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Of Ghosts and Ghiblis

By Ananya Aaliya


I have never watched a single episode of Dragon Ball Z.


As horrifying as that may be to some of you, it is true. As several classmates of mine squabbled over whether L from Deathnote was truly a bad person, and drew that one symbol from Naruto, I remained indifferent. Every other day, a friend of mine would grovel at my feet and ask me to watch an anime show that they adored. Although I did try to watch some of the popular ones, such as One Piece, I never became as engrossed as my friends were when it came to anime. However, that steadily turned into obsession as I started watching Ghibli. 








It was an ordinary Sunday, not particularly different from the one before. My dad came into my room, asking me if I wanted to watch a movie. Him, being a fanatic of manga and anime shows and whatnot, suggested we watch a Studio Ghibli film. Reluctantly, I said yes, so as to not hurt his feelings (don’t blame me, it was hours of trashy Bollywood movies that led me to lose trust in my parents’ taste). As I sat there, my feet curled up in one-size-too-large socks, I intently watched My Neighbour Totoro, my eyes glued to the computer. And that was how I knew I was going to be enchanted by and hooked forever onto the pure magic that was Ghibli.  


An animation studio based in Koganei, Japan, Studio Ghibli is one that has produced various acclaimed movies, such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. They have been celebrated throughout the world for their beautiful stories and breathtaking art. Directed by Miyazaki Hayao, the art company has received various forms of acclamation, including 5 Academy Award nominations, and even a win. Since its conception in 1985, it has continually stunned everyone, from casual movie enthusiasts to recognised critics. To this day, five of their films are amongst the top 10 highest-grossing anime movies worldwide, an accomplishment that is nearly impossible to achieve. 


So, what’s their secret sauce? 


Although there are a lot of moving parts here, the main reason as to why their work is so successful is crystal clear:  imagination. Hayao, the brains of the enterprise, is somehow simultaneously practical and imaginative, creating an equilibrium that is just right for every piece of art that he makes. His creations are on another level - the intricate worlds he creates become more and more populated with different imaginary characters, and some peculiar people. An interesting thing to note is that he never starts with a storyline of any sort; the pictures he creates slowly weave into one another, and that is how a Studio Ghibli animation is formed. 


Although imagination and creativity is one aspect, a lot has to be said about the art style that we continue to see in their movies. Anyone who has watched more than 1 Ghibli movie will admit that there is something about the art style, the watercolours, and the characters that’s distinct and identifiable. Hayao Miyazaki’s art style is unique and recognisable, and it combines both Japanese (anime/manga) and American animation together. Many of his films are diversely stylized, mainly due to the fact that Miyazaki traveled to many different places as a child. Kiki’s Delivery Service, an early work of his, is set in Kokiro, a fictional town that was based upon an exquisite blend of different European cities, such as Stockholm, Lisbon, Paris, and others. The atmosphere, something that is integral to these movies, feeds into the deep worlds and settings that are created in Japanese animation. 


Lastly, the characters. While in modern media, we usually see characters as flawless creations of beauty, brains, and perfection, we witness something slightly different in Miyazaki’s works. With a range of different characters and creatures, there is versatility in each film, and different kinds of people are portrayed in different movies. Every character is flawed in some way, whether it is a naive little girl, or a scheming old woman (but she also runs a bathhouse for monsters, which is pretty cool). They have certain traits in their storylines, their mannerisms, and their personalities that we also possess, and we hold on to them, for we see ourselves in the ones we see through a screen. The rich and interesting storylines will make sure you have an emotional attachment to them, and that some form of emotion is invoked in you every time. 


All in all, there’s just something about these films. Although we can get into the nitty-gritties and analyze every detail that makes them what they are, it’s really quite simple as to why they capture our hearts. These universes, a tether to our own fairytale-filled childhoods, give us a new creature to love and a new world to escape to, one simple sketch at a time.

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