Studio Ghibli Column


More than 35 years ago, Studio Ghibli was born, with “ghibli” being a Libyan Arabic word meaning “hot Saharan wind.” The name carried the co-founders’ hopes that Studio Ghibli would “blow a new wind through the anime industry.” Wanting to waste many hours and call it productivity, I decided to begin watching Ghibli productions chronologically—from 1986 to the present—and indulge in these delightful animations, stories that blew fresh air into anime and the world at large.

Frame 1: “Castle in the Sky”

In 1986, a year after co-founding Studio Ghibli, director Hayao Miyazaki released the studio’s first film, “Castle in the Sky.” Set in the late 1800s, this two-hour long film follows Sheeta and Pazu on their journey to defeat the military pursuing Sheeta for her heirloom pendant, all while in search of Laputa: a legendary and technologically advanced floating island. Warning: spoilers ahead.

The story of “Castle in the Sky” is beautifully paced and balances action with tranquility. The movie starts in media res, introducing us to Sheeta without ever telling us her name and, within the first few minutes, flings her off of an airship. There is never a wasted second in this film; every frame is optimized for both beauty and story. Moments of quiet are often coupled with stunning displays of the movie’s hand-drawn art: puffy white clouds that entice touch, flowers of soft colors and shapes, and roots that are detailed and endless. Even with a lack of fast-paced action, these soft and astonishing visuals create an atmosphere and storyline that are equally enthralling—there’s plenty of quiet, but never a slow moment. 

Despite the beauty of the scenery, the characters often lack depth. Colonel Muska, the main antagonist, shamelessly massacres people, and the script provides little explanation of his motivations. Even the main characters do not escape this flatness—Pazu, in particular, ends the movie as he was two hours prior: a brave, kindhearted boy, but not much more beyond that. Unfortunately, without much development and depth, Pazu and Sheeta are bland characters and they leave only faint impressions. 

Regardless of flaws in character development, Studio Ghibli has always created stunning films full of elegant animation and riveting storylines, all starting with “Castle in the Sky.” Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky” deserves a solid 4 out of 5 stars; Sheeta and Pazu’s adventure is one full of unforgettable action and one that also marks the beginning of an unparalleled animation studio’s journey.

Your weapons may be powerful. Your pitiful robots may be many. But you can’t survive apart from the earth. – Princess Sheeta