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Chihiro is expecting to meet Haku and he doesn't show up. Then he does in dragon form, but he's not looking well at all. He's being attacked by small paper darts and he's obviously badly injured.

Haku in Chihiro's dormitory

It turns out he's stolen a precious object (a seal) from Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba. We know it has extraordinarily powerful magic because Kamaji says of it "that's as powerful as it gets".

We're given good reason to believe that Yubaba made him do it because:

  • He's Yubaba's servant
  • He disappears from time to time, rumoured to be doing "dirty work"
  • Stealing names (it's a personal seal with the owner's name) is something Yubaba does
  • He's a good guy

But Haku might have his own motivation for stealing it:

  • He's under Yubaba's control and wants to get free
  • He is desperate: he's "tried everything" to remember his own name, which would enable him to get free
  • It's powerful: maybe he can use the magic to break Yubaba's control
  • Alternatively: maybe if he steals Zeniba's name in place of his own he can break Yubaba's spell.

Also:

  • Yubaba is harsh and cruel but not dishonourable: she's bound by the promise she made to give a job to anyone who asks and keeps the terms of the work contracts she signs. But stealing from her sister would be dishonourable.

So, did Yubaba make him do it or did he steal it for himself?

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  • Are you certain about the last point regarding Yubaba being honorable? It was my understanding that she was obligated, perhaps magically so, to offer anyone a job, and not that she did so out of a sense of honor.
    – Tashus
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 18:05
  • @Tashus: throughout, she does seem to stick to the letter of her word: she can't do anything arbitrarily to Chihiro after she signs the contract, and after agreeing to let Chihiro go if she passes her final test she does so.
    – Batperson
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 20:38
  • On the other hand, "dirty work" can mean dishonourable work. Maybe Yubaba only does high-handed wicked deeds and leaves the really down-low dirty stuff to Haku.
    – Batperson
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 20:49
  • 2
    @Tashus: from memory Yubaba was obligated to give anyone a job precisely because at some point she had vowed to do so. So it would be a sense of honour which compels her to follow through on that, even if she doesn't want to. Vows and honour are a bit magical in that sense, so it wouldn't be surprising if in the spirit world they manifest as real magic (e.g. Yubaba agrees to rip up Chihiro's contract if she passes the test, then when she does it spontaneously combusts).
    – Batperson
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 20:59
  • Forced by a personal sense of honor (being honorable) and forced by magical consequences of breaking your oath are not the same thing.
    – jo1storm
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 10:33

1 Answer 1

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There is one fact that, in my opinion, indicates very strongly that Haku was acting under Yubaba's orders: he returns directly to Yubaba's penthouse, even though he's being chased by Zeniba's paper darts. If he had been stealing the seal for his own purposes, he would have wanted the whole affair to be hidden from Yubaba.

Also, concerning your argument about Yubaba being "not dishonourable": the reason she keeps rules is not that breaking them would be dishonourable. She didn't promise to give a job to anyone who asks, she swore an oath. An oath is enforced by a higher power, marked by phrases like "god is my witness", meaning that you explicitly invite punishment from god if you break the oath. People believed that and took oaths very seriously.

And in Yubaba's world, gods and magic exist and work. Breaking that oath would cause her very real and probably huge problems. She almost certainly only swore it in exchange for something very important.

More on oaths here: https://acoup.blog/2019/06/28/collections-oaths-how-do-they-work/

Yubaba is plenty dishonorable. She does everything she can to bully Chihiro into dropping her request, and really only gives her the job because she's stressed by her baby acting out.

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  • Yubaba also tries to cheat Chihiro out of her victory at the end with the test
    – Dúthomhas
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 12:59

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