Miyazaki Universe Headcanon

Sorry about disappearing.  The first weeks of May are always a crazy time for me in my real life where I sing with the Twin Cities Women’s Choir and we hold our big gala at the end of our season.  And I’ve also been writing and, even more important, trying to catch up on sleep and TV shows.

To return, then, I’ve decided it’s time to address one of those things that has been on my mind a lot lately due to the looming date of CONvergence 2016.

CONvergence, by the way, is awesome.  It’s held in Bloomington, MN every summer and is the absolute HIGHLIGHT of my year.  It is a time of fandom and laughter and being completely myself and surrounding myself with people who love the things they love with all their hearts just like me.

This year, I will be part of a cosplay trio including my wife and one of our closest friends.  We’ll all be going as characters from various Hayao Miyazaki movies.  I’ll be Nausicaa (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), Sarah will be Haku (Spirited Away), and our friend will be Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service).

As we’ve been sorting out our cosplay and getting help from a professional, it’s led me to start thinking about how our characters could have interacted.  Which, yes, led me to write a fic that I’ll post right around CONvergence about Kiki meeting Nausicaa and Haku.

But that led me to a whole new headcanon of Miyazaki movies.

(“Headcanon” for the uninitiated is “a particular belief which has not been used in the universe of whatever program or story they follow, but seems to make sense to that particular individual, and as such is adopted as a sort of ‘personal canon.’” per Urban Dictionary.  Basically, it’s what you see in a work of art/fiction/history/whatever that becomes your new interpretation of that reality.)

We’ve heard the Pixar Theory, yeah?  That all Pixar movies take place in the same continuity?

Well, I pretty much did that with Miyazaki.

First — a few caveats:

This theory does not (yet) encompass ALL Miyazaki works.  It doesn’t because I haven’t seen them all.  But it does encompass all the Miyazaki works that I have actually seen.

Also, you do have to take everything with at least one grain of salt.  Speculation is all I got, okay?

Here we go.

I propose that the Miyazaki movies take place within a single continuum centered around the Earth.  The movies fall into three periods: pre-Nausicaa, Nausicaa, and post-Nausicaa.  The story of this world is told thusly:

Long ago, the only source of what we would call magic was in the Earth itself and its spirits.  People lived in this world and our history as we know it continued normally, but for the occasional interference of those spirits in the lives of humans.

Any Miyazaki movies that take place in the world as we know it but with non-human creatures or spirits of some magic can fit in this part of the timeline.  Basically, this is our own history from the distant past to today.

So the first period is defined by these movies in chronological order:

Princess Mononoke (takes place in the distant past)
Porco Rosso (the only “magic” is Porco himself being transformed and that’s not different from Spirited Away, just post-WWI)
My Neighbor Totoro (1958)
From Up On Poppy Hill (1963)
The Castle of Cagliostro (mid-1960’s to early 1970’s)
Spirited Away (mid- to late-1990’s)

The next phase is mostly informed by Nausicaa.  In Nausicaa, the world was destroyed a thousand years prior due to the “seven days of fire” which involved the huge, obviously nuclear Giant Warriors and, I assume, a vast war across most of the globe.  It is also known in Nausicaa that humanity had advanced to the point of space-travel, so we can assume this colossal war took place sometime in our own future.  Then, as the Earth was littered with pollutants, it needed to find a way to heal itself.

The answer came from the spirits and the magic the Earth still carried.  The Earth created the toxic jungle to begin purifying itself (and without magic, it would take A LOT longer than 1,000 years for trees like that to evolve to this purpose).  The spirits, like the little kodama from Princess Mononoke, had to change as their world changed. Some spirits may even have become the insects in the toxic jungle like the Ohm (who have mystical abilities of their own).  It was this transfer of the innate magic of the Earth and the spirits to the material world that facilitated all that was to come after.

Following the events of Nausicaa, it’s obvious that the jungle and its subtle magic are making their way into the human population that remains in the world.  Nausicaa herself may be one carrier, since her blood was infused with the healing power of the Ohm, but we know that humanity is changing due to exposure to the toxic jungle.  My suggestion is that the line between Earth magic / spirit magic was starting to blur, and some of it was leaking into humanity.

So.  Thanks to Nausicaa and the persistence of the Earth, the devastation done in the seven days of fire began to heal and humanity returned to the world forever changed.  Magic had grown in the DNA of humanity and had been spread into the world, no longer the sole purview of the spirits.  Thus, the rocks themselves could hold magic, and slowly some bloodlines began to develop special abilities.

This leads us to movies like Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle where magic is in both the Earth and the people.  The funny thing about both these movies is they have slightly inconsistent technology.  For example, the pirates in Castle in the Sky have little fliers that look remarkably like Nausicaa’s own glider, but clearly electricity and other advancements are still rare.  The same gliders can be seen in Howl’s Moving Castle.

Could it be that Nausicaa’s people held onto their knowledge of jet technology, however advanced to allow for those gliders, and passed that forward?  I think it’s almost certain.

But then we reach another movie which has an additional advancement — television — and no such gliders: Kiki’s Delivery Service.  Now, some of that discrepancy could be nothing more than location.  Maybe Kiki is placed somewhere the gliders are not popular.  Or perhaps are not even legal.

Because if humanity had come that close to the brink once, even if we managed to forget virtually EVERYTHING about how we got there, I have a feeling there would be a few nations/societies that would look rather skeptically upon technology that had come from the past they wished never to revisit.

Kiki does show us that people are still interested in aviation, though, and also that magic has now so saturated humanity that families of witches are common enough to be known.

So from here on out, magic is alive in the world and is in the hands of lots of different kinds of people.  This leads us to Ponyo, which is the closest to our own “modern” world, but magic is in the hands of a powerful wizard, Ponyo’s father Fujimoto.  And the magic that takes place is strange, but not unexpected.  Which is really the proof that it belongs at the end of the timeline rather than back in the earliest period.

There are other Studio Ghibli films that can fit in this chronology such as When Marnie Was There, which I’d slot in the first half as being more Earth and spirit sort of magic than deliberate human magic.  I haven’t watched others, but if you have and want to add them, please do so!

I’ll try to update this theory as new movies come out or I catch up on older ones, but I’m thinking this will probably work pretty consistently.  There’s even room for stuff that happens on other planets thanks to Nausicaa making it explicit that humanity had space-travel before breaking the whole world.  The advantage my Miyazaki Theory has over the Pixar Theory is that the stories are a lot more internally consistent with mostly human or spirit protagonists.

What do you think?