If you’re reading this then more likely than not you have experienced a Studio Ghibli film. Not seen. Experienced. For truly there is not another animation studio or any film company that understands inherent emotion more than Ghibli. Just hearing the name can transport you, unearthing childhood memories of nights spent memorizing every line and frame. Perhaps you recall a rather fluffy forest spirit or a castle floating out of reach. Maybe you feel the thundering steps of an enchanted castle, wind blistering your face and a broomstick between your legs, tangled wolven fur weaved between your fingers. Personally, when I hear Ghibli mentioned I don’t immediately imagine fantastical wonders. I see a little girl, dressed in simple red clothing, wiping away her bubbling tears in order to save her parents.
I see how a girl without any discernable powers can create her own magic and find inner strength even in the most harrowing of situations. And that, to me, is one of Ghibli’s greatest legacies: creating strong female characters in a time when most heroines twirled their hair while waiting for a prince charming. But why are these heroines so impactful? What is it about them that forms such an instant connection? Well after much consideration here are the five most likely reasons why Ghibli heroines are pretty much perfect
1. They’re Independent
Independence is probably the most obvious characteristic found in female Ghibli characters. Every protagonist is capable to think for herself and does not rely on another person to form her own opinions. Though she may consider others’ outlooks to better understand the world and herself, it is her own thoughts that matter above all else and she is able to function outside of another. This aspect is especially prominent when exploring love, whether platonic or otherwise. Characters such as Kaguya from the underrated Princess Kaguya or Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle explores both during their film’s runtimes. This love advances their development as people but they are still capable of making their own decisions, maintaining an independent sense of thought.
2. They’re Strong
As mentioned in the first paragraph, Spirited Away’s Chihiro’s use of her inner strength was and is an inspiration. Despite her age, circumstances, and apparent helplessness she is able to fight against the odds. Strength is a common theme in Ghibli cinema, both in an emotional and physical sense. Protagonists such as Princess Mononoke’s San and Nausicaa Valley of the Wind’s Nausicaa depict a combination of the two strengths: both heroines having expert combat skills but also relying on personal determination to better themselves and their people. Physical strength often outshines the emotional in films so seeing a combination along with genuine support for inner strength develops the female protagonists into modern, influential creations.
3. They Have Goals
Having a goal is a key part of any protagonist, male or female, but it is the diversity of Ghibli heroines’ goals that heightens their importance. A goal does not need to be of worldwide importance. They can be something as tragically simple as Grave of the Fireflies’ Setsuko’s struggle to survive in war-torn Japan. Maybe a goal is about finding passion. Shizuku’s search for her passion in Whisper of the Heart is one all young adults undergo and touches on the meaning of growing up. Whether the objective is to save the world or save themselves, Ghibli heroines face them head on in a manner that is inexplicably touching.
4. They Aren’t Similar
Admittedly this reason stems from some personal irritations towards early animated films. Take three of Walt Disney’s earliest and most beloved films: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. All three movies involve young women in their mid to late teens with unsatisfactory lives who fall in love with the first handsome stranger they see and after a string of betrayals and misfortunes end up with their beloved. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed and still enjoy these movies but the heroines’ similarity always rubbed me the wrong way. Thankfully Ghibli was there for a breath of fresh air. There is such a diversity in the heroines’ stories and background which helps develop their stories. Age, social class, backstories, personalities, among other things, range drastically from film to film. One may focus on a toddler fish princess while another shows the character development of a young adult-turned-elder. Whatever the case, each Ghibli heroine has a story to tell that is as unique and different as herself.
5. They’re NOT Perfect
Alright, this may technically be misleading considering the title of this article concerns how and why Ghibli girls are “perfect”. Wouldn’t having imperfection contradict the argument that’s existed for literally this entire piece? In fact, not at all, for it is the heroines’ flaws that make them so completely and utterly engaging. They have goals, they think for themselves, but they can make mistakes. Because they’re not just the star of the show. They are also human. Everyone in some way or another will do something stupid or hurt someone they care for. It’s a simple fact of life. Showing girls of all ages that a powerful witch like Kiki can doubt her abilities or Howl’s Moving Castle’s Sophie can accidently harm her fire demon friend Calcifer is good, great even. It shows the animated women as role models rather than idols and brings a layer of humanity that is sometimes lost in films.
Studio Ghibli has been heralded as the Disney of Japan and an integral part of animated history. They are also a landmark in feminist history, creating complex female protagonists that will be remembered fondly for many years to come.