Tag Archives: Top 20 Best

Princess Mononoke: The Best of Studio Ghibli and Maybe Even the World

Princess Mononoke is one of the best movies ever made, bar none. It’s easily in my top 3, and I’m not just talking about animated movies here. I do not say these things lightly.

 

I don’t care if you think “cartoons” is for kids. I don’t even care if East Asian culture seems confusing and impenetrable to you. If you have any respect or love for movies, artistry, or storytelling in general, you should see Princess Mononoke at some point. You can even say you didn’t like it. I won’t be mad.

Hell, go see it right now, if you never have before. Don’t even read this review of it, because there are some spoilers and it’s more organic to come across them on your own.

  

 

In a time where we only seemed to get preachy environmental films and shows about evil man ruining the innocent planet with his mere existence (and I time when my younger self was personally growing tired of Disney-esque black-and-white world views), there was one little-known film from Japan that actually took a balanced look at the issues. Here, nature is a mighty force to reckoned with, and humans can be ambitious while still being caring and sympathetic. Everyone is struggling and clawing to survive, and they will do so by any means necessary.

Though it may seem mystical and fantastic, there are numerous shades of reality to be found there too.

Prince Ashitaka lives in a quiet, hidden village in the far east, the last of the native Emishi people. One day, a giant boar god-turned-demon attacks his home, and while he manages to protect everyone else from its rage and destruction, Ashitaka is cursed when the beast touches his right arm. He is told that it will fester inside of him, cause him great pain, and then kill him, but it also occasionally has a will of its own, and even grants him some of the boar god’s considerable strength.

 

Then, leaving his people forever, Ashitaka journeys west to discover what cursed the boar god and if his own curse can be cured. What he finds is the small but prominent human settlement of Iron Town battling the remaining gods for control of their land, and a plot to kill the heart of the forest itself.

 

The leader of the humans is Eboshi, an ambitious, intelligent, highly-respected, and capable woman. She bought the contracts of numerous brothel girls and gave them a better life working the bellows in Iron Town, and she also took in lepers, who in turn help her by building new guns and weapons. Despite her plans, she is not completely irredeemable. Eboshi is an equal opposing force to the forest gods, who are trying to survive and thrive and protect their own kind just as she does. Other humans desire the rich land that she has painstakingly fought for, and so she faces attacks on both sides, from her own kind and the animals.

 

On the side of the forest is San, the eponymous Princess Mononoke. As a child, she was abandoned by her human parents and adopted by the wolf god Moro. Eboshi believes that San’s soul was stolen by the wolves and is thus no longer human, and once the gods are killed off, she will become one once more. The head of the great forest spirit is also rumored to cure any ailment, so she seeks to claim it to cure the lepers under her care. Meanwhile, San sees Eboshi as greedy and evil, with no love or reverence for the forest and its powers, and seeks to kill her to stop the other humans from destroying more land and the noble gods protecting it. Without the forest spirit, it is also said that the animal gods will become “dumb beasts once more,” leaving humans everywhere with little opposition.

In addition to all of that, the Emperor of Japan believes that the head of the forest spirit will grant him immortality, and promises great wealth to the one who can bring it to him. This draws even more people to the stage, like the amiable but calculating monk Jigo (Jiko-bo).

 

Ashitaka, in his own quest to save himself, also tries to save these two groups from each other. He sees history repeating itself, so he becomes a bridge; not entirely different from San, but more neutral, fighting for both sides to live in peace and compromise.

What I like about this, in addition to the culture and mythology, is how fair and balanced this seems. Nature has divine elements to it, and the movie clearly shows why it is important to revere it. But it is not some innocent thing simply being trampled by man, and unlike in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, it does not really care that there are some nice “men” trying to protect it. It is a force, plain and simple, and like a caged wild animal, it will fight to survive however it can.

 

Everyone in this movie is fighting to survive. Ashitaka is the last prince of his people, and for their sake as much as his own, he does not want to die. The forest gods are the last of their kind, and the forest is their home and a source of strength and vitality. Eboshi’s people were all scorned by society; she creates Iron Town as a safe space for them, and they thankfully, loyally help her achieve her own goals. I can understand and sympathize with them without always necessarily condoning their actions.

Let me put it to you this way: in The Lorax (the 1972 television adaptation), the Onceler asks several very important questions. “What do you want? I should shut down my factory? Fire a hundred thousand workers? Is that good economics? Is that sound for the country?” To which the Lorax replies, “I see your point, but I wouldn’t know the answer.” That is the only other environmental “movie” that seems to realize that there are two sides to every debate, and Princess Mononoke takes it even further by actual making the human “villain” a fully fleshed-out and sympathetic character.

A human being, so to speak.

 

The animation is gorgeous, as the rare bits of computer animation perfectly compliment the cel-shaded, traditionally hand-drawn and painted style. The amount of detail is astounding, especially in the background and scenery; every rock and blade of grass looks different from every other. The action scenes are fluid, making up for the fact that Ashitaka is a calm, relatively reserved character only occasionally prone to real anger.

 

The English voice cast is very well-chosen, and the English script, brought to us by Neil Gaiman, relays the story well without incorporating a lot of local references that would confuse an American audience. Sub enthusiasts might fight me on that point, but some changes have to be made when translating this to a different audience, and if you don’t like it, the original Japanese version is right there for your viewing pleasure.

The Japanese cast is stellar, of course, but I have to appreciate the effort it took to bring this movie stateside. However you feel about English dubbed anime and movies, you can’t deny that it serves as a fitting introduction to the genre for newcomers.

The music…what can I even say about it? It’s Joe Hisaishi. He scores most of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, and they always seem to fit perfectly.

The plot is not eye-rollingly preachy and pretentious. It’s subtler than its friends and neighbors, especially those of the late 90’s; it doesn’t talk down to you or wag its finger disapprovingly, as it ironically kills God knows how many trees just to bring its message to life. It doesn’t give us a villain who is completely greedy and evil, sometimes just for the joy of being evil.

Jigo probably comes the closest to being a “typical” bad guy, but even then, he’s so likable. He is basically the Onceler if he had been a side character, rather than the main antagonist.

San is not the strongest or most commanding person, but she is young and trying to find her way in the world. Both she and Eboshi are fascinating, whether as female characters or characters in general, and they fight tooth and nail for what they believe in. Miyazaki sure came a long way as a feminist since Nausicaawho I would argue is more of an idealized Mary Sue and sacrificial lamb, rather than an actual character.

 

San and Eboshi are flawed, but extremely compelling and admirable.

This movie is just amazing to me, and it makes me sad that it is less known and less appreciated than something like Spirited Away. Granted, that is a great movie and definitely more family-oriented (Princess Mononoke, by contrast, features several men getting their heads shot clean off with arrows, and one unfortunate gentleman who loses both of his arms that way), but it’s not nearly as profound and compelling. It’s a pretty safe, tried-and-true story format with enough “weirdness” sprinkled over it to make it interesting.

Princess Mononoke‘s basic plot isn’t unknown to us either (man tries to save the forest…as well as the people trying to tear it down?), but it isn’t exactly here to make you feel comfortable. It doesn’t point fingers at you in the same way something like James Cameron’s Avatar or Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves would, but neither does it try to placate you and dumb down its message like the 2012 Illumination Entertainment abomination The Lorax. It simply presents an epic, interesting story with two equal and opposing sides, and more readily allows you to take away what you will from it. The conflict is on a smaller scale than some environmental stories, but it feels no less important to the greater world because of its potential consequences.

Nature should be preserved and tended, and not just because we benefit from its existence. Man should not be blind to the world around him. Hatred, rage, and arrogance don’t tend to solve all of your problems. Sometimes it is the simplest messages that need the most repetition, but they can be conveyed in ways that aren’t stale, boring, and completely predictable.

This movie is damn brilliant and beautiful and deep. To steal a quote from Pulp Fiction, “What happened here was a miracle, and I want you to f#$%ing acknowledge it!”

 

*9/10

Note: The images used in this article do not belong to me. Most belong to Disney and Studio Ghibli. Jeff Goldblum, uh, belongs to Jeff, uh, Goldblum. 

 

 

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Top 20 Favorite Legend of Zelda Themes of All Time

 

The Legend of Zelda is, without a doubt, my favorite gaming franchise ever. There are probably plenty of other titles that are smarter, deeper, or just as fun and engaging, but Zelda will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first serious introduction to video games.

So today, with yet another list singing its praises, I’m offering my top 20 favorite songs that ever came out of the series.

Note: Please forgive me if some of the audio clips are shoddy. Uploading to YouTube drastically reduces the quality.

 

20) “Guardians Awaken”, Skyward Sword

 

This track is great because it does exactly what it’s meant to, and it’s damn effective at it. “Guardians Awaken” juxtaposes with the more tranquil, almost soothing Silent Realm themes; adding to the suspense and anxiety as you race to gather all of the Sacred Tears before the Guardians awaken. When they do -especially if it was triggered by accidentally stepping in Waking Water or being spotted by a Watcher – a single strike from their swords is enough to send you all the way back to the beginning of the trial, no matter how close you may be to the end.

 

 

“Silent Realm Guardians” is loud, clashing, and metallic, banging in your ears and spurring you into panic, as you are hunted down by silent, unforgiving giants. Once you’ve heard this track, you don’t ever forget it, and once each Silent Realm trial is completed, you feel all the more accomplished for having successfully staved it off.

 

19) “Hyrule Field”, Ocarina of Time

 

Who doesn’t love this theme? It’s just so iconic!

I also love the (for the time) fairly subtle shift from major to minor when you are confronted by an enemy.

 

18) “Hytopia”, Triforce Heroes

 

The music of Triforce Heroes generally has a certain…je ne sais quoi about it. I particularly like the accordion parts in this theme for the main hub area. It’s classy, but fun at the same time.

 

17) “Tarm Ruins”, Oracle of Seasons

 

This track hasn’t aged the best, I must admit, but I still enjoy it. Especially in various remixed forms.

If I close my eyes (and hear past the chiptune element of it), it feels like I’m exploring an ancient forest, littered with walls, archways, and crumbling buildings from some lost civilization. That’s pretty much exactly what you are doing in-game anyway, so it fits. There’s really not much more I can say about it than that.

 

16) “Skyloft”, Skyward Sword

 

Hajime Wakai has written some truly breathtaking music for Skyward Sword, and it is further accentuated by the choice to use an actual orchestra in composing the game’s soundtrack.

The theme for the floating city of Skyloft is, as you might expect, light and airy. To me, it represents the peaceful, joyful existence of living in a sort of ivory tower; almost a Garden of Eden, of sorts, where people and animals work together in harmony. The world on the ground far below is not even a distant memory anymore, and only a few people in Skyloft still wonder about it in any way.

 

You hear the song throughout the game, but it also comprises a fair amount of your introduction to the world. Possible symbolism aside, it’s just very nice to listen to, and much like the “Hyrule Field” theme from Ocarina, it draws you in and provides an upbeat start to your adventure.

 

15) “Bazaar” and its variations, Skyward Sword

 

Same game, different tune.

The Skyloft bazaar is where you shop for weapons, supplies, and potions before heading down to Hyrule proper. It contains about 5 vendors (if you count the potion shop wife and husband as 1), and each has a unique variation of the bazaar theme that begins to play when you approach his or her area. I recommend listening to all of the shop tracks, even if you can’t play the actual game for whatever reason. Each iteration uses different instruments and sets itself to a different pace, conveying both the general bustle of the marketplace and the energy/personality of the vendor.

 

14) Original “Fire Temple” Theme, Ocarina of Time

 

I realize that this version was replaced due to its insensitive use of a core Muslim prayer, and I don’t mean to support appropriation or exploitation. However, I don’t believe that it was meant to be malicious or purposely disrespectful, and before people jump to condemn someone for ignorance, I think that the original intent of the action should count for something.

That said, I don’t know what Koji Kondo was actually trying to do at the time. Personally, as a kid, I thought that the original track was cool and interesting. Of all of the temples in Ocarina, the Fire Temple felt the most like somewhere people might actually go to offer prayers to the gods, and the theme was a major part of that interpretation. A sudden echoing, rhythmic chanting fades in and out throughout the track, making it seem like an ancient, spiritual place; one which has now been corrupted slightly by Ganondorf’s evil influence.

 

If this genuinely offended people, then I am glad that it was cut. Everyone deserves to enjoy this game without feeling like it’s insulting their religion. This was just my 2 cents, as a once ignorant white kid who later went on to love studying world religions in college. It confused me when I picked up a more recent copy of the game several years ago and the chanting was just gone, with no real explanation.

 

13) “Fire Sanctuary”, Skyward Sword

 

Here is a cool fire theme that is pretty cool and doesn’t offend anyone, as far as I know. The “Earth Temple” theme is decent too, but it didn’t get stuck in my ears like this one did.

 

12) “Inside the Great Deku Tree”, Ocarina of Time

 

The “Forest Temple” theme is probably better. It’s definitely creepier, to say the least, but “Inside the Great Deku Tree” is soothing and spacey. It really does feel like being inside something truly empty and gigantic, and I love using this as writing music when I’m trying to clear my mind and focus on something new.

 

 

11) “Stone Tower Temple”, Majora’s Mask

 

Foreboding, but not as in-your-face unsettling as the “Ikana Canyon” and “Ikana Graveyard” themes. To me, it feels like a hopeless, endless climb upward, and that’s not too far from my actual feelings whenever I try to make it up to the Stone Tower Temple. You just keep messing with switches and playing that godforsaken “Elegy of Emptiness” song, over and over and over…

 

It’s a fairly fitting prelude to a fantastically challenging Zelda dungeon, though. I used to try to play the base tune on my elementary school recorder.

 

10) “Farore’s Silent Realm”, Skyward Sword

 

I can’t remember what the exact instrument is during this track, but the closest I can describe is “if a tinkle and a clang had a baby, this is what it would sound like.” A glass cowbell, maybe? What kind of bells would forest spirits use, anyway?

I can already picture my audio engineer/high school band boyfriend ashamedly shaking his head at me for that one…

 

But this is my favorite of all of the Silent Realm songs. It is a simplistic, staccato rendition of the “Faron Woods” heme; calming, but also distinctly lonely and otherwordly. I like it a lot.

And, by instinctual association, its accompanying Silent Realm is the easiest and least stressful of all of the trials.

 

9) “The Great Sea”, Wind Waker

 

ADVENTURES ON THE HIGH SEAS! WOO-HOO!

 

Need I say more?

 

8) “Deku Palace”, Majora’s Mask

 

This theme feels like it’d be fun to dance to, and lucky for Link, his Deku form has a spin attack that is adorably twirly.

 

7) “Fi’s Theme”, Skyward Sword

 

Skyward Sword seems like it’s taking up most of the list, doesn’t it?

 

Fi is easily the most annoying companion character in the 3-D games, possibly even the entire series. She is essentially a robot who states the painfully obvious, telling you that you’re low on hearts or the likelihood of a bokoblin shocking you with an electric cattle prod right as he is swinging it at your face.

That said, her theme music is beautiful. I cried at the end of the story, which I won’t go into for the sake of spoilers. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who often has trouble completing games in a year (sometimes a few) or less.

 

Suffice it to say, “God damn it, but Fi made me feel!”

 

6) “Hyrule Castle”, Breath of the Wild

 

Here’s a new one.

Outside of the iconic Zelda retreads, the music in Breath of the Wild is nice if basic and repetitive at times. But this version of the conquered Hyrule Castle theme is a nice compromise of old and new, managing to be feel hopeless as well as looming and sinister.  It even harkens back to Ganondorf’s organ-playing as you ascend the castle steps in Ocarina, but it doesn’t get louder as you approach the sanctum.

 

5) “Lake Hylia”, Twilight Princess

 

Such a beautiful instrumental. Lake Hylia is a big open space where you could just imagine sitting down and watching the clouds and the tide go by.

Incidentally, proportionally-speaking, Lake Hylia in Ocarina of Time should be a similar massive size as it is in Twilight Princess. Even though it looks much smaller (and is, compared to that later game), it does takes Link a while to swim across it; the rising and setting of the sun is what offers the illusion of largeness.

 

…Sorry. That’s just an annoying nitpick I hear from some fans. Either a day in Hyrule goes by really quickly, or the game makers did what they could with size and system limitations of the time, folks. The Nintendo 64 was still damn impressive.

 

4) “Kakariko Village”, Twilight Princess

 

This version of Kakariko’s theme has more character than it did in Ocarina of Time, and that is due to the addition of what I assume is an eagle-bone flute. Or something in that family, at least.

 

 

Renado, the village leader, and his daughter Luda have a distinctly Native American character design, and Kakariko resembles a town in the old west, complete with sparse vegetation and a faded earthy color scheme. The theme ties it all together, keeping a few recognizable chords intact but changing enough to fit the new set up. It’s very pretty, and definitely worthy of being one of my favorite songs in the series.

 

3) “Gerudo Valley”. Ocarina of Time

 

Did anyone else go out and learn about Mariachi music entirely because of this one song?

 

2) “Dragon Roost Island”, Wind Waker

 

What’s not to love about this one? It’s practically bursting with energy and fun!

The “Dragon Roost Island” theme is definitely a spiritual sibling of the “Gerudo Valley” theme. It is probably the closest another Zelda track has come to it, and I would even go so far as to argue that it surpasses “Gerudo Valley,” if only in sheer awesomeness.

I apologize if that was sacrilegious.

If Mexican music being applied to desert amazon women didn’t quite fit perfectly for you, this theme seems completely appropriate for the Rito, a seaside race of bird people who worship a giant dragon that sits atop their mountain. I’m not sure I can explain exactly why, but it just works.

 

Don’t ask me why they all wear powdered wigs, though. I have no idea.

 

1) “Zora’s Domain” and ” The Serenade of Water”, every incarnation

 

 

Sorry to mush together two songs for the top spot, but they are both gorgeous, and they essentially go hand in hand, as common themes for the aquatic Zora people. If you don’t know what they are, how did you even get here? imagine a  reversed-mermaid.

Or don’t, and just look below.

 

In the case of the latter song, I particularly love “Queen Rutela’s Theme” from Twilight Princess. It’s hauntingly beautiful, yet oddly comforting, much like the ghost herself.

 

The general “Zora’s Domain” song is what I most want to hear when I’m baking, writing, lounging, or swimming, for some reason. It just makes me happy to listen to it, and it definitely makes me think of water. It may not be as epic as something like “Dragon Roost” or “Gerudo Valley,” but it doesn’t have to be. It soothes the soul and cheers the heart.

 

*The images and sound clips used in this post do not belong to me. Please let me know if you notice any of the audio being missing or not working properly, and I’ll find another link.

What are your favorite Legend of Zelda tracks? And why?