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.
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.