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Studio Ghibli released the film Princess Mononoke in 1997, which was destined to become a classic. It didn’t just become the highest grossing in Japan that year, it also won several domestic prizes. That was quite a long time ago, right? Nevertheless, we are sure you have heard of it somewhere or have seen a picture of a girl covered in blood accompanied by giant white wolves. This girl’s name is San, and although she doesn’t look friendly, just give her a chance. Afterall, that is just what Ashitaka did in Princess Mononoke.
That’s right, otakus, this time we are going to remember a very interesting pair of leads from the always inventive mind of Hayao Miyazaki. Being a hero is not easy, regardless of the age, social status, or even the gender. That is why when two souls destined to become heroes together encounter, the combination is magical. But let’s see in detail why we say that Ashitaka and San are a great heroic couple.
Warning: this article is full of spoilers. Proceed in the forest with caution or choose another article to read instead.
1. Because Ashitaka is an exiled prince
Whenever we have a Studio Ghibli film, we should expect something from a fantastic land with a peculiar twist. Our story, in this case, is settled in an old Japanese era called Muromachi (roughly between the 14th and 16th centuries). The good news is that we had royalty in such time. The protagonist of Princess Mononoke is Prince Ashitaka, from an Emishi tribe. Proud, controlled and noble despite his young age, Ashitaka rides around the village on his elk, Yakul.
One fine day, the village is attacked by a strange wild boar. Ashitaka manages to kill him before he does harm, but is infected by a curse that the suffering animal was carrying. After some inquiries, the elders of the village find out that the curse was caused by an iron ball inside the boar’s body, who used to be a forest spirit. They tell Ashitaka that he will die unless he is able to find a cure in the place of origin of the spirit, in the western lands. Anyway, that means that Ashitaka has to give up his Emishi identity and embark on a perilous journey, but he does all of it with a brave heart. He truly was raised to be a prince, huh?
2. Because San is the Spirit Princess
There is an iron forging town very close to a forest in the west lands. Its leader, Lady Eboshi, is riding back home bringing supplies, when an ambush attacks them! And it is not your regular ambush: three giant white wolves (spirits) and a girl covered with white fur and a red mask kill or destroy whatever they can. Thus, lady Eboshi fires one of her cannons, hitting the biggest wolf (Moro) and forcing them to withdraw.
Meanwhile, our protagonist Ashitaka is crossing the western forest when he finds some injured men. He tries to help when he senses something else not so far away. That is how Ashitaka discovers the wolves and the girl, now unmasked, sucking and spitting the polluted blood of the injured wolf. Although Ashitaka tries to talk in a friendly manner to them, all that he gets is a cold and savage stare from the blood covered girl. Yeap, that is San, the Princess Mononoke (Spirit Princess) from the movie title. Not our regular princess, right? But that is how we know this is going to get exciting.
3. Because they are leaders
Ashitaka is an outsider when he arrives to the western lands. Nevertheless, his natural leading abilities kick in since the beginning. In first place, Ashitaka helps the men from the convoy and takes them to the safety of the iron town. This grants Ashitaka the favor of Lady Eboshi, the actual head of the town, and opens his way to learn about their life style. He also interferes in the fierce battle between San and Lady Eboshi, preventing both of them from getting hurt. Actually, the dark powers of his cursed arm are shown in this scene, but Ashitaka uses it to avoid further conflicts and demands to get leave town with San. Ashitaka keeps in control even in such tense situations, which make people around him respect and obey him.
On the other hand, we could imagine San as a rather weak member of the wolf tribe. Abandoned as a baby in the forest, she was raised like the rest of the pack, but being human, she has her limitations. Yet San also has advantages, like the ability to speak and manufacture weapons. It is hinted that the wolf spirits accept her as one of them, and being the loyal, fearless, sneaky girl she is, San has all that it takes to be respected and obeyed too.
4. Because Ashitaka and San Mediated Between Humans and Spirits
San has lived out most of her life with spirits, thus she can communicate with them better than with humans. On the other hand, after being taken by San to the lake in the center of the forest and partially healed by Shishi Gami, Ashitaka acquires the benefit of the doubt from the spirits. This means that at least they will talk to him, in sharp contrast with his other fellow humans. Thus we can see that Ashitaka and San are different individuals with experience in both realms.
When the boar spirits decide to attack Lady Eboshi’s people, San chooses to assist their chief Okkotonushi, who can no longer see. Ashitaka goes back to the iron village and finds out that is under siege by samurais while Lady Eboshi went to the forest with a group called Karakasa Ren to hunt down the Shishi Gami. She might be possibly betrayed by the Karakasa Ren, so Ashitaka rushes back to the forest. On his way, Ashitaka finds that the Karakasa Ren beat the boar spirits with explosives, killing almost all of them. As for Okkotonushi, he is so wounded that he is becoming a cursed spirit, pulling San with him. A wounded Moro manages to grab San away, who is then caught and brought to the cleansing lake by Ashitaka.
Things get even worse, though, as the Shishi Gami arrives to the place and its head is shot down by Lady Eboshi. As a result, the Shishi Gami becomes a tar like creature that spreads death to everything he touches, looking all over the place for his head. The head has been taken by the Karakasa Ren, so Ashitaka asks San to help him find them. After a battle against the group and being surrounded by the deadly tar, Ashitaka and San manage to recover the head. Holding it high in the air together and embracing at the same time, they offer it to the Shishi Gami so that there can be peace.
5. Because Ashitaka and San Might be Reunited in the Future
After a spectacular disappearance of the giant Shishi Gami, the fire on the iron town goes out. The zones covered with the deadly tar are now full of green and young plants. Ashitaka and San, who were both marked with curses during the last battle, awake to find themselves cured. San admits that she loves Ashitaka but cannot forgive humans. Ashitaka says that it is fine, as he will stay in the iron town and go to the forest to visit her. After hearing those final words, San departs with her wolf brothers.
So, we have an open ending again, but it is not hard to guess that our couple was able to meet in the future. Lady Eboshi was an energized leader who was determined to rebuild an even better iron town, and the forest creatures were also reviving. Thus, the unbreakable link between humans and nature was going to start a new cycle again. Such delicate relationships were going to need very good ambassadors, but look no further. That is why the forest has San and the iron town has Ashitaka, a truly heroic couple that rose to their ultimate abilities on the most defying circumstances.
We know that Ashitaka and San also have cute and cuddling moments here and there, but as most anime couples do, we thought it best to write about what sets these two apart from the normal romantic partnership. Ashitaka and San are both warriors and heroes with contrasting perspectives of the world. They lived in an era where there was a very real danger of dying young, regardless of where you lived or who you were. While San was rather wild, Ashitaka was controlled, thus forming a balanced couple. They learned and understood each other much more during the course of the battles than during a lifetime of, say, going to school together. It is definitely not the same to go and hit the books side by side, right?
Which were your favorite moments with Ashitaka and San? Don’t forget that we are open to all your comments and suggestions. See you soon!