Hayao Miyazaki’s glorious Spirited Away is considered by many Anime fanatics to be the greatest anime feature of all time, and it’s due in no small part to the shapeshifting dragon Haku. Unlike his traditional European counterparts, Haku is a benevolent water spirit instead of an angry fire spitter, and the most impressive thing is that he can fly without wings.


Haku first appears as a boy of about sixteen, but he is actually a lost river spirit that also can take the form of a white dragon. In his guise as a white dragon his appearance suggests a river: flowing and graceful. As Haku, however, he is not always so composed, and he exhibits both bravery and real sadness. The river he once represented, the Kohaku River, was drained and paved over to build an apartment complex, and Haku is truly a lost soul. Though he has made a home of sorts at the bathhouse, he knows he once had another home, and the loss of it haunts him. Haku’s treatment of Chihiro is sometimes kind and sometimes gruff, and Chihiro later learns that Yubaba controls him through a slug she planted inside him. Haku may seem powerful at times, but he is also weak—he cannot remember his name, which means he can never leave the spirit world, and he is under Yubaba’s control.

This view of dragons gives another identity to Haku. He is a River god which is common among dragons and is kind (only to Chihiro who knew him before). Zeniba states, “All dragons are kind, kind and stupid.” Lastly, dragons are protectors of the innocent and Chihiro as a ten year old girl is seen as being protected by Haku, who manages to have her not disappear, turned into a piglet, and undermines Yubaba in order to protect her. He even reminds her, “don’t ever look back, not until you’re out of the tunnel.” He is once again protecting her from becoming stuck in the Spirit world. It is a common motif in myths that looking back before getting to the surface upon leaving the underworld causes bad things to happen.

Haku’s identity is stuck in between two dualities: that of Haku, a cold, unemotional henchman to Yubaba and Kohaku, a kind River god who cares deeply for Chihiro. He is stuck between human and beast with his dragon form. This duality shows how individuals can occupy multiple identities at once but in different situations. Haku’s identity changes based on the forced changes he has gone through due to Yubaba and the environment or people he is with. Therefore, Haku’s identity is removed from him when he loses his name which gives him a new identity, and once returned, his former identity allows him to be better because he has his name back.

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