As Ace and I have been going through these movies—some for the first time, some for a review—the trends and tropes that are specific to a particular director really start to stick out. For all intents and purposes, the more trope-y of the two directors is certainly Miyazaki, but again I feel as though that has more to do with his intended audience than his lack of creativity or inability to simply write a different story.
For a younger audience, it’s certainly easier to equate a message or a lesson with a certain set-up, and with so many of his films being about coming of age, Miyazaki had to have known that. Reading our previous review on Spirited Away, you’ll remember that I’m not particularly fond of the “everyone’s gotta be in love” trope and Ace’s peeve is the “strong females have short hair” trope (from the Princess Mononoke post); however the trope I’m going to discuss today is a little less overt and has much less to do with the perception of gender. Rather, it’s much more intertwined with the actual emotional state of growing up.
Usually, character-wise, the set-up of a Miyazaki coming of age film is laid out as follows: protagonist has lengthened exposure to one person (the friend/love interest) while strengthening familial bonds or creating bonds with their pseudo-family, then a smattering of secondary friends and acquaintances (with the ‘antagonist’ usually being a situation rather than an actual person). However, to add a dash of the fantastical even in a completely normal setting, and to set the tone of the protagonist’s maturity journey, Miyazaki employs a character that is readily found in many other forms of media: the animal sidekick.