Studio Ghibli films are characterized not only by their whimsical animation style and emotional stories, but also by their intelligent and multi-faceted protagonists.
Whether they demonstrate intelligence in the intellectual, social, or mundane sense of the term, the protagonists of Studio Ghibli are more often than not capable and thoughtful characters. The ones featured here aren’t in any particular order, but all have intelligence that helps them in one way or another throughout their respective stories.
Jiro Horikoshi – The Wind Rises
The wind picks up’ Protagonist Jiro Horikoshi is a fictionalized version of the real-life character of the same name, an aeronautical engineer whose designs were used by Japan during World War II.
In the film, Jiro’s study of airplanes and his passion for them drive the narrative, and he’s driven throughout his career to design something beautiful. However, not all goes well for Jiro, as multiple failed flight tests and the co-opting of his designs by the military show, but nonetheless Jiro perseveres to achieve his vision.
Shizuku – Heart Whisper
Despite the film’s underrated status, Whisper of the heart Teenage protagonist Shizuku is one of the best female characters in Studio Ghibli history.
Shizuku is both an avid reader and an aspiring writer, a passion she pursues not only in the development of her novel throughout the film, but also in writing lyrics. Although her daydreaming tendencies have been shown to negatively impact her school life, Shizuku has a fixed focus when it comes to her writing, and learning the skills to balance the two is an important part of his history.
Seiji – Heart Whisper
The male lead role in Whisper of the heartSeiji shares Shizuku’s love of books – although this is to some extent influenced by his crush on her – but also has his own passions as a budding violinist and luthier.
Seiji spends much of his free time practicing his craft and proves to be highly motivated in this endeavor, later applying and traveling to Italy in order to apprentice with a master luthier. Seiji’s developing skills act as a mirror of Shizuku’s, showing the pair’s shared desire to excel in their respective fields.
Spirited Away – Spirited Away
In Taken away as if by magic Chihiro is thrust into an unknown world, and although initially overwhelmed with nerves and fear, she finds a place in Yubaba’s bathhouse through her social interactions and keen observation skills.
A moment that particularly proves Chihiro’s intelligence comes when she is invited by Yubaba to find her parents among a crowd of pigs, where her insight correctly leads her to reply that none of the animals present are her transformed parents. Additionally, throughout the film, Chihiro’s approach when interacting with spirits of all guises shows her kindness and social skills.
Sophie – Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle
At the heart of Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle is Sophie’s journey to break the curse placed on her by the Witch of Trash, but along the way she discovers much more than she intended to find.
Among the many small details of Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle is the fact that Sophie’s friendship with Calcifer is indicative of her developing relationship with Howl. Throughout the film, Sophie exemplifies her common sense, contrasting Howl’s whimsy to great effect, and also plays a crucial role in breaking not only her own curse, but also the bargain affecting Howl and Calcifer.
Howl – Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle
The titular wizard Howl’s Howl’s Moving CastleHowl has a flair for the dramatic which is aided by his great magical prowess.
The awesome heights of Howl’s power are most evident when her young age is contrasted with that of her nemesis, the Witch of Trash, and her teacher Madame Suliman. Howl’s relative youth suggests his prodigious skills, proven not only by his moving castle building, but also by his frequent uses of magic for defensive and offensive purposes.
Kiki – Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service sees young witch Kiki leave her home and move to a new town, as is tradition for witches to continue their training.
After finding a new home for herself in a seaside town, where her cat Jiji is the only familiar face, Kiki demonstrates her ingenuity by finding work as a delivery girl and then starting her own business that uses her racing skills. Despite the setbacks, Kiki uses the assets at her disposal, showing that she was ready for her move away from home.
Fio – Porco Rosso
Porco Rosso is undoubtedly an underrated Studio Ghibli film, and the same could be said for one of the film’s main characters, Fio Piccolo.
Porco Rosso first meets Fio when his plane is in dire need of repairs, and despite his initial skepticism of the young woman’s talents, Fio quickly shows his expertise. Talented not only as a mechanic but also as an engineer, Fio proves invaluable to Porco Rosso over the course of the film, and is later shown to have taken over his family’s business.
Ashitaka – Princess Mononoke
At Princess Mononoke’s Ashitaka is an Emishi village prince inflicted with a curse he wishes to get rid of, leading him to Iron Town and the troubles therein.
Contributing to his status as one of Studio Ghibli’s most likable characters, Ashitaka deftly navigates the complex story and conflict between San and Lady Eboshi. Never succumbing to the intense hatred that fuels some of the actions of his fellows, Ashitaka has a mature personality that reflects his understanding nature, despite his sometimes stern temper.
Sheeta – Castle in the Sky
castle in the sky Sheeta had a very turbulent life early in the film despite her young age, due to her secret heritage and her status as Laputa’s heiress.
Throughout the story, Sheeta and Pazu’s search for the lost floating island brings them face to face with all manner of enemies, and Sheeta shows her bravery against them on multiple occasions. His intelligence is used to accomplish his mission in the film, keeping Laputa out of the hands of those who would use his resources for evil, encapsulating his worthy ideals.
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