Tsunderin: Outside of Princess Mononoke it’s clear that Spirited Away leads the pack of most well-loved Ghibli films in America. Certainly with an Academy Award and several other honors to its name, the impact of this film upon animation as a serious genre in filmmaking on an international level cannot be ignored. But on a slightly less foundation-shaking level, the film is just plain enjoyable to watch. So much so that I don’t think I know one person who hasn’t seen the film or at least knows the story on some level, even among my non-anime watching compatriots.
Tsunderin: One upon a time many years ago, Adult Swim was hosting something they called the ‘month of Miyazaki’: a month of showing Miyazaki—I can’t remember if they threw in some Takahata to shake things up—films ass-early in the morning. I was bound and determined I was going to watch every single one. Every. One. I started out well, made it through Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, but the film that followed them just couldn’t keep my attention at all and I conked out.
After giving it another shot though, I’ve found that Porco Rosso has really grown on me. Perhaps the reason I didn’t like it was because of the deeper intricacies that went right over the head of younger me or the fact that it didn’t star someone particularly likable (not as likable as Miyazaki’s previous heroines/heroes, at least). Or maybe it was because it starred a pig, because seriously, what would even make you think of that?
Tsunderin: Realizing that he must have hit a sweet spot with his previous small-scope, through the eyes of a child film, Miyazaki once more set forth to capture another important point in everyone’s lives through his next film, Kiki’s Delivery Service. The target this time: coming of age. It can of course be argued that Castle in the Sky was also a coming of age story, but that part of the plot was overshadowed by a larger storyline as opposed to Kiki’s. Success of such things either relies on a series of stories in which the characters have a chance to grow slowly and more robustly, or a narrow focus. Again, Miyazaki chose to go with the latter.
Tsunderin: Soooo yeah, as you can probably tell this definitely is not Grave of the Fireflies. It fact, it may even be its polar opposite. If you were looking forward to reading our review of the World War 2 tragedy, I apologize. Luckily for you, Ace has already written a piece on the film, so all is not lost!
As much as the film is beautiful and for all the impact and wonderful storytelling Isao Takahata gives us, there’s just a certain amount of emotion one has to be willing to expend when preparing to watch this movie. I think many people will agree with me in saying that Grave of the Fireflies is an important movie, a movie that everyone should see, but it’s difficult to watch it more than once. As someone who’s seen it twice, I think I’ve reached my quota of watching children starve to death.
So let’s move on to something a little more lighthearted and more expressive about the joys of childhood, instead. Yes, it’s My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro), and if you know anything about me, know this: I fucking love Totoro. So does Ace. In fact, while Ace and I were both studying abroad in Japan we managed to find our way into a Ghibli store and met with the largest stuffed Totoro I’ve ever seen (she would have bought it, too, if not for the fact it wouldn’t have fit on the plane home). In short, this is the movie I was warning you for regarding concerns of our nostalgia getting the better of us.
Of course, even if you haven’t seen the film before, it would be difficult to not feel some sense of nostalgia for it as every aspect of the film works its hardest to portray a sense of comfort, a sense of safety that makes people long for the ‘good old days’.
Tsunderin: After being critically underwhelmed by Nausicaa both story-wise and character-wise, I can’t exactly say I had high hopes for the next movie: the first movie the studio put out under the Ghibli name, Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Maybe it was something about the timing, a thought of mine that their golden era would have to wait until the 90’s to come shining through. I’m more than pleased to report that I was incorrect in this assumption. I loved this movie (though I’m a little disappointed that it took me this long to get around to watching it).
Although this movie and Nausicaa share a similar starting scene—someone is in danger of losing their life, but doesn’t through miraculous circumstances—that’s about where the similarities end. Sheeta, our protagonist who has just fallen from an airship while escaping her captors, ends up in a small mining town and in the care of a young miner boy, Pazu. Understandably, Pazu is interested in the amulet Sheeta wears as he’s quite certain that it was the one thing standing between Sheeta and a rather messy end; however, she immediately becomes entranced by his father’s photograph of a distant place: the kingdom of Laputa. The mythical castle is the sky is just that to most people, a myth, but Pazu knows that his father wasn’t lying (the picture’s right there, come on) and works tirelessly on creating a plane that will take him to the one place that will bring honor back on the memory of his father.
Tsunderin: In recent years, Studio Ghibli has become one of the major players in the American animation circuit after getting picked up by Disney, and why shouldn’t they? Their films are for the most part innovative, have great characterization, and are just plain lovely to look at. There’s a certain charm to them that cannot be defined as belonging solely to animation’s realm nor to the Japanese culture—though there are several Ghibli movies that deal solely with Japaneseness. Instead, they transcend to their own setting with their own fanciful, but still relatable and realistic stories. With movies from American cinema attempting to expand into more female-centric stories but at a stand-still with how they should proceed, and those efforts receiving general confusion and even negativity from the movie critical audience at large (Brave anyone?), what is it that we as a film- and entertainment-devouring culture can take from the popular and largely female-centric stories released from Ghibli?
In attempts to answer this question and many others—but mostly because we just felt like it—Ace and I have dedicated this month, and probably part of the following month as well, to examining all of the Ghibli films: the dubbed and the subbed, the Miyazaki and the Takahata, the Disney and the… not Disney. If there’s anything you think we should discuss in a certain film or something you think we missed, leave us a comment. We love Ghibli and their movies and we hope that you, dear reader, can get excited about them as well.
Whereas many of these films are both a big part of Ace’s and my (but mostly Ace’s) childhoods, I have to admit that I’d never seen our first movie. I’ll probably have to turn in my anime fan badge, but this is my first time watching Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Technically, this movie shouldn’t even be in this series of articles since it was created before the founding of Ghibli earnest, but fuck it; it’s well known enough and associated with the studio enough that it would be negligent to pass it by.
The time has come for me to talk about Dark Souls. It has been on the market for consoles for months, but the PC version only just dropped. Also, it became my new favorite game ever after several hours of play-time back in late April. Dark Souls is an action role-playing game developed by From Software as the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, 2009 Game of the Year. I believe Dark Souls is, more than just another great game, a significant and special game which all gaming fans should appreciate even if they don’t play it. It is aptly described as a massively multiplayer, online, single-player game. It is so challenging that its website is preparetodie.com, yet many fans impose progressively more constricting restrictions on themselves to make it harder. Although its Wikipedia page calls the plot minimalistic, Dark Souls features a highly complex and deeply developed plot which continues to generate spirited discussion. It’s a dark fantasy RPG that often feels like survival horror, yet it’s not trendy (maybe that one won’t make sense to anybody else, but I’m so sick of the topical dark fantasy and crappy survival horror that’s been everywhere recently). Because it is easy to describe it in such contradictory and complicated ways, what may be most surprising about Dark Souls is how simple and approachable it really is.