually done by Miyazaki specifically to raise money to make the movie! Still, it definitely became its own entity, sprawling off into the Torumekia/Dorok conflict and examining both sides as well as the history of the planet, the toxic forest, the various creatures of the world, humanity’s role past and present, parenthood, war, atrocities, WMDs, genetic engineering,… you get the drift. As you can imagine, this often results in a LOT of exposition and sidebars explaining various points, sometimes multiple times to different characters.
The manga definitely has a more epic feeling to it than the anime, no question. While the anime certainly had an epic sweep to it, the manga is a near-orgy of world-building, drama, conflict, politics and all sorts of deeply meaty content. Whereas the anime dwells on the possible conquest and destruction of a small kingdom, the manga tackles full on end-of-the-world stuff and asks increasingly difficult questions of its characters and audience. Unfortunately, the downside of this is that, in many cases, a lot of those questions get repeated again… and again… and again. Whereas readers can often connect the dots on certain topics back in volume one, the characters will suddenly have their OMG MOMENT OF EPIPHANY in volume 4. And it often does feel like the characters are going somewhat in circles… dude, I could have SWORN we had that revelation about the Ohmu/forest/purification/dinner menu last volume…
One thing that the manga does do very well is fleshing out its characters, particularly the antagonists… though really, the line between antagonists and protagonists is so shaky that everyone jumps the line at least twice. While the Torumekian Empire as a whole is corrupt and vile, its soldiers are mostly good-hearted men fanatically loyal to Kushana, who in turn is an extremely sympathetic and noble character without losing any of her bite; the best description anyone gives of her is, “Blood has not sullied but cleansed you.” The Dorok Empire is similarly presented in a frank and complex way; it’s being run by an evil emperor and his equally evil high priest brother (though even THAT is complicated!) and has a bit of an air of savagery and religious fanaticism, but plenty of individuals and factions within the Doroks support Nausicaa or hate the war, and their reasons for war (like the Torumekians) are completely understandable if a little selfish (both need more land because the Sea of Corruption is spreading and consuming their lands and people) There are very few purely evil characters, and even those either have some sort of sympathetic element, started off as good people and got twisted, or redeem themselves in some way as the story goes on.
Nausicaa also gets a lot of fleshing out… though to be honest, I think she might get a bit too much. Your mileage may vary, but I find manga!Nausicaa to be skirting a little bit too close to the Mary Sue category. Not only is she loving, kind, good with insects, etc etc, but she also seems to have telepathy and spirit walking, literally makes everyone love her (even Kushana and Kurotowa notice!), and almost every single conversation to her or about her revolves around the fact that she’s super duper awesome special and better than everyone else; contrast with the movie, where she’s mostly a normal girl with an exceptionally big heart. In the manga, she’s pretty much a messiah, and while that does make sense for certain spoilery reasons, it can get a little bit wearing after a while to hear everyone singing her praises constantly and seeing her always be in the right. Though I dunno… what she decides to do at the end is controversial, to say the least.
My intent for doing anime vs. manga features is not so much to say which is better, as often they both have their strengths and weaknesses, and Nausicaa is no exception. I will say that my recommendation as to which one to pick up depends on what the reader is looking for. If you’re looking for a sweeping environmental/messianic epic with an awesome supporting cast and a LOT of world building and moral debate, check out the manga. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a simple and focused story with gorgeous visuals, great atmosphere and a wonderful heroine, check out the anime. Or better yet… check them both out, then tell me which one you liked better!