Why is Studio Ghibli so popular?

A listicle of the Japanese animation studio’s wondrous elements

~Ashley McMillan, Arts & Entertainment Editor~

Animated films have a special quality to them that attract just about any viewer to its pure imagination and wonder-filled atmospheres. For Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation film studio headquartered in Koganei, Tokyo, the acclaimed studio is best known worldwide for its out-of-the-park animated feature films. Such features include Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro. The films are led by the studio’s co-founder, Hayao Myazaki, who has grown to be a popular household name for any fan of animation. The studio’s prominence in the animation industry has even prompted its beautiful and unique animation style to be presented in locations for all fans of the studio to admire its works. In 2001, the Ghibli Museum opened to showcase the studio’s work. It is located in Inokashira Park in Mitaka, a local city of Tokyo, Japan. With the museum not being enough for the Studio Ghibli fanbase, since 2017, the studio has been hitting the pavement with the development of a theme park called Ghibli Park, which is set to open in Fall 2022. Regardless of these developments to showcase Studio Ghibli’s work, it’s clear what has brought the Japanese animation studio to the high standard it is today. 

  1. Attention to Detail

With every scene that passes by within a film, the artists still resist the urge to do a blank slate for the background, and create a wondrous environment that urges the viewer to live out the life on the screen. The attention to detail is significant for any feature to be successful, but the way Studio Ghibli artists draw out each individual scene by hand before animating it to life, is truly jaw-dropping. In the beginning of Howl’s Moving Castle, when the main character Sophie was stitching designs to hats, we can see the immense pile of work that laid before her, showcasing not only the symbolic nature of her drive, but also the intrinsic world that is before us. It’s difficult to engage with the life of every single scene, but with Studio Ghibli, the studio invited each and every viewer into its world with open arms. 

  1. Worldbuilding

The process of constructing an imaginary world into a visual art is especially difficult considering the atmospheric quality has to be directly aligned with the animation style, and if not done correctly, the visual art is “hard to watch.” For Studio Ghibli, the studio structures an immersive world, with its perfect amount of incredible detail, has intriguing characters that resemble a warm hug. Arrietty and Sho, from the Secret World of Arrietty, are personally contrastive from the other with their differentiating lifestyles, and engage with the environment in such a sincere way that you see two extravagant worlds in one story. And furthermore, both of the worlds at hand may guide the viewer to join their fellow characters, especially due to its whimsical style and handsome scenery. Additionally, the fields of Howl’s Moving Castle are full of random dirt paths, quality lighting, and a detail of beautiful chaos – all in which are qualities that lead me to questions of the world at hand. Curiosity is what attracts viewers to this animation studio’s works, allowing viewers to notice the specific elements of the world that are marvelously unlike our own. 

  1. Relatable Characters

For most animations, we typically see dorky, romance-infused girls drown out the dialogue. For Studio Ghibli, we see characters with hardships, flaws, hobbies, and livelihoods. It’s uncommon to relate to a story at hand that is so beyond relatability. Yes, we want to see stories full of fantastical tales and characters, witches, demons, fairies, and more. Though, we, the viewer, also want to see ourselves in the characters, or atleast inspire to have a lovely personality and outlook as one may have. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, we relate to the main character Kiki because of her drive to leave her hometown in order to become her own person, which directly implies elements of young adulthood. We all want to start over after an immense amount of time growing up with our traditional guardians, considering the comfortable status of staying at home during a period of growth can lead someone to feel trapped and want to escape from everything. Studio Ghibli interacts with this transition period perfectly in many of its films, with ease and acceptance. 

  1. Heroines

Last but not least, the heroines of the Studio Ghibli franchise is what truly motivates feminist viewers like myself to watch their feature time and time again. For most of their films, young girls lead the story line with the narrative slowly building them to be a heroine. This effort allows us to look at characters like Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service), Chihiro (Spirited Away), Haru (The Cat Returns), Sophie (Howl’s Moving Castle), and San (Princess Mononoke), just to name a few, in a relatable sense. As the story moves along, we notice their character growth building up, and soon, we see them as the direct heroine of the story, overwhelming the evil at hand with their individual strength and empowerment. For each heroine, we are introduced to their circumstances that lead them to a troubling climax, but in the end, we see the young girl’s persevere and go to lengths that we wouldn’t have seen them achieve in the beginning. Having a feminist perspective in the animation studio is essential to provide healthy represenation of women everywhere, whether it be through the heroine’s personality and background, and the specific culture intertwined into the story. Hayao Miyazaki’s characters are powerful, compelling, and also personable. Each heroine not only  faces unique struggles that are keen to their atmosphere, but the struggles are also intimate and individually creative for women and young girls everywhere to appreciate and symbolically resonate with.

With each of these elements in mind, it’s also important to remind oneself that all-in-all, each film is just an experience to watch. If you’re interested in watching any of the studio’s films, I highly recommend renting them from Christopher Newport’s media center, or picking up a copy at one of Newport News’ local comic book stores, like World’s Best Comics & Games on Warwick Boulevard (they have plenty of Studio Ghibli merchandise for any fan to appreciate). 

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