Week 8 – Anime

According to Callavaro (2006), what does Miyazaki think about happy endings, and how do manga and anime more generally diverge from Western narrative conventions?

In the introductory chapter of Callavaro (2006), readers are given a primer into Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki. During this section, Miyazaki’s philosophy towards endings are briefly touched upon. With Callavaro (2006) stating that when ending his films, Miyazaki purposely avoids the kind of endings which effectively resolves every loose end. Which Miyazaki himself explains is because he had refrained from trying to make films with happy endings in the most traditional sense a long time ago. Instead opting to mimic the unpredictable nature of life.

This aspect of his work arguably carried over into that of his intended successor, Yoshifumi Kondo. Which we can see in the only feature length film directed by him prior to his sudden death. Whisper of the Heart, like much of Miyazaki’s work ends on an ambiguous note. Allowing for viewers to contemplate what becomes of the characters in the future. Effectively allowing them to linger in our minds and hearts for much longer than if we had a conventional ending that gave resolution to every plot point, or a “happy” ending as described by this week’s question.

One way in which anime and manga diverge from western narrative conventions is with regards to how integral the two mediums are to one another. With anime adaptations of manga often playing into how familiar audiences are with the source material. Which some have felt are the reasons for the initially lacklustre reception to films such as Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. (Callavaro, 2006). Something we can arguably see today in western media with the numerous live action adaptations of western comic book properties.

According to Callavaro, how is he positioned in regard to war and coming of age?

In Callavaro (2006), Miyazaki is referred to as being a strong advocate of pacifism and egalitarian ideologies. This is in part due to what could be described as the transgenerational guilt he felt over his family’s complicity in Japan’s involvement in World War II. As his family’s businesses were directly involved in the production of rudders used on the warplanes of which the infamous kamikaze aerial tactic is derived from. Additionally, his shame stems from privileges this position brought his family. Allowing them to reside in the rural town of Utsonomiya, just shy of Tokyo. Which meant they were spared from seeing the eventual wartime horrors the firebombing of Tokyo would bring. This guilt would be the basis of films such as Porco Rosso and the more recent The Wind Rises.

With regards to coming of age stories, Miyazaki’s films almost exclusively employ young, female heroines that subvert expectations within Japan’s shoujo subgenre of fiction. Which typically portray their heroines as being inherently passive. Miyazaki on the other hand does the opposite. Choosing to portray his female leads as courageous and independent women who are “active”. Additonally, Miyazaki avoids depicting these characters in ways that cater to consumers of anime and manga that desire sexualised imagery in the visual design of female characters (Callavaro, 2006, p. 11).

 

References

Cavallaro, D. (2006). Introduction. In The animé art of Hayao Miyazaki (pp. 5-14). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

 

Mononoke and Nausicaa + Genres

  1. In what ways is Nausicaä intended as a warning, and what attitudes does it express towards humanity, nature and the future?

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind is essentially an environmental parable in which acts as a messianic figure and intermediary between nature (represented by the toxic jungle and the Ohmuu, giant insects who roam it) and humanity. Nature is portrayed as a force that will outlast humanity and on same level is fundamentally good for the planet as a whole, but the Ohmuu themselves are neither good or evil. They are a purely automatic and reactionary force who only react violently to human beings when they interfere in their purification of the soil. Thus the onus is on human beings to live responsibly and realize that they are not the cause of the toxic jungle but it’s solution. Co-existence means humanity must accept it is no longer the apex predator, and the post-apocalyptic landscape of the film is a result of human arrogance. The film is not anti-scientific however – the irony of producing a piece of art only possible through technological means would be enough to discount this as a serious interpretation – Nausicaa only discovers the truth behind the toxic jungle through experimentation. The people of the valley are also shown to act in self-defence, claiming that while they use fire like the Tolmekians they do so in small amounts. In order to survive human beings must show mercy and compassion to the environment, and play their part in the ecosystem rather than hunger for power.

While a fundamentally simple story about the virtues of self-sacrifice Nausicaa raises interesting questions about environmental issues and how human beings should negotiate their relationship nature. Much of the nuance and political intrigue of the manga did not make its way to the feature film but nonetheless a clear theme is established and a delivered on.

An interesting comparison can be made between Nausicaa and Miyazaki’s later film, Princess Mononoke. While they deal with similar themes and questions the latter offers more complex answers and situations, and as such both films can be seen as sort of thematic sequels or prequels to each other.

The most obvious differences are the visual aesthetics of the films. Princess Mononoke portrays a mythical version of 14th century, where rampaging Samurai and peasants live alongside animal gods of the forest. In contrast Nausicaa takes place in a futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland drawing on various cultures and influences – Nausicaa herself takes her name from a Princess from the Odyssey and her affinity with insects from a Japanese folk tale) (Miyazaki, 2004 Nausicaa), and various implications scattered throughout the manga imply the story takes place somewhere in the Middle East. In this way the films are set apart by their perspectives. Nausicaa’s world is one where humanity is at the mercy of nature personified by the Ohmuu, while Princess Mononoke’s gods of the forest and humans are on roughly even footing and fighting for supremacy.

In contrast to Nausicaa’s straightforward morality play Princess Mononoke at its “most fundamental level… asks: Can we live ethically in a cursed world? And if so, how?” (Napier, 2018). While Prince Ashitaka is compassionate and prefers pacifism martyrdom is not his defining trait, and he kills several people throughout the film in self-defence, unlike Nausicaa. He is first motivated by the chance of saving himself from a curse and the wise woman of his village tasks him to “See with eyes unclouded”, rather than save the forest or his people. He is an outsider to all the factions involved in the story and his goal is not to side with any one of them (and finds himself accused by every side of being part of another group) but to understand them. This is a difficult task as the people he meet are complex and morally ambiguous, questioning his true allegiance at any turn. Like Nausicaa he also longs for peace.

The titular Princess, San, is filled with disdain for humanity and prefers the . In many ways she is a more appropriate mediator than Ashitaka or even Nausicaa, with connections to both worlds through her nature and . However, she is unable to forgive the humans for what they have done by the end of the film, despite loving Ashitaka the two are separated although they promise to keep in contact.

Lady Eboshi has the traditional markers of a villain – heavily associated with industrialization and the cause of Ashitaka’s injury, as well as displaying deep ambition. However, these qualities are not shown to be inherently evil, as it allows the village to sustain itself and allows her to do good things. Lady Eboshi uses her power to set free prostitutes and help the sick, giving them all fair work in her village. As such she is as well-beloved in her Ironworks as Nausicaa is by the people of the Valley of the Wind.

Nature is portrayed as less of a monolithic, passive or automatic force than in Nausicaa. The Gods of the Forest have their own voices and can explain their reasonings, and do not need a human being to speak on their behalf. The wolves, apes and boars come into conflict and alliance at various points of the film, and rather than being a dominating force is in the process of being subjugated. The only exception to this is the Deer God who represents a level of order above nature. The Emperor of Japan is never seen in the film but has a huge presence in the plot, sending his assassins to kill the Deer God and residing over humanity in a similar role, representing an order above normal humans – even Lady Eboshi finds herself in his service, albeit unwillingly – but never actually has to participate in violence and destruction he has caused.

In many ways the environmental message is superseded by the anti-war themes, but an overall optimistic outlook is still portrayed despite what could be interpreted as a very bleak. Miyazaki’s intentions seem to fall within Napier’s (2019) interpretation of the film, in which characters are celebrated for living a persevering rather than winning. “We are not trying to solve global problems with this film. There can be no happy ending to the war between the rampaging forest gods and humanity. But even in the midst of hatred and slaughter, there is still much to live for. Wonderful encounters and beautiful beings still exist.” (Miyazaki 1997b, p.20; cited in Callavaro, p. 123).

Overall, while Nausicaa is much more idealistic and didactic in its message and acts as a cautionary tale of the consequences of destroying the natural world, Princess Mononoke is a deconstruction of conflict itself. Both films highlight the challenges of pacifism and conversation.

 

References

Miyazaki, H. (2004). Nausicaa: valley of the wind, volume 2. Retrieved from https://kissmanga.com/Manga/Nausica%C3%A4-of-the-valley-of-the-wind/1?id=75669#138

Napier, S. (2018). Hayao Miyazaki’s cursed worlds. Retrieved from  https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/10/22/hayao-miyazakis-cursed-worlds/

 

  1. What genres/subgenres of anime can you identify?

As I previously discussed much of anime is commercially driven and as such has created a unique creative culture around it. Most genre descriptors used for anime originally come from manga which, although cheaper to produce, are also intensely commercial. Manga magazines market themselves heavily towards key demographics, the most famous of which being Weekly Shounen Jump/Weekly Boy Jump (the magazine which serialized Dragonball, One Piece, Naruto and various other mainstream hits). Therefore many subgenres that can be housed within these demographics – a shounen romance and a shoujo romance are two very different genres and follow different convetions. As such there are too many variations to define in this blog post so I will instead some of the more unique genres found in anime rather than subsets of generic genres (e.g. action, romance, comedy).

In addition anime is not limited to commonly accepted Japanese genres. Director Shinichiro Watanabe is famous for taking on Western and global cinematic influence to create his most critically acclaimed work, Cowboy Bebop, and appropriates hip hop culture for Samurai Champloo – a jazz-infused Space Western (with additional influence from Chinese heroic bloodshed, Kung Fu, noir, Kubrick and various other sources) and meditative chambara road trip adventure respectively. His work shows a playfulness and awareness of Western genres that, within the anime industry, is largely unique to him as a director.

Two genres which find few true counterparts in other cultures or forms of animation are the mecha genre and iyashikei. Mecha anime portray giant robots and machines, and can be further subdivided into Real Robot and Super Robot, with the former placing more emphasis on the how the mecha actually functioned and portraying the effects of war, while the latter was closer to a Saturday morning cartoon in tone and content and more generally aimed at children. Landmark titles in the genre include Gundam, Armoured Trooper Votoms and Macross. This genre saw it’s peak in the 1980s largely due to the merchandising, toys and models of the mecha portrayed in the show, as well as the cult popularity of science fiction stories at the time.

Iyashikei is often translated “healing story” and is often used interchangeably with the “Slice of Life” genre but has a more specific meaning than that. These stories often feature alternative realities or rural environments, with little to no conflict, portraying the everyday lives of its characters in great detail. Their intention is to elicit positive emotions within the viewer and to act as escapist fantasies, but they are not thematically weightless. A notable example is Yokohama Kaidashi Kiko (Yokohama Shopping Log) which is a post-apocalyptic take on the genre, taking place on a future version of Earth that is slowly being flooded and retaken by nature. The plot is largely unconcerned with explaining how or why this happened, or how so much of the small remaining population of the planet are ageless androids largely indistinguishable from humans. Instead the story follows the main character (an android herself) in her daily life running a café. Despite what would normally be a dark setting and distressing topic the story is able to subtly explore the quiet acceptance the characters feel towards humanity’s extinction. This very much originates from the concept of “mono no aware” – a Japanese term which is difficult to translate but roughly means an acceptance of the impermanence of things. (Afshar, 2018)

Much of what makes anime fascinating is the cultural perspective it offers, and iyashikei in particular offers an appeal that is very different Western media generally more conerned with conflict based storytelling. Many people around the globe are able to emphasize more strongly with anime than their own culture’s art for the alternative viewpoint it provides.

 

References

Afshar, S. (2018). What Is mono no aware, the Japanese love for impermanence?. Retrieved from https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/what-is-mono-no-aware-the-japanese-love-for-impermanence/

(n.d.). Manga demographics. Retrieved from https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/MangaDemographics

 

Dominic McAlpine

Week Eight: Anime

Question Six: In what ways is Nausicaä intended as a warning, and what attitudes does it express towards humanity, nature and the future?

Answer:

Before I begin to answer the selected question, allow me to introduce Anime. Japanese animation, or “anime”, usually referred with both the names in Japan and the West, is a phenomenon of popular culture. This means that much of its products are short-lived, rising and falling due to popular taste and the demands of the hungry market place (Napier, 2005). The mastermind behind the prosperous of Anime is none other than animation director Hayao Miyazaki (1941-Present). A masterful creator who’s works accumulate of various themes such of both enchanting fantasies and thought provoking scenarios, often more concentrated for adult spectators than for children (Cavallaro, 2006). Coupled with the international success of Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime, 1997) and Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 2001). Furthermore, according to Cavallaro (2006) Miyazaki, “…has brought to life intricate fantasy realm, building each from scratch… Within these domains, Eastern and Western traditions, ancient mythologies and contemporary cultures, the magical visions of children and the pragmatic outlooks of adults intriguingly coalesce” (pg 5). Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), in particular, contains important messages and warnings concerning multiple topics such as humanity, nature and the future.

The element which denotes that Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) is more than just a entertaining movie is the qualities of Kaitiakitanga (means guardianship and conservation) deep-seated in Nausicaä (the main character). Nausicaä, the heroine, believes in the value of life regardless of its form and through her actions stops a war. The central theme of the movie was to warn and educate the masses of the harms of a conflicting society and the greater damage which the environment suffers as a consequence for the present tension. Not only caring for the environment but, concerned greatly about the generation to come. Consequently, it is Fear which drives the conflicts, the fear of the poisoned forest results in the greed and resentment. Whereas, Nausicaä, being a trans-formative force, leads the people to understand and respect nature which is portrayed as welcoming, spiritual, and restorative for those, who enter it peacefully (Wikipedia, 2019). She understood the pain of losing someone when her beloved father was killed laying innocent at bed. Hence, she also didn’t want other people to go through the same torment of losing a loved one.

To Conclude, an old anime film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) teaches the audience the importance of compassion and the importance of looking after the environment speaks loudly that this, is an issue which has been on the agenda for quite a sometime. The present exploitation and heedlessness towards the whenua must stop! The land has been enduring from us humans for a very long time. It’s about time that we have to come up with constructive solutions on this matter.

References:

Cavallaro, D. (2006). Introduction. In The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki (pp.5-13). London: McFarland & Company.

Napier, S. J. (2005). Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, Updated Edition: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. London, England: Macmillan.

Wikipedia, (2019). Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nausica%C3%A4_of_the_Valley_of_the_Wind_(film)#Themes

According to Callavaro (2006), what does Miyazaki think about happy endings, and how do manga and anime more generally diverge from Western narrative conventions

Miyazaki’s list of works could basically be titled as, the most famous Anime films to date. With such titles as, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited away and My neighbor Totoro, this is not hard to work out why. I have never been interested in Animated films or television as it simply does not appeal to me but even I have heard of two of those titles and could roughly summarize the plots for you. Miyazaki is the Steven Speliberge of the animated picture. His distinct style differs from traditional western narrative conventions and his films are often an amalgamation of western and eastern influences, that still remain distinctly unique to his own style. 

Callavaro (2006) gives us a basic breakdown of how Miyazaki’s films end. They steer clear of a summary in which all loose ends are tied up and instead, the stories conclude in a more life like manner. Where though the principal conflicts in the story are concluded, there is an implication that there is more to say or do. Not everything has ended completely. This is in fact one of the western conventions which Miyazaki’s films avoid. Western cinema and Western television, to a certain degree, will give its audience a happy ending. We can leave our couches and movie theaters knowing that all is well and everything is back to normal. However, as Miyazaki said himself, the resolution in the film is only one ending, things will happen afterwards. The western three act structure, Act one set up, Act two, development, Act three, conclusion (Mesce 2012) is not popular in Japanese entertainment. Often films are the adaptations of manga, Japanese comics, which have a story ark that has been developed on for years. Therefore the condensed versions of these in Anime form could not faithfully represent the source material by adhering to this Western narrative structure (Callavaro 2006) The themes employed in Miyazaki’s film, that of the ever present threat to the environment, the phantom of war or self development bring a degree of severity to his art.  Even his films which are aimed at a younger audience such as my neighbor Toto, still discusses issues such as death, sickness and growing up. This compared to Western films, that when made for children, are almost always designed as simple entertainment. Any message or theme, plays a secondary role to this idea. The Japanese sub-genre, Shoujo (little female) is another specific style which deviates from western cinema. This is largely down to its specific applicability to Japanese life. Shoujo films are a sort of coming of age story, that showcase the transitional phase become childhood and adulthood. In her article Butler (2011) discussed the complex relationship between the audience of Shoujo and the show itself. This relationship is characterized as unique, due to the typical style of the art, which often depicts young female characters, facing impossible and fantastic challenges, though despite this the style does not cater to a single type of audience. In fact, despite the fact that the characters are female, much of the viewership of Shoujo is male. The reason for this is because of the demanding and stressful work culture, which many young Japanese males find themselves apart of (Callavaro 2006)These films then come to represent a break from that life, a brief escape, into a more playful exploratory world. Miyazaki’s films are also closely linked to Japanese history, specifically their role in World War two as an Axis power and the cause of some of the more vicious and bloody events of the war. Miyazaki’s family enjoyed a privileged war, with his father’s role at the head of a factory and living outside of Tokyo, the war was passed without event. Why this is relevant is the way this guilt is reflected in his films. This is another way in which Miyazki’s films diverge from classical western cinema. With such a strong historical basis, the gravity of the themes of these films is, in comparison to western cinema, much greater. Take for example Star Wars. Arguably one of the greatest movie/movies series in history. Not to reduce its cultural impact, but this film(s) is designed for entertainment, and follows a simple narrative curve (Andrew 1978) Miyazaki’s most famous work to date, Howl’s moving castle, encapsulates all those themes mentioned above. In an interview about the film, Miyazaki discusses the film and its almost organic conception, which I would argue adds a level of depth beyond entertainment. Miyazaki talks about how hes does not write scripts for his movies. He says that he would like that change this but that, that it simply the way he works (Miyazaki 2012) Perhaps this is a reason why his films become so soaked in his own personal history and ideals? without a original design or plan to follow, the natural course of his art takes is to take on these themes?

The large amount of eastern and western influences on Miyazaki’s works lead to the films having a mixed sense of place and origin. Miyazaki himself notes that his love of western writers, such as Tolkien and Asimov were great influences for his art (Callavaro 2006) What we find is that his films would perhaps have a more Western look, though strongly endowed with Eastern mythology or the reverse, an Eastern setting with a theme and story more recognized by Western audiences. This blending then, not only gives his movies a unique look and feel, but separates them from western cinema which often only tries to be that (Napier 2006)

References:


Cavallaro, D. (2006). The anime art of Hayao Miyazaki. London: McFarland & Company

Napier J, S (2006) Matter out of Place: Carnival, Containment, and Cultural Recovery in Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away The Journal of Japanese Studies Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 287-310 (24 pages 

Hayao Miyazaki. (2002). Retrieved from http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/hayao-miyazaki/

Mesce, B (2012) The Myth Of The Three-Act Structure: Retreived from https://www.shorescripts.com/the-myth-of-the-three-act-structure/ 

Butler, S (2011) Shoujo Versus Seinen? Address and Reception: Puella Magi Madoka Magica retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10583-018-9355-9

Andrew, G (1978) Star Wars: A Myth for Our Time: Literature/Film Quarterly; Salisbury Vol. 6, Iss. 4,  (Fall 1978): 314-326.

WEEK 8: ANIME

Looking at both Napier and Cavallaro (2006), discuss how these critics suggest anime is culturally ‘located’ – i.e., in the East or West, or somewhere else?

According to Napier (2005) anime is more accepted and valued as an authentic cultural product in Japan than opposed to the West. This is because the West traditionally categorise all animated content as ‘cartoons’ and targeted at child audiences. The West’s unwillingness to consider anime as a serious medium devalues its position in Japanese culture. In Japan anime plays on television at all times of the day, with different genres and themes suited to different audiences. Napier (2005) states that anime is not just for kids in Japan, and that many animators such as Hayao Miyazaki create films with themes that resonate across generations. Miyazaki films such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Princess Mononoke (1997) express concern for the environment, showcasing the destructive impact humans can cause. The importance of looking after the environment is a theme relevant to all human beings, regardless of age. In the West, as cartoons are viewed as child media, the themes of Western cartoons are often not as deep or complex. From this perspective, anime can be placed culturally in the East, as it is not fully understood and therefore under-appreciated by Western audiences at first glance.

However, Napier (2005) also discusses the inspiration and influence of Western culture on the creators of anime in recent decades. By the 1990s, Napier (2005) states a “cross-pollination and popular cultural borrowing that complicate[d] and enrich[ed] anime texts occurred” (p. 22). Young Japanese artists had grown up with more exposure to Western culture than previous generations and as a result this affected what types of anime they would create. Anime was still culturally located in the East, but was now drawing inspiration from the West. Interestingly, the West has also been influenced by anime adding more complex themes, characters and plot to Western cartoons. Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005), is a prime example as it is heavily influenced by traditional Japanese and Chinese cultures (Global History of Anime, n.d.). However, in referring to anime, the Western influence could be seen through characters having big eyes, blonde hair and thin lips. Although these characteristics resemble the West more than the East, although Napier (2005) argues that a new culture was being established with Japanese origins and Western influence. This new culture, more accurately described as a stateless culture (Napier, 2005), is shown by creators using pink, green or blue as typical hair colours. Therefore, rather than creating characters who look more like Westerners, these animators were actually ‘de-Japanizing’ the characters so they appeal to a global audience, not just Japan. From this approach, anime could be argued that sits in its own stateless culture rather than belonging to either the East or the West.

Cavallaro (2006) supports the idea that anime belongs more to a global culture in recent times. Miyazaki’s movies are a great example of this as the themes in his movies reach across cultural and geographical boundaries. The settings for various Miyazaki films are in locations which bear no significant features of Japan, and instead present themselves as ambiguously global or belonging to the West. Six out of his first nine features are set in non-Japanese locations, European-looking cities. By using locations that are not distinctly Japanese, the stories being told by Miyazaki take on a global appeal. These settings would suggest anime is therefore culturally situated outside of Japan. However, Cavallaro (2006) argues that the West still views anime as belonging to the East regardless of setting. She uses the examples of the Simpsons (1989) characters to demonstrate this thought process. Despite humans not having a yellow complexion, the Simpsons characters are still perceived as Western. This is the same for anime and manga characters who are viewed as Eastern even when they have big blue or green eyes. This highlights that the Japanese origins of anime are the significant factor in its cultural belonging.

While both Napier (2005) and Cavallaro (2006) acknowledge the Japanese origins of anime, they do not underestimate the influence of the West and global culture. As a result anime occupies the liminal space between the two, where it is simultaneously Japanese and non-Japanese or global. Therefore, it seems more accurate to place anime in its own category. This way the typical themes, style and characteristics of anime represent anime culture, as opposed to Japanese or Western culture.

References:

Brooks, J. L., & Groening, M. (Producers). (1989). The Simpsons [Television series]. United States: Fox.

Cavallaro, D. (2006). The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

DiMartino, M. D., & Konietzko, B. (Producers). (2005). Avatar: The Last Airbender [Television series]. United States: Nickelodeon.

Global History of Anime. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.rightstufanime.com/anime-resources-global-history-of-anime

Miyazaki, H. (Director). (1984). Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind [Motion picture]. Japan: Topcraft.

Miyazaki, H. (Director). (1997). Princess Mononoke [Motion picture]. Japan: Studio Ghibli.

Napier, S. J. (2005). Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, Updated Edition: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. London, England: Macmillan.

Pacsifistic flying kicks.

I would say that according to Callavaro Miyazaki’s work has a generally anti-war bent and is generally centered around coming of age stories.

Given Japan’s recentish history regarding war and more personally Miyazaki’s family history it’s not hard to see why this would be the case, especially given that anti-war themes are not exactly uncommon, even beyond Miyazaki’s work (Callavaro, 2006).

This is shown very well in the film Nausicaa of the valley of the wind. The film takes place entirely in a post-apocalyptic world that has descended back into a number of absolute monarchies. In the opening of the film we see an opening in which several enormous living weapons of mass destruction referred to as Giant Warriors, surrounded by fire as whatever the old world was is picked clean by fire. Although the film from this point on features Princess Nausicaa many times saying that the violence of the world must come to an end, this seems to be an opinion she forms after walking in the scene of her father’s body after his death, leading to her swiftly killing the people responsible. After this point she becomes staunchly anti-violence, while she does threaten its use she never actually hurts anyone from this point on. With this outlook she is able to save the world and prove herself worthy of becoming queen and thus comes of age through her renouncing of violence (Miyazaki, 1984).

I would argue that many Japanese artists do not conform to the idea of higher and lower genres as many do here in the west. Take for example 2017-2018’s tokusatsu series Kamen Rider Build. Despite being in the same subgenre of science fiction as Power Rangers, being made to promote and sell toys and being aimed primarily at children, Build does not shy away form the affects of war and death. At the start of the show we learn of the Skywall incident wherein, stay with me now, Pandora’s box is brought to Earth from Mars by an astronaut possessed by an alien called Evolt causing a wall to separate Japan into three fairly corrupt and dangerous governments. These three regions of Japan from this point on wage war on each other many times (usually at the behest of Evolt) these attacks are shown to do serious damage and kill several people. As the series progresses the initially villainous Kamen Rider Grease appears with three minions who are his closest friends until they die one by one. The first of them having been at the hands of Kamen Rider Build after loosing control of his powers. After the loss of the rest of his friends Greese eventually joins the heroes, but this ultimately leads to his own death, fading from existence in the arms of the woman he loved, after having become a beloved fan favourite character (Muto, Ōmori, & Yanaka, 2017).

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Japan has valid reasons to be anti-war given their history. Not only did they side with the nazis in world war II, they are also the victims of the only two nuclear strikes in war. As such they, as a culture, have firsthand experience of the horrors of war that many other nations dread to imagine. But Miyazaki knows of WWII better than many, his family having produced parts for war planes that lead to the deaths of many. Given how influential Miyazaki has been on the Japanese media landscape it’s not unlikely that his anti-war views have gone on to permeate all the way to today.

Callavaro, D. (2006). Introduction. In The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Miyazaki, H. (Director). (1984). Nausicaä of the valley of the wind [Motion picture]. Japan: Studio Ghibli.

Ōmori, T., & Yanaka, T. (Producers), & Muto, S. (Writer). (2017). Kamen Rider Build [Television series]. Tokyo, Japan: TV Asahi.

i’d rather be a pig than a fascist

  1. According to Callavaro (2006), what does Miyazaki think about happy endings, and how do manga and anime more generally diverge from Western narrative conventions?

Callavaro (2006) believes that while Miyazaki’s films are incredibly effective due to their dedication to realizing the fantastic worlds and scenes depicted within them, but rather than function as pure escapism they also highlight the difficulties of life and treatment of the Other. Rather than evil forces that exist only to manufacture conflict and be defeated the antagonists of Miyazaki’s works tend to be people or forces that the protagonist must make peace with (such as the Ohmm or Kingdom of Tolmekia of Princess Nausicaa, or Princess Mononoke’s various factions). As such while the endings of his films are most often happy and achieve catharsis the characters’ developments are never entirely finished. “I gave on making a happy ending in the true sense a long time ago. I can go no further than the ending in which the lead character gets over one issue for the time being.” (Miyazaki, 1988 as cited by Callavaro, 2006, p. 6).

Callavaro also states that much of anime’s freeform and unusual structure is the result of adaptation from other media (these are most often manga or light novels but include countless examples). This focus on longform, serialized storytelling lends a different character to the work as they are not bound by the traditional three-act structure and anime itself has come in various formats. Bencivenni (as cited by Callavaro, 2006) notes that Japanese audiences do not necessarily go to see something new but to experience how the text has been transformed into another medium. I would add that a major contributing factor to this is the financial context of Japanese animation. Anime is costly to make, and animators have had to struggle with managing budgets, style and expectations since television anime first came to prominence with Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, which was itself an adaptation of a popular manga but also had to utilize limited animation and stock visuals to maintain a weekly schedule, as well as being offered at a price below what world normally be asked for (Ban, 2016) – a controversial move which even Miyazaki (2012) has argued has damaged the state of modern anime. This incentivizes the industry to continue expanding on transmedia franchises with dedicated fanbases rather than take risks on new ideas (Schilling, 2017). As such many anime presuppose knowledge on the viewer’s part, particularly Original Video Animations (OVAs) which often heavily condense their source materiel to fit within budget constraints. Another example is the famous Pokemon anime, which was built around the assumption that its audience had already played the game.

However, Ghibli distinguishes itself from most anime by focusing on original feature films. One exception to this is Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind (while technically not a Ghibli film, Nausicaa was created by the same staff and with the same ethos), which was still being serialized at the time the film was released. The film ends roughly around the second volume of the manga and excises much of the complex political intrigue of the world in order to act as a standalone film, but unintentionally creates a plot hole by killing Nausicaa’s father is killer far earlier in the story in order to hasten her character development, despite their being no reason for the antagonists to kill him. After the film was made the manga would continue to be updated intermittently throughout the years to come.

Overall though, most of his films narrative oddities are a consequence of his production process, and the unique composition of the studio as a whole. In interviews and various documentary series (Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, NHK Documentary series) Miyazaki openly admits that he does not write scripts and skips straight to storyboarding, with only vague estimates on when the film will be finished, and production of the film undergoes while these storyboards are still in progress. Similarly, Ghibli’s other accomplished director Isao Takahata (another co-founder of Ghibli whose works are equally compelling although do not have the same international appeal as Miyazaki’s) is infamous for delaying his films and perfectionism (Loveridge, 2018). However, due to their talent and financial success Ghibli was able to sustain auteurs with a strong artistic voice in a way few animation studios can. Miyazaki focuses very strongly on individual moments, stating that because he has no clear ending in mind each one seems the most important to him. The ending of the film can almost be mistaken as an afterthought. This a running theme of in his works which often leave a hint of ambiguity, leaving the audience to wonder for themselves what became of the characters. They are constantly in a state of flux and development and are fully realized characters because they can exist the bounds of the film. In a 2002 Midnight Eye interview around the release of Spirited Away Miyazaki stated, “I believe the human brain knows and perceives more than we ourselves realise. The front of my brain doesn’t send me any signals that I should handle a scene in a certain way for the sake of the audience. For instance, what for me constitutes the end of the film, is the scene in which Chihiro takes the train all by herself. That’s where the film ends for me” before going on to describe how it relates back to the first time he took the train and how he had unconsciously come to draw the scene the way it was. The rest of the film is not simply in service to its ending – they are all important.

 

References

Ban, T. (2016). The Osamu Tezuka story: A life in manga and anime. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Osamu-Tezuka-Story-Manga-Anime/dp/1611720257

Cavallaro, D. (2006). The anime art of Hayao Miyazaki. London: McFarland & Company.

Hayao Miyazaki. (2002). Retrieved from http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/hayao-miyazaki/

Loveridge, L. (2018). In new book, Ghibli’s Suzuki reveals Isao Takahata as notoriously difficult director. Retrieved from https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2018-08-13/in-new-book-ghibli-suzuki-reveals-isao-takahata-as-notoriously-difficult-director/.135444

Schiller, M. (2016). Japanese animation turns 100 and remains vital force in film, television. Retrieved from https://variety.com/2016/tv/asia/japanese-animation-100-anniversary-osamu-tezuka-1201889290/

 

Dominic McAlpine