Culhane, John. (1979, June 10). The Muppets in Movieland: Muppets Moving Muppets. NewYork Times Magazine.
MIYAZAKIS ANIM GIRLS. Japanese popular culture is full of cute characters andcuddly animals, suggesting a strong connection with a childs eye on the world. Yet theseiconic images also challenge simple ideas of children and of reality. Within the dense arrayof girlhood representations in Japanese anim, the lms of Hayao Miyazaki command spe-cial reverence. They draw large audiences worldwide and are known for their rich fantasystyle and craftwork as well as for their interesting female characters. Like Japanese visualartists Yoshitomo Nara and Chiho Aoshima, Miyazaki utilizes wide-eyed, endearing ani-mated children to portray contradictory aspects of contemporary society.
While Naras sober-faced children bear un-innocent knowledge of hatred, anger, chaos,threat, and annihilation, Miyazakis are brave and curious, never shying away from oppor-tunities to help family and friends. These representations are common in Japanese mangaand anim and rarely portray girls who adhere to stereotypes of cuteness or conventionalgirlhood. In Drop Dead Cute, Ivan Vartanian argues that cuteness is a variable and unsta-ble characteristic in Japanese animparticularly of Miyazakis variety. More common areundertones of darkness and destruction (2005, p. 132); and in this sense, representationsof children in Japanese popular culture may disturb viewers as well as entertain them.
The representation of shojo, or schoolgirls, is a standard feature of contemporary mediain Japanese television, manga, and anim. Shojo literally means little female and origi-nally referred to girls around the ages of 12 and 13. Shojo most often appear in print or inanimated cartoons and lms as innocent, passive, and confusedthe iconic girl on thethreshold of puberty. But Miyazakis shojo are inquisitive, courageous, and risk taking,challenging familiar assumptions about girlhood and what is perceived as the real world.Two of Miyazakis lms (and their girl characters) are particularly relevant: Spirited Away(2001) and Nausica of the Valley of the Wind (1984).
Spirited Away garnered numerous international awards and a reputation as a master-piece. The central character, Chihiro, is a young girl known for whining. When she andher parents enter a magical space, a Japanese bathhouse for spirits, her parents are turnedinto pigs. She becomes a worker at the spirit spa, and with the help of numerous colorfulhumans, spirits, and even dust balls, Chihiros courage, compassion, diligence, and hon-esty shine. While she often trembles and hesitates, Chihiro eventually merges bravery andkindness, and frees both her parents and her young male friend from the spirits spells.
Chihiro exemplies a Miyazaki shojo who passes a trying test of will, strength, and com-passion, and, in doing so, demonstrates enormous growth of character. Chihiro confrontsobstacles and sinister characters in a manner that viewers might consider stereotypicallymasculine: actively and inquisitively with both physical and emotional strength.
In Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, the title character is a girl who inhabits a bleak worlddevastated by nuclear wars and patrolled by giant insects and threatening human tribes. Shehas magical powers and is charming but dangerousshrewd but empathetic. Nausica com-bines her exceptional ability to y, ght, and bring animals and humans back to life with astrong sense of compassion, occasional fear, and remorse. Again, her independence isunusual in a fairy talea genre in which the active protagonists are generally male.
Miyazakis Anim Girls 437
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Miyazakis work breaks down conventional images of femininity and the material worldin general. The young female characters journey to face their problems independentlywith strength and determination. As the audience watches them, they become increas-ingly aware of the unconventional and are challenged to suspend their disbelief in alter-native realities. Miyazakis girls ip reality onto its head, offering subtle commentary onconventional ideas of femininity and sending a message of hope to the adult world.
See also Girl Power; Manga and Anim Fan Culture
Napier, Susan J. (1998). Vampires, Psychic Girls, Flying Women and Sailor Scouts: Four Faces ofthe Young Female in Japanese Popular Culture. In D. P. Martinez, ed. The Worlds of JapanesePopular Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 91109.
. (2000) Anime: From Akira to Princess Mononoke. New York: Palgrave.Vartanian, Ivan. (2005). Drop Dead Cute: The New Generation of Women Artists in Japan. San Fran-
cisco: Chronicle Books.
MOESHA. Moesha, a family sitcom based around an African American teenage girl,became television network UPNs rst breakout hit. Moesha focused on the main charac-ters adolescent struggles and her relationships with family and friends.
The pilot episode introduced Moesha Mitchell (often called Mo) as a teenage girlhaving difculty accepting her new stepmother, Dee. Although this tension is resolvedwithin the episode, it continued to be a focal point during the initial season, along withMoeshas relationships with her father, Frank, and brother, Myles. Moeshas best
Nausica, in Hayao Miyazaki's 1984 lm Valley of the Winds (aka Kaze no tani noNaushika, aka Warriors of the Wind). (Courtesy of Photofest.)
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