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I saw that Spirited Away, Ponyo and Arrietty, all written by Hayao Miyazaki, seem to have some common traits:

  • The hero is a girl.
  • Moreover, she is a girl who is special in some way.
  • She develops a friendship with a boy that is an "insider" and they help each other.
  • She seems to take a spiritual maturity journey while also building that friendship.

Is there some mystical connection to these themes or it is a mere coincidence? Can someone shed some light on this matter?

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Miyazaki is often identified as a feminist. Almost all of his films have strong female protagonists, usually fairly young girls, and challenge traditional gender roles in anime. This presumably explains the first point.

As for the other three, I don't think these are particularly uncommon or difficult to explain. The protagonist in anime is usually somehow special, because a story about someone totally normal isn't usually going to be very interesting. Likewise, for the third point, most anime have some form of (possibly implied) romance, even in short movies. However, there's not a lot of room in movies to introduce extraneous characters, so the love interest has to be at least somewhat related to the plot. As for the final point, that's just another way of saying that it's a coming-of-age story, which is very common, especially with younger protagonists.

So other than the first point, I think these are just common anime tropes that you'd frequently see elsewhere, especially in other movies.

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    I'd like to point out that the "girl hero" element shouldn't really be all that defining. It represents 50% of the choices. – Gorchestopher H Jan 24 '13 at 4:09
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    @GorchestopherH While I agree in principle, in practice Japanese cultural views on gender roles are somewhat more restrictive than in western countries. If we consider Miyazaki's works in the broader context of anime and Japanese culture, it is a pretty notable departure from the norm. A fairly large majority of anime have male protagonists, though I don't have any statistics to justify that claim. – Logan M Jan 24 '13 at 4:35
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    Right, which is why I said "shouldn't". The biggest market for your standard anime is going to be young males. That's just how it is, they buy more manga and watch more cartoons. Miyazaki focuses on female protagonists because he is able to make something that won't lose the default audience, but will add to the under-targeted demographic. It's not a sure-fire easy win of course, which is why it takes a genius like Miyazaki to really capitalize on it. – Gorchestopher H Jan 24 '13 at 14:08

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