Nerd Lessons: “Keep The Faith: Learning from Ghibli Heroines”

We love our fandoms. For those on the outside looking in, it may be their impulse to discount our devotion as superficial or childish. That’s because they don’t understand or see how nerdom has effected us. At BNP, we know that comics and movies and anime and cosplay does so much more than entertain us, it shapes us; we learn what kind of people we want to be—and who exactly we are fighting against becoming. We sent out that bat signal in the form of an open call for submissions. We asked what nerd lessons you’ve learned and y’all answered the call.

The Author of This Piece and Teacher for This Nerd Lesson: Brittany Maddox, @AtariGems

More than I care to admit, I have to assert myself each and everyday I step into the world. There are moments like being the only black person or the only feminist in the class where I have to defend my humanity. Often times, in my field of study, I find myself fighting. Loneliness is something I know too well; it’s something that grips me as an adult female blerd. Struggling to find my voice in spaces that often are androcentric or too white, I have to push on. With doom days upon, I clutch closely to spaces that affirm my identity. I have to assert that I matter and what I have to offer the world matters despite the odds.

Times like this I recall on the lessons I learned from Ghibli Heroines.

Their stories didn’t begin or end with ivory towers; no pixie dust, glass slippers, or fairy godmothers for them to find. While Disney films were vastly centered around medieval Europe, the worlds of Studio Ghibli often juxtaposed Japanese mythology and fairytales with backdrops of magical realism. No obnoxious singalongs or unbearable villains to be found, just ordinary girls faced with extraordinary problems. They were often alone, with the help of very few friends, but most of their battles, whether spiritual or literal, always had the girls triumph on their own terms.


The girls of Ghibli were often employed, working in shops and gardens, and also pursuing science as teenage girls, but never sacrificing their personal autonomy.

The girls of Ghibli were often employed, working in shops and gardens, and also pursuing science as teenage girls, but never sacrificing their personal autonomy. The quirky, brave, and independent girls of Ghibli are often forgotten. The heroines crafted by Hayao Miyazaki held a space in my heart and often shaped how I viewed the world.

I remember watching television one afternoon and saw flying across screen there was a girl in a black dress and a large red bow. She was unlike any princess I saw or like my first love Usagi Tsukino. Kiki wasn’t a sailor scout nor did she undergo any magical transformations during her film. Like her, I was quirky, a little girl who had just moved into a new space. I had a hard time adjusting to my new surroundings. She was only 13, creating a life for herself. In the universe this film takes place witches must choose to spend a year in a new place, living alone while fine tuning their skills. Kiki’s skill was flying but she was terrible at it she never gave up on herself often times there were moments where she felt she couldn’t fly.



With her trusted broom at her side at all times, she had a dream which she pursued relentlessly. She was confident in every sense of the word. She was brave and never centered her growth around being saved by a boy. She moved to a new city, had mature responsibilities like paying rent and and taking care of a cat. While Kiki was often ostracized in her hillside township, the prejudice she faced didn’t stop her because she knew she couldn’t return home to her parents unchallenged. When I was 6 or so my mother and I moved in with my grandma, because my mother wanted a better life for us. I was doing my best to adjusting to school and this new space. Like Kiki, my world felt outta order but thanks to her pride and stubbornness she never gave up. Kiki’s Delivery service was the first anime film I ever watched, my gateway to Ghibli films.

The second Ghibli film I fell in love with was Spirited Away, the story of Chihiro who loses everything only to appreciate everything in the end. In this 2002 feature, 10-year-old Chihiro and her parents stumble upon a seemingly abandoned amusement park, where Chihiro’s mother and father are turned into giant pigs. Chihiro crosses path with Haku, who explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings. In order to save her parents and return to the realm Chihiro decides to work there to free herself and her parents. Chihiro then loses her identity to become Sen. A child is suddenly thrust in a situation where she has to start over and become autonomous, working in a bathhouse alongside monsters that could kill her. Sen, determined to return to the earthly realm, trudged through.



I recall watching this film for the first time at a sleepover, sprawled in the living room of my friend, a sanctuary of manga and junk food surrounded us. Pocky Stick in hand, my friends and I delved into the magical world that Chihiro now inhabited. Despite the circumstances, she was able to adapt, trusting her intuition in new circumstances and managed to prevail. During this awkward period in my life I was exploring myself, feeling like an outcast at my very white school. I was too Black. Too quiet. My high school was foreign, much like the bathhouse Chihiro worked in. I was an outsider with my classmates. Looking back, I can barely remember their faces, just like many of the faceless beings in Spirited Away. Chihiro eventually found her way like I did, making friends with fellow nerds of color in the bleached halls of my high school changed my perspective. I thank Chihiro for teaching me resilience even in new environments.

Overall the biggest lesson the Ghibli girls taught me was to be steadfast even in the midst of adversity.

Overall the biggest lesson the Ghibli girls taught me was to be steadfast even in the midst of adversity. Whether on the frontline or in the classroom, I have to be diligent about asserting my humanity and independence. Despite new revelations that arise change and conflict are necessary agents in preparing you into who you need to be. That is something I am grappling as I crossover into the realm of adulthood after post grad this May, where I trek into the seemingly unknown. The Ghibli films have long been apart of my upbringing and throughout my life I’ve constantly found common ground with the female protagonists that lived within them. These heriones have inspired me and helped teach me to be brave despite the circumstances that life brings, that’s why I keep the faith.

Photo Credit: Erik Gowins

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  • Show Comments

  • TheBlueMegaDeuce

    The fact that so many Anime and Manga portray complex and layered female lead characters is a huge selling point for me. I was like so many male characters in shonen manga reading shoujo to try to gain insight into a woman’s psyche. It’s edifying to know that Anime was much closer to reality than anything I saw in most Western comics and cartoons. Preach, sista…

  • Aurelius

    This is an awesome piece. We need this kind of inspiration so much. I’ll be honest: Until I read this, I did not notice that so many of the heroines in Studio Ghibli films were female.

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