Princess Mononoke is one of Studio Ghibli‘s beloved hits. Not only does it convey the message of protecting the environment, it also has fantastic complex characters such as Lady Eboshi.
The main protagonists, Ashitaka and San are no exception. Ashitaka is the determined hero who wanted peace between humans and the forest. San is the intriguing girl who was raised by wolves, and acts like one instead of acknowledging that she is actually a human.
As such, their relationship with each other are the source of discussion among fans. Were they friends? Were they lovers? Did they end up together? What happened to the two of them at the end?
Ashitaka Is In Love With San
It was clear from the get-go that Ashitaka is attracted to San. This was made apparent when San still viewed Ashitaka as an enemy at the time, and threatened to kill him. Ashitaka then told her she’s beautiful, which led to her being surprised.
In this situation, Ashitaka was heavily injured, and is at the mercy of San. It is is barely the good time to tell someone they are beautiful, but Ashitaka still proceeded to say it. Hence, it was clear Ashitaka feels very much drawn to San. It can be argued that Ashitaka may have fallen in love at first sight with San.
Ashitaka cared about San so much, to the point that he even tries to talk with the wolf goddess Moro. Moro and her wolf family (including San) have a self-sacrificial mindset. They will do anything to protect the forest even if it costs their lives. Ashitaka did not want to lose San, and wanted her to live. However, the discussion did not end well as Moro asked Ashitaka to leave the forest. In other words, Moro is against Ashitaka making San more human.
When Ashitaka left the forest the next day, he gave San his crystal dagger. This crystal dagger was the one given to Ashitaka by his former fiancee from his old village. It is meant to make Ashitaka remember his former love since he got exiled. Ashitaka giving this crystal dagger to San could mean that he is expressing his romantic feelings for her – a declaration of love. This could also be interpreted that Ashitaka’s love interest is now San, and has moved on from his former fiancee.
Moro confirmed Ashitaka’s feelings by informing San that he wished to share his life with her. However, San is still stubborn to embrace her human side. She insisted that she hates him and despises humans. This is far from the truth due to her actions, as she had shown to care for Ashitaka in the entire film.
Moro also asked Ashitaka’s help to save San from Okkoto’s corruption, “Ashitaka, can you save the girl you love?” This gave Ashitaka the strength to ensure San’s safety.
Read More: The Train Scene Meaning in Spirited Away Explained
Ashitaka Meant So Much To San
Initially, San is antagonistic towards Ashitaka since he is a human. He also tried to stop her from killing Lady Eboshi, so she assumed Ashitaka is on Lady Eboshi’s side. She even threatened to kill him, but she never brought herself to do it. She still decided to protect him when the ape tribe wanted to kill him.
Ashitaka’s comment of her being beautiful probably affected her than she would ever like to admit. It is most likely the first time she encountered a human who was not aggressive towards her. A human who does not pose a danger. Thus she took care of him, and make sure he heals from his wounds. She also decided to trust him when Ashitaka’s giant serow, Yakul, shared Ashitaka’s story.
San also wore Ashitaka’s crystal dagger around her neck. She could have easily rejected it if she does not harbor any affection towards him but she didn’t. She also did not hesitate to wear it despite her stubborn insistence that she hates humans.
In the film’s climax, Ashitaka and San helped each other during the battle between the forest and the humans. San has grown to be empathetic to Okkoto, and does not want to leave him despite his severe wounds. Ashitaka rushes to her aid when she got in trouble with Okkoto’s corruption accompanied by San’s wolf brother. It was clear that they deeply care about each other during this time, sharing the same goal of saving the forest and stop the humans in a non-violent manner.
However, when the Forest Spirit was killed, San became antagonistic again to Ashitaka out of frustration. Ashitaka’s comfort and determination calmed her down – a testament to what they feel about each other. She still decided to help him retrieve the Forest Spirit’s head.
Do They End Up Together?
Considering that Ashitaka and San care so much about each other, it is easy to assume they became together at the end. However, they did not. For now, at least.
This is because San still cannot bring herself to forgive humans for what they did. It is understandable because her mother, Moro, died due to the battle. Okkoto also became a demon because of the humans’ sneak attack on him – endangering San’s life on the process. This is why San decided to remain in the forest, and Ashitaka returning to Irontown. The co-existence of humans and the forest in full harmony will take time.
But San considerably changed as she became more human. She never even attempted to kill the humans at the end, and followed Ashitaka’s plan on saving everyone.
Most of all, San admitted to Ashitaka how important he is to her. If she was still the wolf-girl we have encountered earlier, then she would have just left Ashitaka all alone. Expressing her feelings towards Ashitaka meant that she embraced her human side, and that she wants to remain connected to him.
Ashitaka acknowledges San’s feelings, and promised that he will still visit her. While he and San cannot be together as of now, they can still see each other. This can be interpreted as a possible relationship in the future. For now though, they are friends who have love for each other.
Read More: Is Studio Ghibli’s Ocean Waves Good?