MadameAce: Hello, Ace here, and welcome to yet another installment of Ghibli Month. I have some bad news though. Rin is unfortunately not here for this review, so you’re stuck with just me today. I know; it makes me sad too.
Anyway, The Cat Returns centers on highschooler Haru, a shy girl with little no self-confidence. She’s a klutz who never wakes up on time, is always late for school, constantly trips over her own two feet, and is laughed at and picked on by the other students, including her best friend. Her life gets much harder when one day she saves a cat about to be run over by a truck—breaking her friend’s lacrosse stick in the process. While Haru is catching her breath on the side of the road, the cat in question stands up on his hind legs, brushes himself off, and calmly thanks Haru for saving him. It turns out that he is Prince Lune from the Cat Kingdom. Later that night, on entourage of cats make their way to Haru’s house. Among them is their king, who wants to thank Haru personally. The cats give Haru a piece of paper that has a list of all the marvelous cat gifts they want to bestow upon her for saving their prince. The cats have vowed to not stop until Haru is perfectly happy, regardless of her feelings on the matter.
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: Whereas Only Yesterday was the Ghibli film I wanted to see the most, Whisper of the Heart is indisputably the Ghibli film I love the most. I barely know any people that remember this film, let alone talk about it, but I think there’s something beautiful in its understated glory. Perhaps my love for this film is what helped me love Only Yesterday: the films share a soft-spoken nature and a realistic message about growing up and deciding your own path. But look at me already digressing before I say anything about the plot.