Studio Ghibli, the great Japanese animation studio best known for its magical worlds, captivating stories and most importantly, its focus on strong and interesting female protagonists. Many of us who are familiar with the works of Studio Ghibli are very aware that the studio champions brave and intelligent female heroes which differentiate its films from others. Despite the above, Studio Ghibli does also create male characters with personalities that are unique, unparalleled and exceptional in their own right. Here’s a list of male characters who stole our hearts in different ways.
“I see no point in living if I can’t be beautiful.”
Howl is a powerful wizard who owns a moving castle and is rumoured to steal the hearts of beautiful young women. Howl is not your typical protagonist – he is extremely vain, always dresses flamboyantly and may not appear to be as brave as a hero should be. However, these traits only add to his charms and attractiveness as we learn to embrace his oddities as part of what makes his character so fascinating. Howl’s attempts to escape from uncomfortable situations are often comical and we later learn that his dramatic ways are his methods to conceal his fears and guarantee his freedom. Howl’s words and mannerisms may seem very whimsical but, he shows a much more serious side when he transforms into a large bird-like creature in order to interfere with the ongoing war. Despite his appearances, Howl in reality is actually really endearing, gentle and intelligent. Not to mention, Howl’s weaknesses allows Sophie’s strengths to shine as we watch the two influence the other to become better versions of themselves.
“Haru, you need to think about how you can learn to be yourself. Then, you should have nothing to fear. ”
Baron is an artisan cat statue dressed in a suit and top hat that comes to life when the sun sets as the owner of the Cat Bureau. Technically the Baron is a statue but the charisma he exudes is so captivating such that we easily overlook that fact. The baron is a gentleman who is level-headed, gives great advice and likes to make his own tea blend even if he can’t “guarantee the flavour.” In The Cat Returns, the female protagonist Haru saves the Cat Prince and is troubled when the cat kingdom wishes for her to be the Cat Prince’s bride in return for her kindness. With the help of Muta, Haru is introduced to the Baron who agrees to help her and sets out to rescue her when she is taken away to the cat kingdom. The Baron not only helps Haru to escape from the Cat Kingdom, he teaches her the important lesson on how to be brave and true to herself. With all his positive qualities, there is no reason to not be mesmerised by the charms of the Baron.
Set in the 1960s Yokohama, From Up on Poppy Hill tells the story of the friendship between Umi Matsuzaki and Shun Kazama that later blossoms into young romance. Our impression of Shun changes many times as we witness his different charms as a dreamy poem writer to a daredevil to a passionate young man who is determined to protect the students’ clubhouse from being demolished. Although Shun is only 17 years old, he is able to appreciate the importance of history over the novelty of modernisation and shows much resoluteness in convincing the higher-ups to not demolish the old clubhouse building. Shun’s antics initially leave a negative impression on Umi but as the two find a mutual understanding, he wins her support and help. Together, Shun and Umi managed to get the students to clean the clubhouse for the anti-demolition campaign and persuade the authorities to keep the clubhouse.
“I’m going to be okay. You gave me the courage to live.”
A week before his operation, the sickly Sho arrives at the house his mother used to lived in as a child to stay in peace and quiet. In the beginning of the film, Sho appears to be very fragile, despondent over the low success rate of his heart operation and lonely from the lack of parental attention. However, as the film progresses, Sho befriends Arrietty, the tiny borrower, and tells her about his true feelings. Although not necessarily for her good, Sho also tries to help Arrietty and her family by replacing their wall with the magnificent doll house kitchen. In this scene, the inherent difference between the worlds of Sho and Arrietty can be clearly understood as his kind gesture becomes extremely fearsome in the perspective of the tiny borrowers. The vast difference in size between the two did not stop their friendship from developing and Sho’s human size becomes essential when Arrietty seeks his help to save her mother from the housekeeper. At the end of the film, their friendship gives Sho the courage to face his sickness despite the low chances and to face his future with greater optimism.
The film Grave of the Fireflies is centered around the relationship between the young Setsuko and her dedicated older brother, Seita. In the absence of their parents, the audience watches as the 14-year old Seita struggle to protect and feed his younger sister during wartime whereby the kindness and compassion in humans are overtaken by weakness and selfishness. As the story is told in Seita’s perspective, the audience not only empathises with his anger, pride and frustrations, we also witness the close bond between the siblings which added more anguish to Setsuko’s eventual death. The most poignant aspect of the film would probably be the fact that the film was based on a true story. The real counterpart of Seita, Akiyuki Nosaka, wrote this story as an expression of his guilt and regret over the loss of his sister (who died of malnutrition) during World War 2. Although Nosaka survived the war, Seita’s death in the opening scene becomes an important metaphor in the film, signifying Nosaka’s own thoughts, feelings and desires.
These male characters are not perfect – they have their flaws, weaknesses and fears. Despite their imperfections, these male characters prove themselves to be brave and dashing in their own right as they overcome their odds and encourage their female counterparts to find confidence and strength. Without such substantial male characters, the world of Ghibli films would be sorely lacking and the female heroes would not be as splendid and bright as they can be.