No other production company has made it a point to create films that feature strong female characters more than Studio Ghibli itself. In honor of their amazing effort, let’s talk about the heroines of Studio Ghibli and what each character represent.
1. Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Even though the film was released before Studio Ghibli was an official company, I still consider Nausicaa their pioneer heroine. She’s probably the most (and the only) ideal character Hayao Miyazaki created. She lacked ‘flaws’ that would make her relatable but she’s as remarkable as they come.
Her strongest point is her leadership. She’s a young princess but is already wise beyond her years and she has the biggest heart out of anyone. Also, her flying skills are just majestic.
Nausicaa is a lesson waiting to be realized. She loved life and it loved her back. Maybe we can take notes on how she handled the apocalypse so our race has a chance of survival.
2. San from Princess Mononoke
Here we have another princess but that’s the only thing San has in common with Nausicaa. They couldn’t be any more different. Nausicaa is full of love for every living creature while San is only ever in love with the forest and the animals that live there with her. She hates humans, and rightfully so.
San is incredibly brave, always ready to defend the forest and attack anyone that dares threaten it. She fights gun-toting enemies with her spear alone. Of course she has her wolves with her but she’s just as amazing without them. Her top notch fighting skill is what made me a fan of her. It was an experience seeing her fight. (See gif’s below as proof).
San has always sparked differing opinions from viewers because she never changed her ways from the start of the movie until the last. But let me just say, life in the forest was the only life San knew and you can’t expect her to just forget about it in a snap and join the humans whom she has viewed as enemies from the moment she had consciousness. Such a big change doesn’t happen instantly.
3. Chihiro from Spirited Away
Arguably the most popular of Ghibli’s leading females, Chihiro is a masterpiece of a character. She starts of the typical brat: whiny and timid; but ends up a hero: wiser and braver.
Spirited Away in general is a film full of satires but perhaps the most important to take note of is how the child becomes the hero and this hero isn’t absolved of lessons to learn.
Miyazaki is an expert at character development and Chihiro is his best work.
4. Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle
If there was anyone in the world of Studio Ghibli that resonated with me on a molecular level, it would be Sophie Hatter. Everything about her was meant to be forgettable—plain appearance, dry personality, strict work ethic—but it was these traits that made her refreshing and therefore, remarkable.
We meet Sophie when she’s at a stand-still in life—no goals, no ambitions to speak of—until a fateful night she crosses path with Howl and invites the jealousy of a witch that curses her.
If it wasn’t for this curse, Sophie would just continue on living a shell of a life. On the outside, it would seem perfect: nice job, nice house, nice friends; but on the inside, it’s all hollow. It’s why I say the curse was a blessing in disguise.
Sophie finally has a purpose and this is ultimately the lesson of her character—sometimes we get too caught up in our mundane day to day tasks that we actually forget to live a meaningful life.
5. Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service
Another young heroine with a journey worth remembering. Just like her Ghibli castmates, Kiki teaches us a lesson about life. She tells us to get out of our comfort zones and take risks. But she also reminds us that risks come with a price and we should be prepared to pay for it.
There would be times where we will fail but we can always get back up and try.
6. Arrietty from The Secret World of Arriety
Contentment is such a complicated matter and The Secret World of Arrietty subtly discusses that. How do we know when to settle?
Arrietty only wanted a chance to prove herself but this admirable yet selfish quest brought upon a maelstrom of events upon her family’s life. Yet one can argue that change is inevitable. Arrietty was merely a tool in fate’s hands.
Either way, Arrietty showed great resilience to her family’s situation and took charge of her life, thereby showing such great example to young, impressionable viewers.
Own up to your mistakes, do something to correct it, learn from it, and then remember it so you don’t do it again.
7. Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart
Take notes from our no non-sense heroine, Shizuku who has no fears nor reservations about following her dreams (sometimes even literally). She works hard and she’s not afraid to get what she wants.
She aspires to be a writer so everyday after school, she goes to the library to read stories for inspiration and at home after dinner, she pens her own. It’s a tedious undertaking that sometimes leaves her frustrated but she is never deterred.
She is also curious by nature – perhaps born of her love for writing and discovering hidden stories – that she even decides on a whim to follow a random cat around the city and enter a shop that is closed.
Shizuku can be seen as simple – especially in the midst of other Ghibli leading females that are all quite so striking in their fantasy regalia – but she’s just as important because she taps straight into our consciousness and tells us without any dramatics what we have to do to achieve our dreams: work hard. Simple as that.
8. Umi from From Up On Poppy Hill
Without a closer look, it would be hard to find what Umi brought to the table full of Ghibli heroines and their big life lessons. Her film was more a love story than anything else and so unlike the Ghibli signature of satire and symbolisms.
But perhaps this “lack” is indeed her lesson. Maybe her message is simplicity itself.
Umi raises flags without fail every morning and it’s such a mundane task but this mundane task ends up at the core of her destiny.
The takeaway is a “red string of fate type”; everything we do is for a reason, connected to a whole we are yet to see, and that eventually everything will fall into place and make sense.
So, hang in there. Don’t give up. Stand firm. Follow your instincts, follow your heart. Just like Umi did even though the odds tell her not to.
9. Ponyo from Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea
For a children’s movie, Ponyo is pretty direct and brave in its message. Miyazaki may have taken the fantasy route but it’s clear that his intentions can be of political nature particularly race.
I’m not entirely sure what Ponyo is but I believe she is a half-fish, half-human creature. She meets Sosuke that eventually leads to her desire of becoming fully human: possessing human attributes and living in the human world.
It seemed an impossible task with her disapproving father and powerful albeit absentee mother but she did it.
It doesn’t need to be said but just to drive home the message: race and age shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals. Ponyo maybe young and she maybe from a different world but she sure is fearless and feeling just like the rest of us.
10. Fio from Porco Rosso
Here we have another character that symbolizes women’s long fought (and continuing) battle against sexism. Fio, having lived in the 1920’s, has more societal dictates to overcome than most of us today. No worries though for Fio disregards them with a flick of her hair.
Fio is a mechanical engineer in a time when women are expected to stay at home and tend to the family. Fio accompanies a single, unmarried man to a flight mission in a time when this is absolutely scandalous.
Fio doesn’t care about what society tells her to do and just goes about doing what she wants and what’s best for her. Over-all an amazing lady.
11. Sheeta from Laputa Castle in the Sky
Sheeta is a damsel in distress but she needs no saving. She does all the work herself (okay maybe with a bit of a help from a random boy and a gang of perverts) but the first time she successfully escapes from her captors proves that she can take care of herself.
It’s good to have a support system but better to rely on yourself first before others.
And there you have eleven of Ghibli’s leading female characters that remind us what it means to live. I hope that one or more of the characters inspire you in all the good ways.
If you have any questions at all, Ghibli related or otherwise, drop me a comment! 🙂
**gif’s are all mine