Miyazaki and Round Characters

Hello all! Obligatory blog maintenance: I want to start of this post by saying that I hope you’ve been enjoying my content lately. It’s been a little different for me, but I’ve been really delving into the design side of everything to do with games lately, and I always want to be sure that I’m creating content that I find most interesting at the moment, for that is the content that will end up the strongest finished product. Not that I’m not in to coding & development right now! I’m still very much active in my Unity & XCode files! I just don’t have much interesting content to be posting for you all at this moment! That being said:

Hello all! I recently got a new tattoo! It’s a scene from my favorite movie of all time: Princess Mononoke. Ever since a young age I have been genuinely captivated by the work of Miyazaki, and this fascination has grown to an all out obsession. If you’re unfamiliar with Hayao Miyazaki, he’s a Japanese animator and story teller, one of the co founders of Studio Ghibli. Responsible for many timeless titles, if you’re unfamiliar I highly suggest giving some of the movies a watch. Miyazaki, and his peers at Studio Ghibli, have a supreme ability to create riveting storylines, stunning scenery, inconceivably complex worlds, and most relevant to this post; perfectly imperfect characters.

We all know the terms “Round” and “Flat” characters. They are the building blocks for character criticism across all media. In theory, creating a round character really is not supposed to be very difficult. “Winnipeg the sheep herder hates wolves until she is forced to live 3 weeks in their shoes(paws?) and now POOF she understands it, and never hates wolves again”. This is the basis for every “round” character. Add some notable complexity (her mother was killed by a wolf) and personality (she’s SO quirky) to the story and there you have it: she’s perfectly round, and likely the protagonist in any way that the story is told. What these adjectives fails to acknowledge, however, is the complete and utter lack of depth shown in the development of the character. On the other side of the spectrum: “Dale is a grumpy tag-along in an epic adventure with 2 strangers, which he spends the majority of bitching and moaning about having to be on this adventure. He never changes. Nobody likes him. He is the same, through and through”. Dale is a perfectly flat character. Likely thought of as the antagonist, or at least a character consistently shown in a negative light. Such a simple character design, so boring, yet we see this exact character in SO MANY movies, books, and video games. Obviously, this is a subjective matter, but I’m going off of the basis of what is generally considered to be a round or a flat character.

To further the understanding of round & flat characters here’s some famous examples:

Forest Gump- He begins his journey as just a slow boy from Alabama, but through his travels, experiences, the people he meets, and the situations he gets himself in to, by the end of the story we see him as a completely different person. He is charming, successful, insightful, and loving. He is a well rounded character. He is almost entirely good, with very little negative and is definitely the protagonist of his story.

The Emperor- Evil and cunning, the main villain from the Star Wars original 3 is a perfectly flat character. He is evil, predictable, and the same character throughout the entirety of the series. An obvious antagonist, he will never change and dies a committed villain.

Deep Characters

Now let me introduce you to an idea, not one of my own but since I don’t know what to call it, I will refer to them as “Deep Characters”. Remember all the business about Miyazaki and Ghibli up top? Well, this is where I will tie it all in. I believe that the best characters have so much more to them than just the simple tags of “protagonist” & “antagonist”. In fact, it’s anti-creativity, in my opinion, to fill these roles as such. There is no truly bad person on this planet. There are some TERRIBLE people, don’t get me wrong. But human beings are inherently driven by incentive. Even if that incentive is not perceived by a logical thinking human, there is a reason for everything somebody does. Everyone has this depth. So why then do we often see characters in popular media only shown in one light, only good or bad? Don’t you think that Bowser has a side to his tale? Don’t you think that maybe Thanos has some logic behind his actions? I think this is because we, as consumers, like to see a definite evil, and a definite good. We like to know what side to root for. This is where Mr. Miyazaki has made himself different in the world of entertainment. There is an undeniable complexity to EVERY character in EVERY Miyazaki directed film since 1986. And that is something I would argue in to the grave. Characters in Miyazaki’s films blur the line between hero and villain, so much so that I feel that the term of “Round” character does not suit them well. Most of these characters change in many ways for the better, but most of them also remain the same in ways too, or will even change in ways the put them in a more negative light, as is true in humans. Miyazaki makes it a point that no character in his films is ever truly evil through and through. They are simply fighting for what they believe in. Fighting for what they want. I’ll try and list as many examples here as I can, for I realize that some may not be familiar with these films, but hopefully with enough examples you may all be able to understand the essence of Miyazaki’s deep characters.

Image result for lady eboshi

Lady Eboshi, Princess Mononoke-

While generally thought of as the antagonist of the film, Lady Eboshi is beloved by her townspeople, who are extremely friendly, helpful, and understanding of the protagonist, Ashitaka, throughout the film. While she is responsible for the havoc of the film, when the resolution is not in her favor, she is quick to admit defeat, and even apologize to those who were killed in her efforts.

Image result for No face

No Face, Spirited Away-

Probably the best and most well known example of this character type. No Face is the dominant antagonist for the beginning half of the film, yet is quick to become a friend to the protagonist, Chihiro, once he has left the Bath House, which is the source of his psychosis. He is from then on a beloved, sweet, and polite character, speechless, yet adored by those who surround him.

Image result for yubaba

Yubaba, Spirited Away-

Yubaba is a villain, concurrent with No Face, but she also helps save the bath house, and all of it’s occupants, from No Face. She remains the “villain” for the remainder of the film, but she is one of the first to congratulate Chihiro in her triumph by the end of the film, readily admitting defeat.

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Porco Rosso, Porco Rosso-

First off, if you haven’t seen this film, but are a fan of Studio Ghibli, this is a must watch. By far one of the best movies I have ever seen. Porco is the definition of a flawed hero. Rude, bitter, and playing by only his own rules, Miyazaki does a brilliant job of focusing on his triumphs as well as his flaws, leaving the viewer to question just how heroic this hero is.

Howl, Howl’s Moving Castle-

Howl is another flawed hero. While he is beloved by Sophie and his peers, he is being hunted by the royal family for theft. He is essentially a vigilante, and this is not revealed until midway through the film. Miyazaki chooses to show him in both a villainous and a heroic light, and switches this up a few times in the film, which is an extremely interesting choice. That along with the mystery surrounding his character, it truly is up to the viewer to interpret his intentions.

I hope that you have all enjoyed my little rant here. I am just a huge believer in the importance of complexity within a character. A character that a viewer can become attached to, relate to, and ultimately see living in our own reality is a perfect character, in my eyes. I feel this way about all of the characters in Miyazaki’s films, and feel like this is perhaps something that the video game industry could use more of. Not to say we don’t have lovable characters, but a story driven game needs depth driven characters, and I feel like I haven’t seen much of that recently. But I digress. Heres a picture of the scene I’ve gotten tattooed! Once again, I can’t recommend these films enough, they are a haven for story telling, and truly an example of peak creativity.

Image result for princess mononoke end scene

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