With the arrival of Studio Ghibli’s animated television series Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter on Amazon Prime streaming services as of the 27th January, what better time to look back on the most fantastically feisty female characters from Studio Ghibli’s celebrated films.
The hallowed studio has been delivering their charming brand of animation since the early 1980s, and particularly in the films of director Hayao Miyazaki, we’ve seen some of the most wonderfully strong female characters.
With a strong dose of girl power, and a heavy sprinkling of opinion, here are some of Ghibli’s greatest girls…
10. Taeko Okajima, Only Yesterday (1991)
Perhaps one of Ghibli’s lesser seen films, but this charming coming of age story gives us the story of Taeko, a city girl who longs for the quiet of the countryside away from the pressures of life. We see Taeko as both a 27 year old, and as a young child, as she looks back with fond memories of her life. Only Yesterday is an unusual Ghibli film in the sense that it is a realistic drama, with not even a hint of some of the fantastical elements which perhaps other Ghibli films are known for. Taeko is a wonderful character to spend time with though, and makes this film delightful to watch. She is hard-working, humble, independent, down-to-earth, smart and driven, a girl who might be struggling to find her place in the world, but she isn’t afraid to go out there and do it. A low-key lady that we could all aspire to be more like!
9. Sophie, Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
One of Ghibli’s most popular films, this fantastical steam-punk adventure story is undeniably charming, and also gives us one of the most awesome female characters in the form of Sophie. After being cursed and turned into an old woman, Sophie not only handles this with grace, but she is inspiringly forgiving of the witch that did it. Accepting her fate, Sophie becomes an absolute badass, using her charms, skills and talents to save the day, and showing that some things do get better with old age! Whilst the younger Sophie may have been quite timid, the older Sophie is confident and assured yet still kind, loving, and ultimately heroic. Sophie is the type of old lady I want to be!
8. Anna, When Marnie Was There (2014)
In a similar vein to Only Yesterday, Marnie could be categorised under the slightly more “realistic” Ghibli films, however it does also have somewhat of a haunting, ethereal and almost ghost-story-esque quality to it as well. In its portrayal of Anna however, it gives us one of the most normal, and relatable female characters to date. Painfully shy, insecure and dealing with a combination of social anxiety and depression, Anna reflects so many of the human problems we all experience, and her journey throughout this film is really quite wonderful to watch. To spoil the character of “Marnie” would be a crime, but it is this character who is able to bring Anna out of her shell a little bit and lead her to a place of accepting herself and dealing with her inner turmoil. It is truly beautiful, and for all her fragility and weakness, Anna is one of the strongest and most memorable female Ghibli characters.
7. Princess Kaguya, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
Hate to bring Disney into this again, but Princess Kaguya sticks two fingers firmly up at their princesses and their penchant for accepting proposals from suitors they barely know! Fiercely independent and refreshingly rebellious against traditions and expectations, this Princess is a strong independent woman who don’t need no man, and I love it! She’s nonconformist, free-spirited and successfully breaks the mould of the princess stereotypes. The gorgeous free-flowing animation style perfectly reflects her incomparable spirit and she is beautiful and bold in every possible way.
6. Satsuki & Mei, My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Now I’m possibly cheating slightly by including two characters in this position, but it is impossible to try and separate the Kusakabe sisters who star in this charming and adorable movie. Their relationship is lovely to watch, and their spirit of adventure and fun makes them two of the most enjoyable Ghibli characters as well. Their bond shows the wonderful power of sisterhood, and they always have each other’s backs, even when times are difficult. They’re curious, brave, adventurous, and basically adorable!
5. Fio, Porco Rosso (1992)
Whilst Disney may have been providing young girls with aspirations to become princesses through their films, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli had other ideas! Through characters such as Fio, they chose to show girls that you could be smart, skilled, and use your ingenuity to get you further in life than a pretty dress ever could. Now I know which role model I would rather look up to! Heading up a badass team of all-female mechanics, Fio saves Porco’s butt on numerous occasions and proves to be an invaluable asset. Somewhat mirroring the heroic war efforts of the ladies left behind in WW2 whilst the men were on the battlefield, Porco Rosso and the character of Fio are testament to that Rosie the Riveter grit and spirit that is truly inspiring.
4. Kiki, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Ghibli at it’s most loveable and delightful, Kiki’s Delivery Service is the story of the titular witch, who leaves her family home when she turns thirteen to find her feet in the big wide world, and a town to work in and make her home. Independent and highly spirited, Kiki is determined to “make it work” and her commitment and dedication to her work are truly admirable. Not afraid to stand out from the crowd, Kiki is also smart and sassy, but also remains incredibly grounded. Kiki’s Delivery Service has lovely messages around finding your place in society, working hard to get to your goal, and not being afraid to be yourself, and for that, Kiki we salute you!
3. Nausicaä, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Not just one of the best Ghibli films, but one of the best animated movies of all time, Nausicaä is refreshingly ahead of the times in its thematic focus and in its portrayal of the main female character. Set in post-apocalyptic future, Nausicaä squares up to a tyrannous kingdom who are hell-bent on destroying a jungle full of mutant insects. Eco-warrior, and all-round badass Nausicaä values life regardless of its form, and her message of peace and acceptance provides a powerful counterpoint to greed, conflict and delusion. Studio Ghibli – shattering gender stereotypes and giving us iconic female characters, since ALWAYS.
2. Chihiro, Spirited Away (2001)
Few characters embark on such a drastic and life-changing journey as Chihiro, the wonderful protagonist at the heart of the Oscar-winning animated fantasy, Spirited Away. Her progression from somewhat whiny brat, to brave heroine who stands up to an evil witch is inspiring and wonderful to watch. Taking on the gruelling task of working in a bath-house and trying to maintain a low-profile in an throughly alien spirit world, Chihiro never loses sight of what she needs to do; save her parents and find a way back home. Comparisons could be made with the journey of Dorothy in The Wizard of OZ, both in terms of how far they come on their journeys from beginning to end, and that focus on home and the safety and comfort it represents keeping the otherwise fantastical story nice and grounded. Chihiro is brave, charming, and fantastic in every possible way.
1. San, Princess Mononoke (1997)
No questions about this one, San easily takes the number one spot. Let’s look at the evidence here, she’s a human, raised by wolf gods, and she also has the soul of a wolf – does it get anymore badass than that?! In a similar vein to Nausicaä, Princess Mononoke has a strong environmental message weaved throughout, as San fights to save the forest and the creatures which inhabit it, from evil humans. She’s fearless and often angry, but she has a softer, warmer side as well which makes her one of the most emotionally complex protagonists Ghibli have offered us. Princess Mononoke is powerful and evocative, and it is the central character of San and particularly her relationships with her wolf family that provide the beating heart of this film. We can only dream of being as badass as San!