Shuna’s Journey is an illustrated novel that follows a young prince from a hungry kingdom who breaks tradition, leaving his homeland to seek hardy grains to alleviate his people. He plans to return only when he finds the mysterious golden seeds that promise to yield bountiful crops.

Inspired by a Tibetan myth, Hayao Miyazaki paints Shuna’s journey across a somber landscape full of gorgeous watercolor ruins. Miyazaki has been a household name for over 30 years, but Shuna’s Journey, written in the 1980s, was only recently translated. Translator Alex Dudok de Wit has gifted English-speaking Miyazaki fans with a grand adventure novel and thoughtful notes about both the author and the inspiration of the story in this novel.

Like most of Miyazaki’s work, nature plays a leading role in this story. The meager harvests of the valley kingdom Shuna hails from are due to the thin air and sharp winds of the cool, mountainous region. Shuna’s people “[worked] themselves into the ground and then they died.” The prince discovers through an unfortunate traveler that a grain exists that could withstand his region’s harsh climate. A man versus nature adventure begins as Shuna leaves alone with his old rifle.

Shuna wrestles with nature until he encounters the grotesque state of humankind outside his humble valley. He encounters man-eating ghouls, slave-trading capitalists, and an economy that depends on human beings as exports. The troubles of his homeland pale in comparison to the remnants of civilizations robbed of men, women, and children for the profit of cruel mercenaries. Villages stand empty, echoing the bone-chilling silence produced by man’s cruelest machinations.

As Shuna searches for the golden grain, he discovers two young girls enslaved in a trade hub. He risks his life to rescue them, then plunges into the land of the gods to find the magic seeds that inspired his journey. When everything goes awry for Shuna, the tender care of the rescued girls allows the story to go on. Shuna’s Journey would hardly be a Miyazaki story without a strong heroine.

Any fan of Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki must take the time to pick up Shuna’s Journey. The illustrated novel is a moving standalone story and an insightful look at the beginnings of one of the most inspirational careers in animation history. Translator Alex Dudok de Wit includes a note at the end of the novel that explains the significance of Shuna’s Journey as a part of Miyazaki’s growth as a storyteller. For those who have yet to fall in love with the ethereal world of Miyazaki’s creative vision, you can dive into the magic with Shuna’s Journey. 

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