Studio Ghibli animated characters come in different shapes, sizes and levels of attractiveness. While some are designed to intimidate, others add more surprise and charm to their fantasy films.
These Studio Ghibli animals can be based on real animals — there are several Studio Ghibli cats — rooted in mythology or are completely new creations. However, regardless of appearance, creatures can play key roles in the film, often hinting at a deeper meaning of the story or providing human characters with more information about their surroundings.
Updated by Stacy Rook on June 5, 2022: “My Neighbor Totoro” has been adapted for the London stage, but it’s not the only Studio Ghibli film to receive theatrical treatment, as “Gone with the Ghosts” also came to life this year in Tokyo. In both cases, the famous Ghibli animals occupy a central place in the stories and acquire new spectacular forms in this gaming arena.
Totoro – My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
One of the most famous cartoons of Studio Ghibli is “My Neighbor Totoro”. In the film, the main character May is a character who interacts for the first time with a creature, a great forest spirit living in a tree near her new country house. Mei then happily introduces Totoro to her older sister Satsuki and their father.
Totoro appears in the film as the embodiment of nature and helps Mei and Satsuki carefully explore and appreciate their surroundings. Often accompanied by two smaller Totoro, the spirit became the mascot of Studio Ghibli, personifying the studio’s motives related to fantasy and environmental protection.
Calcifer – Howl’s Walking Castle (2004)
In The Walking Castle, Calcifer is a fire demon who makes many demands, but is never seen as a very threatening or dangerous character. On the contrary, his hot-tempered nature leads to the fact that he became friends with the heroine Sophie, who appreciates his skill, but is not afraid of his statements.
Originally a shooting star, Calcifer was rescued by Wizard Howl and signed a contract with him. Although Calcifer can be chaotic, he has no evil intentions, and in fact he is one of the most likable characters in “The Walking Castle” thanks to his witty remarks and the friendship he shares with others.
Planted Spirits — “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) and “Carried Away by Ghosts” (2001)
Tiny soot sprites, also called Susuvatari, can be seen in one of the best Studio Ghibli films, Carried away by ghosts working for the boiler Kamaji. They are enchanted to work by bringing coal to the burners, and they charmingly eat conpeito candies for lunch. However, before this memorable appearance, sprites were also seen in “My Neighbor Totoro”, hiding in the attic before escaping from May.
Despite the fact that they appear only slightly, soot sprites have a great impact and add a wonderful feeling to their films. It is also shown that they have a lot of personality, they playfully stop their work when Chihiro helps them in the boiler room, trying to relax.
Baron Humbert von Hickingen – The Whisper of the Heart (1995) and The Return of the Cat (2002)
Given the long name that echoes his chivalrous character, Baron Humbert von Hickingen is actually a statue of an anthropomorphic cat in an elegant suit. He first appeared in The Whisper of the Heart, in which his statue inspired Shizuka to create her novel, and then again, as the title of the film suggests, in The Return of the Cat.
The presence of the baron in the second film is much greater, as the statue comes to life and helps the main character Haru on her journey to the Kingdom of Cats. The baron has a sincere but stoic personality, which contrasts perfectly with his cute appearance.
Kodama – Princess Mononoke (1997)
Kodama are tree spirits that appear in Princess Mononoke when the forest is healthy. Their presence is accompanied by a curious clicking sound as they tilt their heads, and they appear and disappear from view.
Although their unusual appearance may confuse those who are watching the film for the first time, the story soon proves that Kodama is a good omen. Cute Observers are based on eponymous figures from Japanese folklore, and Ghibli’s Kodama helps reinforce the film’s environmental message.
Otori-sama – Gone with the Ghosts (2001)
Otori-sama are giant spirits, similar to ducks and chickens, who visit the bathhouse in “Gone with the Ghosts”. Despite the fact that they have only a small scene in the film, they are very memorable due to their fluffy appearance and wide-open eyes.
Servants of the god Otori, these spirits find time to relax in the Bath, plunging into the blissful waters. One of the best spirits in Gone with the Ghosts, Otori-sama, is nevertheless important, as they show that not all parts of the Spirit Realm are frightening.