The Real Magic Behind Studio Ghibli

Media are in odd places these days. It seems they’re locked in a perpetual cycle of re-releasing classics or making sequels nobody asked for. Between Blade Runner 2049 and the new Mary Poppins, we now have Studio Ghibli set to release new editions of the movies that made them so famous. Yes, North America is finally getting pristine DVD’s and Blu-Rays for Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the movie that changed my entire anime landscape: Spirited Away.

Reading this got me thinking about Studio Ghibli, this omnipresent company all through my childhood. They didn’t stalk me like Disney, but they had a large enough presence that I could mark milestones in my life with their film catalog.  Miyazaki’s very name conjures a certain quality of entertainment and a high-bar in anime storytelling. It stands to reason, then, that anime owes its current form to the work that was the Miyazaki Classics.

As always, the following is just my opinion and open to debate.

  • Genius Stories To Leap and Bound Over Any Barrier

The first Ghibli film I ever saw was,  as mentioned above, Spirited Away. That year, 2001, I had already been watching Toonami every night I could, meaning I was binging on Outlaw Star, Cardcaptors, Big O, and even more Dragon Ball Z long after I should have been in bed. But I had never sat through a full anime movie. I didn’t even know there existed feature-films in anime at all.

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“I can’t. Look. AWAY!”

Enter Spirited Away. I had little to no idea where the story took place or any of the background behind it. All I knew was that it was about a girl roughly my age, trying to save her parents while trapped in a strange, unforgiving place. You didn’t have to understand Japanese culture to understand poor Chihiro’s predicament.

 

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Or the stuff of nightmares she faced.

Whether it’s the epitome of sugar (My Neighbor Totoro) or sadness incarnate (Grave of the Fireflies), Ghibli films can bypass language barriers, culture blocks, and anything else that prevents anime from getting a hold overseas. The stories are almost always fantastical with well-written characters and motifs that will easily resonate with any audience, Asian or otherwise. Because, when we boil it down, there are emotions and things about being human that we can all relate to.

  • A World So Lush

Speaking of that world I hadn’t understood, does anyone notice the insane amount characters, insignificant or otherwise, that fill up these films?

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Look at all the people!

The cream of any movie comes not just from the star, but from the world swimming around them. Part of the reason anime does so well is the insane worlds they tend to create around their characters. Even in anime that’s supposed to be realistic drama have to work hard and bring that setting to life in order to make everything else pop.

I like to think Miyazaki played a huge part in this. If you watch even one of his films, you get a world so pumped full of detail and beauty, it’s blinding. Princess Mononoke is a prime example, bringing the world of ancient Japanese Spirits to horrifying and beautiful heights alongside a gritty, hard-stone world of Irontown. And oh, the art; pretty is a word not strong enough.

 

So beautiful….

To my eyes, Miyazaki threw down the gauntlet when his first few movies hit the theaters. He took animation to a whole new level of eye-candy and detail, and so anyone who came after would have to step up their game.

  • From Super Serious to Super Childish

I believe one of the worst things you can say about any production company is either “monotony” or “generic.” I.E, if they put out the same kind of story, with the same kind of action, with the same type of characters. If any distributor or animation studio produces the same product multiple times then they have signed their own death certificate. They will be tossed aside into the pit alongside 4kids to repent for their sins.

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We won’t forget, 4Kids.

So, thank the Otaku Gods, Studio Ghibli was anything but bland. The first movie, Castle in the Sky, was an adventure – fantasy film. Then we have later titles like Grave of the Fireflies and Princess Mononoke which feature darker, grittier, more tragic plotlines. Then, lastly, we have movies aimed at children, such as My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo. In other words, Ghibli could have sat in a niche and kept the money coming, but choose to experiment and do as many types of stories as they could.

  • Ghibli in The Future?

With such an impressive background to their name, the question now lingers on what Ghibli will do know. Anime has evolved considerably since the studio founded – as it always will – and Ghibli movies have not struck the same chord that they did ages ago. They’re still making massive amounts of money, sure, but they don’t have the same groundbreaking effect they used to.

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Quick, we’re losing them!

But I truly do not believe that this marks any kind of end for the them, or at least I hope not. I wanna see more innovation from Ghibli; I want to see them experiment with stories and animation styles again. But, in terms of finances, I can understand the need to re-release their classics on easy to access DVDs and digital release. After all, Nostalgia is a powerful force, and that money can be the fuel for something in the future. Here’s hoping to see something more amazing down the road.

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What do you think of Ghibli and their films? Do you wish they did more or are they still going above and beyond? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts. And hey, if you like what you see, like and follow for more!

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