When most people think of anime, Studio Ghibli is the first name that comes to mind, and for a very good reason. Founded in 1985, Studio Ghibli is one of the most popular dynasties of anime, having been formed off the back of Topcraft’s dissolution. Studio Ghibli leads not only in popularity as many fans would argue that the art direction featured in Ghibli productions is second to none, usually with Hayao Miyazaki as director. Here is a list of some of the most beautiful Ghibli productions to grace our screens.
Howl’s Moving Castle
Miyazaki’s trademark touches are abundant in Howl’s Moving Castle; a love of open, expansive landscapes, attention to detail and a blend of vivid and subtle colours. Unusual machinery, powerful settings and exquisite character design (particularly in the case of Howl) combine to evoke the fantasy element in the feature. The colours switch between bright and fantastical and moody and evocative, changing with the narrative as it progresses but always displaying the same fantastic use of lighting and detail. Howl’s Moving Castle is a visual wonder; displaying the typical stylistic tools of Miyazaki but amped up to a whole new level so that the end result is pure Ghibli, just better.
What I love about this film is the way the gentle balance of nature and technology portrayed in the narrative of the feature is mirrored in the artwork; with its contrast between natural, earthy tones and intense, vivid colouring. The backgrounds are as beautiful as any in future Ghibli productions; a mix of natural settings and industrial style backdrops that add a sense of openness and wonder that is the staple of any Ghibli feature. Castle in the Sky is years ahead in its artwork style; with beautiful use of lighting and fresh character designs. Studio Ghibli’s first ever feature, Castle in the Sky showed viewers what the future of anime would look like.
The Borrower Arrietty
Taking a break from the art direction of Miyazaki; this stunning feature directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi bears the visual hallmarks of a Ghibli movie, while adding a touch of something extra. Based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton, Arrietty features Ghibli’s trademark beautiful backgrounds from an entirely different perspective, allowing for richer and more greatly detailed background design. It is this play on perspective that makes Arrietty so visually stunning, as the painstaking level of detail is easily discernable in the drawing, the tone and the lighting of the feature. These aspects balance each other perfectly and together, add a spark of visual uniqueness that is to be exected from Studio Ghibli.
This highest grossing film in Japanese history is one even non-anime fans will have heard of. Spirited Away features some of the most exquisite backgrounds ever brought to life by Ghibli. The curious world of the spirits is depicted with true Miyazaki charm complete with bright and lively colours, and offers a perfect complement to the beautifully-drawn and more subtle nature settings in the feature. Another fantastic visual aspect of this award-winning feature is the unusual and wacky character designs that bring the various characters to life, from fantastical river spirits to grotesque witches. These bizarre characters contrast the simple character designs of characters like Chihiro, mirroring the narrative of Chihiro’s fantasy journey. Spirited Away is anime at its best, perhaps the reason behind its enormous popularity.
Princess Mononoke’s refreshingly simple character designs and intensely detailed landscapes are the highlights of this labour of love, with Miyazaki having redrawn much of the artwork in production. The background settings are as beautiful as you would expect from a Ghibli film, with particular focus on wild and untamed natural settings. The wild, contrasting colours fit perfectly with this setting and were almost entirely hand-painted; which may come as a surprise as the feature has the crisp and vivid colours reminiscent of digital painting. The contrast of the duller human world with this natural setting is evocative of the themes portrayed in Princess Mononoke.
Grave of the Fireflies
Directed by Isao Takahata, this feature breaks the mould of other Ghibli productions, most notably in the use of brown instead of black for outlines. This succeeds in adding a softer, more gentle quality to the artwork which is a necessity given the stark and tragic nature of the narrative. The evocative visual tone of Grave of the Fireflies is unlike any other Ghibli production; with moody colouring and an exceptional use of lighting. This attention to ambience gives the backgrounds a unique variance of colour, allowing them to merge beautifully with the brown outlines of the characters. The feeling of the artwork in Grave of the Fireflies perfectly complements the tone of the story so exquisitely; I’ve never seen anyone create this level of synergy in anime before.