Love for Studio Ghibli and Why Little Girls Should Grow Up with It

This is obviously part of YAM’s Unofficial Animation Week.

It sucked to grow up being a girl. While many of the other girls liked playing with their Barbies, I would usually do crazy stuff with their hair and eventually chop it off — I’m seeing a trend here. And while other girls dreamed of getting married by 25 — 2.5 kids and all — and were in love with Disney princesses, I was stuck. I liked playing with plastic swords (and my male cousins’ NERF guns), my favorite being The Sword of Omens (La Espada del Augurio) in The Thundercats. I had my sword and my wavy messy hair — I was totally Lion-O (Leono).

I was also a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan — I once dressed up as Raphael for Halloween because I was a grumpy kid and liked his pair of sai very much — part of me believes that deep inside, I always yearned for Asian role models in entertainment and since we didn’t have many in the early 90s, I took what I could… which was Ninja Turtles, Bruce Lee, and David Carradine in The Legend Continues.

We later got distribution of Liveman (Choujuu Sentai Liveman 超獣戦隊ライブマン) and Flashman (Choshinsei Flashman 超新星フラッシュマン), which later led us to Power Rangers. However, as I had so many male cousins, I was always relegated to being the girl in the group. My disdain for the color pink was reinforced, and I would always pick the Yellow ranger. Trini was my idol for a while. RIP Thuy Trang.

The best thing Disney could give me while growing up was Mulan, and she didn’t take up on the Emperor’s offer because of wanting to be with Shang. I never understood that. I would understand Mulan not taking the job to be with her family, even though her family probably should have been very proud to have such an accomplished daughter and would probably want her to achieve more… but not to just fix her relationship with Shang.

The latest Disney had given me as a 20-something fan of their films was The Princess and the Frog, which had Tiana working to realize her father’s dream of opening her restaurant, and getting her dream come true with the prince… and Tangled, which was pretty contemporary… but still gave me a Rapunzel who fended for herself with a frying pan!

I was never lucky enough to grow up with Studio Ghibli animation, which surprises me because my father could get me the weirdest and oldest stuff to watch at that time. Hence, the reason why I never havd a female hero I could look up to~

Despite being from Japan, a country which we generally see as male-dominant, in which women were taught to walk behind their husbands and young women are expected to take on jobs as secretaries, nurses and other “female jobs” before retiring by thirty when they should have already found a husband to support them, Hayao Miyazaki has given girls from around the world heroes they can look up to. Princesses that ROCK so much because they hunt, fly on gliders and save people. They are real people who play opposite their male counterparts in their films, and are not merely there to be with boys or their objectives not necessarily are ending up with them.


YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

21 Responses

  1. Juan Barquin says:

    This entire feature sums up everything I love about Studio Ghibli. Even though I’m a man, one of my favorite things in film is seeing female characters that can be a positive influence for people everywhere, and they ALWAYS deliver with this. I could never not love them, especially Hayao Miyazaki and his wonderful characters :’)

    • amy says:

      @Juan Barquin, I was watching the Chinese channel a few weeks ago, and they were talking to this Hunan Opera singer known for her famous interpretation of Mulan, so they got to Disney’s version of Mulan and the female judges were like “yeah, the younger generation knows just Disney’s Mulan in which she leaves the army, gets together with Shang and lives happily ever after” – I was like “that is soooo right”.

      I really wished I could have grown up with Studio Ghibli animation, but alas – not possible. I love Disney and all, but princesses… sighs, they left so much to be desired.

  2. Roxanne says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE LOOOOOOOVE Studio Ghibli and I wholeheartedly agree. I grew up with Disney. Quite literally. Disney movies taught me english since back then there weren’t that many spanish dubs. In fact anime came here in Spanish before ANYTHING American did. I remember watching Dragon Ball and Ranma 1/2 every sunday in spanish xD then having to watch The Little Mermaid in english.

    Although I love Disney and it’s timeless princesses I do agree that they aren’t so much heroines as they are the very embodiment of social constructs for girls. It’s all well and good, dreaming of something bigger, fighting for that dream, until the prince comes along to make it all better and remind the princess she’s still a girl and she shouldn’t aspire to more than being married to an influential man >_> Yes Little Mermaid and Aladdin I am squinting my eyes at you.

    The Ghibli girls are true role models. Girls who take their stand against the odds, facing their own fears and coming out victorious! I think that’s why most of Miyazaki’s heroines are little girls. They’re pure. They’re yet untouched by the malice of social stratification. That very purity leads them to conquer the world on their own, with their ideals and without hesitating. No character represents this more than Chihiro in Spirited Away. Smart, brave, loud, committed and quite patient. Must haves in this day and age for little girls and little big girls ;)

    • amy says:

      @Roxanne, wow. Serious? I can’t imagine Disney without the Latin America Spanish dub. I don’t mind it much for the +90s films, but films like Fox and the Hound and Sword in the Stone in L.A. Spanish it just clicks something in my brain.

      Oh don’t get me started on Ariel xD and the whole – but they just met! How can they be already living together when she doesn’t even talk… LOL

      And it’s also not so much Disney’s fault either… I was reading the Grimm fairy tales, and every time there was a princess in the story she would be describe as “good daughter, fair and very beautiful”. To be very honest, I was disappointed in the collection (even if bound in leather-ish) – I’d rather watch The Storyteller. xD

      • Roxanne says:

        @amy, At least the very early 90s films here in Puerto Rico weren’t in Spanish. But our history with the USA is very charged with the whole ‘Americanization’ philosophy. So maybe they didn’t want to bother with us *rolls eyes* I do remember when I saw Hercules I decided to watch it in Spanish ’cause Ricky Martin did the voice-over xD And I LOVE all the Toy Story and Shrek movies in Spanish. Ten times as hilarious as their English versions.

        Well those fairytales -were- written by men in a very conservative time. Or should I say a much more conservative time. It’s no surprise their fairytales for girls would be a “how to behave like a lady” guide in disguise.

      • Roxanne says:

        @amy, Ok, LOL. I was just watching Bo Burnham’s stand-up comedy show in Netflix. He talks about the Disney Princesses xD He’s like “Disney teaches kids great things. Like in Cinderella. Doesn’t matter where you came from, how poor you are… as long as you’re incredibly hot!” Hahahahaha

        • amy says:

          @Roxanne, I was checking out IMDb and there were a lot of discussions on who the first Disney feminist is xD and a lot of counterattacks when people said Belle was a feminist, and then people would say that she suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. LOL

          Or that Ariel was a feminist… just a reckless and silly one! But it’s okay because she was a teenager xD

          But it’s true… Disney teaches us we have to be super hot, if we’re ugly… or old, we’re the bad ones in the movie. Like in Telenovelas. Once your usual first leading lady is past her prime, she starts getting the bad woman characters.

  3. ghost says:

    “A male is recognised as an adult when he has a job, an occupation. For a woman, her physical presence itself makes her a character, but a man needs to have this social occupation or some kind of status, or some kind of fate — something that you can’t see.
    I wish I could make another film with an eight or nine year-old boy hero. Boys, they sometimes end up with a tragic existence in this world. It’s a very hard, tough place for boys to live now.”

    Seems like Miyazaki is going against your train of thoughts on his interview with Empire.

  4. Camiele says:

    OH MY GOD TRINI WAS MY IDOL!!!! I didn’t know she died. Now I’m all sad and, yet again, late to the party. My Disney idol/girl-crush was Esmeralda from Hunchback of Notre Dame. I mean, she was just the world’s sexiest badass… you know, except for the whole falling in love with the enemy thing… HaHa.

    Other than that, I really was kinda into pretending to be the guys, hanging out with them and such. I liked the fiesty girls, but I can’t say I was too put out by the princesses. I mean, just their lives were interesting to me, but anyway. Yup, Studio Ghibli will always be the shit! Disney needs to catch up… HaHa.

    • amy says:

      @Camiele, Trini was awesome. I was a Power Rangers fan until the very end of the Zordon era, so I found out fairly early on that she had passed away. Since those days, I’ve made peace with the pink.

      I’ve actually become a really big fan of Japanese entertainment because they build up their female stars better than in Hollywood, I think. Even though I’m aware both have the same shortcomings when they reach a certain age. I heard there’s a lot of female centric films and shows in Japan because women are the ones choosing what to watch. xD

      • Camiele says:

        @amy, DAMN RIGHT!!! HaHA. I mean, every film industry is pretty transparent about what they want: to make money. Whoever has the most disposable income/whoever’s spending the most disposable income is who the market’s going to cater to. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know too much about Japanese culture, but it seems to me that women have one of the highest disposable incomes in that country, thus women want to see other women in powerful positions. I think Japan may, in fact, get that point a bit better than Hollywood does.

        I wish I could say that I made peace with the pink (not as a colour, but as a Ranger… she was annoying as hell!) However, I stopped after the Mighty Morphins. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the ONLY Power Rangers… HaHa.

        • amy says:

          @Camiele, well… that’s something else. I don’t think women in Japan have a high disposable income, people just… expect men to care for the family, so whatever women have they get to keep for themselves. In general, women have REALLY sucky rights in Japan, at least in terms of work – this is the reason why there’s such a demographic crisis.

          Women don’t want to get married or have babies any longer because they know that after that, there’s nothing for them. If Japan decided to fix that and give incentives, they could begin tackling this population crisis.

          But in entertainment, actresses are stars… like, STARS. They’re not there to be the sidekick of a male idol. A film gets to be an “X Female Star” vehicle.

    • amy says:

      @Camiele, also… as ghost pointed above in that Miyazaki interview, it doesn’t seem like he intended to make all these female characters, but his audience kinda demanded it.

  5. Camiele says:

    @amy, Wow. I didn’t realize the dynamics of the culture. That’s actually some heavy shit in the context of the film industry. When you take into account how influential it seems these female stars are, thinking about how women are treated is quite an interesting conversation to have.

    • amy says:

      @Camiele, yeah – like I said in the post… women are expected to take on “female jobs” such as nurse or secretaries and find a man when they reach a reasonable marriageable age, and then they’re expected to have babies and forget their careers to tend their families.

      Then again, with Japan’s changes in focus – I heard they are changing the educational system to one that looks outside, meaning more focus on outside cultures and emphasis on basic knowledge and communication with other cultures… I might give young girls the opportunity to expand. After all, ;P girls are GREAT when it comes to learning languages and having to communicate. LOL

      • Camiele says:

        @amy, This is completely true. The times are a-changing. It seems like in some countries, for the better while others are still a little back assward in terms of their interest in other cultures.

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