Jack Scheibelein

If the quarantine for COVID-19 has revealed anything, it is that human impact on the environment is still at an all-time high. The empty roads, the parks littered with trash and gas stations are all a reminder that humans have — for the better but mostly for the worse — altered the planet to suit our needs, resulting in pollution and the rise of man-made climate change.

While its oftentimes quirky and abundantly random nature may make it an odd choice for messages about the environment, directors like Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai have already used anime as a way to warn people about the importance of environmental awareness.

Miyazaki’s work on this topic goes back to his earliest films working as a director.

In “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” Nausicaa attempts to learn the secrets of an ancient forest that has been trying to communicate with her. However, she has to do so before the kingdom of Tolmekia succeeds in wiping it out for good. The film subtly represents the idea that humans are not above nature, but rather a part of it.

A similar concept appears in Ghibli and Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke,” where a young prince named Ashitaka must find a cure for a disease given to him by a demon.

After journeying to a place called Irontown, he finds out that the mining and crafting of iron products has polluted the nearby area and made the spirits of the surrounding forest angry. Again, the film shows a conflict between nature itself and humans who wish to alter the environment for selfish gain.

Rising star and director of the 2016 hit film “Your Name,” Makoto Shinkai, has also contributed to environmental consciousness.

His latest film, “Weathering with You,” features a story about a girl named Hina who gains the power to control the weather. However, after using her powers in order to make money, she is forced to join the sky with the weather spirits — but not before being rescued by Hodoka, a boy who recently moved to Tokyo.

As a result of not paying the price for her powers, Tokyo is cursed with constant rain, leaving much of the city underwater. These depictions of a new dystopian world reflect the director’s concern for climate change, not just as a threat to nature, but as a threat to human existence.

However, these depictions of the human impact on the environment in anime are not surprising given the cultural context of Japan.

Ever since Japan’s emergence as a world leader on environmental policy in the late 1980s, its government has continued to emphasize reducing citizen impact on the environment.

Much of this has been done by introducing recycling in major metropolitan areas, such as Tokyo, as well as across the country. Japan has also asked private businesses to consider the environmental impact of their day-to-day operations.

They have even gone as far as to introduce a number of voluntary programs and campaigns on encouraging citizens to participate.

While it is true that younger people are increasingly skeptical of the government’s efforts, many in Japan are of the opinion that environmental regulations should be stronger, not weaker.

It seems common knowledge at this point, but the media people consume can affect their positions on political issues. Even though environmental issues can seem far removed from people’s everyday lives, they are an ever-looming presence that is inescapable.

Both Miyazaki’s and Shinkai’s films are not only great entertainment, but emphasize one of the defining issues of this generation.

Jack Scheibelein is a sophomore majoring in English. He can be reached at sgx199@vols.utk.edu.

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