Even after decades of watching every Hayao Miyazaki film that I could get my hands on, I hadn’t realized that he was a peerless artist who began his career as a manga writer and illustrator. Shuna’s Journey, his third manga, was published in Japan in 1983, just before he launched Studio Ghibli, which produced some of the best animated films in the world. This is the first time it has been translated into English.
Those of you who have seen Miyazaki’s films will recognize some of the elements. There is a wide-eyed but tenacious young man who goes on an epic journey to follow a dream. He is eventually joined by an equally wide-eyed, gently ferocious young woman and her sister. They ride an oddly familiar animal through desolate landscapes, parts of which can be recognized in some of the later films.
For those who have not seen ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky,’ ‘Nausicaa,’ and ‘Princess Mononoke’ (to name a few), this book will be a wonderfully strange and inexplicable journey. Miyazaki uses a different sort of storytelling, in which the characters accept the unknown without question while holding tightly to their own, essential selves. There is a certain wisdom in finding that everything does not need to be explained.
This hardcover book is read front-to-back like a manga, but every page is a gorgeous full-color illustration. There are no word balloons, just simple text telling a story which could be read aloud to a child. The illustrations tell a slightly different story though, less heroic and somewhat melancholy, hinting at past disasters and future hopes. It is a book to be examined over and over, an experience which grows the more you pay attention to it.