Hey! Hallie here!
Studio Ghibli has created some of my favorite characters of all time. They’re just really good at crafting character arcs. Most Ghibli films have pretty well recognized characters, but there are some that I wish would get more recognition overall. There’s too many good ones I don’t see anyone mentioning. For this list, I’m going to count any characters I feel aren’t as focused on when Ghibli characters are brought up. This goes for both side characters and main characters. If they have widely distributed merch lines, you can probably guess they won’t appear here. Sorry Totoro. Let’s get started! Some spoilers ahead!
- Anna Sasaki. Anna is the protagonist of ‘When Marnie Was There’. ‘When Marnie was There’ is one of the Ghibli movies that’s pretty slept on in general. Even when I do hear this movie being mentioned, Marnie’s name is thrown around much more that Anna’s. She is the title character after all. But Anna is one of the most endearing protagonists in any Studio Ghibli movie. Anna is pretty closed off and awkward at the beginning of the movie. She lost her parents when she was very young, and though her grandmother briefly adopted her, it wasn’t long before she lost her grandmother, too. Though she was quickly adopted, she was slow to warm to her adoptive parents. It only made matters worse when she learned her adoptive parents received money from the government for taking care of her. Fearing that her parents only cared about the money, she distanced herself so much that they sent her to the countryside to live with her adoptive mother’s relatives to deal with her general anxiety and reclusiveness. Her awkwardness is relatable, however, and you can’t help but feel her pain when she accidentally lashes out at a girl she’s meant to befriend. Her kindness towards Marnie reveal her true colors, however. Anna is understanding of Marnie, and is even willing to protect her when she hears Marnie’s parents care very little for her. She always attempts to be there for Marnie and grows because Marnie is there for her. By the end of the movie she isn’t “cured” of her anxiety, but she does learn how to deal with it. You can’t help but cheer for her when she finally is able to be happy and accept affection without doubting herself.
- Fio Piccolo. Fio is the female protagonist of ‘Porco Rosso’. It’s so rare that I hear her name mentioned among the list of Studio Ghibli’s capable female protagonists, because Fio is so badass. Fio meets Porco, or Marco Pagot, when she’s already working for her grandfather’s company repairing planes. Her grandfather suggests her work to Marco, who turns her down because she’s a seventeen year-old girl. Her grandfather insists that he gives Fio a chance, so Marco reluctantly agrees. Of course, she blows him away with her design capabilities and becomes the personal repair-woman of his plane. She also gets to tag along with him in aerial combat and becomes an overall reliable partner and friend to Marco. Fio is compassionate and caring, but she isn’t to be underestimated. There’s a reason why a gang of air pirates quickly proclaimed their respect for her after only one fight.
- Prince Justin. Prince Justin is more easily recognized as Turnip-Head from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. When he first appears, he frightens Sophie after she tries to use him as a walking stick. Attempting to dislodge the stick from a bush, she accidentally rights the scarecrow he has turned into. He’s grateful for her help and decides to follow her. He helps her at various points throughout the movie despite the fact that he’s not allowed into Howl’s castle because of the strength of the curse placed on him. After everything he does for Sophie, she places a kiss on his cheek at the very end of the movie. And he turns into a prince. It turns out that a kiss of true love breaks the spell. Obviously, despite Sophie’s gratefulness, she’s in love with Howl and not Justin. Justin doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t even ask her to explain herself. He thanks her for freeing him, and leaves her to her happiness. In the cinematic world, and in the real world as well, men too often expect repayment for helping women they’re interested in. Prince Justin does none of this and for that I’ll forever respect him.
- Lisa. Lisa is considered the tritagonist of ‘Ponyo’, but let’s be honest, most people give their full attention to Ponyo and Sosuke. Lisa is Sosuke’s mother and she often finds herself raising Sosuke alone while his father’s at sea. She doesn’t complain about this predicament, aside from a few choice words to her husband over morse code. She works full time at a retirement home while Sosuke’s in kindergarten, which she’s often late for, causing a few insane driving practices. Despite her quirks she has an excellent relationship with her son. So excellent that she takes in Ponyo without question when he asks, even deciding not to question her when Ponyo attempts to explain that her father is an evil sorcerer. She takes care of Sosuke and Ponyo throughout a giant storm that causes their seaside home to nearly go underwater. She even turn the blackout into an enjoyable game for them by giving them easy tasks to do together. Lisa, however, rushes off for the retirement home as soon as she can to check on it’s residents. Later, she agrees with Ponyo’s mother to take care of Ponyo and speaks on behalf of her son in order to keep the two together. Lisa is caring of everyone around her. She’s responsible and understanding. She’s an excellent mother and easily one of the strongest women in Studio Ghibli’s movies.
Those are just a handful of Ghibli’s underrated characters. I’ll probably turn this into a series just to get to all of the characters I want to talk about. I love Ghibli and I always find myself attached to the majority of the characters in every movie. Each movie character feels so real. None of them are perfect. They all have flaws and make mistakes they have to learn from. Their strength in learning from those mistakes and proving their worth are what always stick with me. Ghibli characters teach viewers to be kind, brave, and unashamed of who they are. I always want to highlight the characters that made me realize I am more than I realize. I’d even dare to say the characters here, especially the female representation, has touched me more than any Disney princess ever has. I can never talk about these characters enough.
Don’t do anything fun until I get back!