Artbook of the Day: The Art of Princess Mononoke

Art of Mononoke (7)

I’ve cultivated an impressive, and to my knowledge, complete, collection of all of the fabulously hefty Viz artbooks on Hayao Miyazaki’s films. However, the artbook for my favorite Miyazaki film, Princess Mononoke, long eluded me because it was never released to the US. That gaping hole in my life was finally filled when my wonderful sister brought me home a copy after travelling to Japan, purchased from the Ghibli museum no less!

Art of Mononoke (2)

I of course love all of Miyazaki’s films, but I consider Mononoke to be his masterpiece. It just tackles so much from environmentalism, war and pacifism, human brutality, and just… life. Being alive. Heavy stuff, but it’s all told in such a masterful and natural way that I can’t help but choose it as my favorite.

The book obviously has gorgeous images of the hand-painted backgrounds featured in the film…

Art of Mononoke (3)


Art of Mononoke (4)

… While also, of course, featuring things like character sketches and other preliminary images:

Art of Mononoke (6)

The only downside to me is that it’s all in Japanese, and my 3 years of studying the language in high school has pretty much dissipated by now. But it’s fine, the images are the real meat of it anyways.

In making Mononoke, Miyazaki has said that he had “started to think about what a villain really was… It was hard to make a villain that really deserved to be defeated; at least, I couldn’t do it.” And it’s true. There is no pure “good” and “evil” in his world- only people with differing motivations. It is this sophisticated and nuanced view of humanity that makes Mononoke a timeless classic.


***All Images are my own crappy ones taken of the book

Veteran’s Day- Thanks, Bob

Probably the best decision I made in high school was joining the Arizona Heritage Project in my sophomore year. It was a school club, where we interviewed veterans living in Arizona about their service, and would then write an essay based on said interview that was published in a book annually (and archived by the Library of Congress!.) I initially joined only to do the artwork, as at the time I loathed writing, but I’m so glad that I ended up doing interviews. I’ll never forget the amazing stories I heard and the veterans I met.

I even interviewed the late renowned space/futurist artist Robert McCall who served during WWII, which was an incredible experience, to say the least. I was also quite starstruck, as he went over his incredible career-

         2001: a Space Odyssey Space Station One by Robert McCall

Look familiar? He made the promotional artwork for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and was friends with Issac Asimov (no big deal or anything), among many other things. During the interview, I was especially taken aback by how optimistic and cheerful he was- I think I’d previously imagined war veterans as damaged individuals, eternally cynical, especially about the future, after having seen and experienced what they had. Bob really proved me wrong, talking with a characteristic glint in his eye about how excited he was for the future of America, the space program and technology. He even helped to strengthen my resolve to pursue art at a time where it seemed a silly or unattainable dream.

So, happy veteran’s day to all of you, but especially to the veterans I interviewed while in the project, and to Bob McCall’s family. Unfortunately, he died in 2010- just a year after I interviewed him. It was such a shock, as he seemed so intensely alive and vibrant when I talked to him- he was just one of those people who, when you talked to him, seemed like he would live forever. Thinking about him now, I think he’d be happy to hear that I’m still pursuing art, and he definitely had a big hand in that decision. So, thanks a ton Bob, and Godspeed.

The Wonderful Women of Miyazaki Films

I’m on a Miyazaki kick! I’m writing a paper on his films, so they’ve definitely been taking up residence in my mind lately. Every time I think about these films I’m always in awe of how considered, complex, and just plain dignified the female heroines and regular characters are. There’s no fan service exploitation, no pandering- these characters are like real people, even while doing extraordinary things.

There’s, of course, Nausicaa, the titular heroine from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (first a manga, then a movie, both by Miyazaki.) I was thumbing through my copy of Nausicaa: Watercolor Impressions and was struck by this image (which warrants re-posting!):

I just love how powerful she looks, just sitting there. And you really get a feel for the burdens that she’s carrying. In Miyazaki’s comments on it, he said “I never liked drawing standard heroine pictures of Nausicaa looking cheerful… When she’s alone, I always imagined her looking very unapproachable. Not because she was intimidating, but because of a quiet isolation, like she wasn’t a part of her surroundings at all.” I find it amazing how deeply he thinks of his characters, seeing them as human beings, rather than devices or objects. Do I think that the same amount of thought went into most of the Disney Princesses? I doubt it. I would love to see an image like this of a Disney princess in a non-fan art capacity, but they simply don’t exist.

And who could forget San from Princess Mononoke? The titular heroine is just an unabashed bad-ass:

She’s fierce, quick thinking, and a true warrior. We’re introduced to her in battle- she moves swiftly and almost catlike. But she doesn’t fight for the sake of fighting, she fights to protect her forest from destruction by other humans (mainly the also bad ass lady Eboshi)- so much so that she’s developed a hatred of humans, and even rejects her own humanity.

from Studio Ghibli gifs

What I love about San is that she has her own obvious motivations to pursue- she’s not just an accessory to the main male protagonist of the film. She has her own story arc that’s integral to the film. AND her warrior garb isn’t exploitatively sexified- it looks believably like something someone raised by mythical wolf-beasts would wear.

Then, we have Ursula from Kiki’s Delivery Service

From Studio Ghibli Gifs

-not exactly a heroine, but a secondary character. She’s a painter who befriends Kiki on one of her delivery misadventures. Watching the movie when I was older, I was struck by just how amazing it is that we see a young woman who lives a very solitary life in the woods, and not once in the film is this ever treated as a Big Deal. We’re never told to pity her, she never shows indication of unhappiness/desperation- instead, she’s spunky, thoughtful, and full of life. She is shown to be perfectly well adjusted- and that’s pretty remarkable for a female character in any feature film, let alone one made primarily for young girls.

What’s great about these characters is that girls can relate to them incredibly easily, and/or look up to them just as easily, much more easily than with the more typical aspirational , shiny, idealized caricatures that dominated the Disney films and other anime of my childhood. There’s a place for those too (they can sometimes be a lot of fun) but I’m glad that I “met” these women in Miyazaki’s films when I was an impressionable young girl, and I’m glad to revisit them now, as a (hopefully wiser) adult.