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Review
Show: Howl's Moving Castle (2004)  
Review by: Animetique
This summary/review is provided by animetique.com and used under the Creative Commons License.
Story:

My Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Based on Diana Wynne Jones' novel, Howl's Moving Castle is the latest Hayao Miyazaki masterpiece to be released in the US. I've never read the novel, so this review is solely based on the Japanese sub playing at my local theater.

Our main character Sophie, a young hat maker, is one of the most delightful girls in anime. She's a happy-go-lucky girl who looks for the good in people and adapts to changes far quicker than most. In her world, the glass is always half-full.

One day, Howl comes into town, and with him, his moving castle. Howl's castle looks like a mad scientist built it and slapped 4 mechanical legs, which is how the castle walks, to its base. It is a monstrous contraption with wheels and chimneys and balconies extending from all directions and even a mouth that doubles as a landing dock. One look at the castle and you are quite sure that only thing keeping this baby on its feet is magic and lots of it.

Sophie and Howl's fates cross when Sophie takes a back road to her sister's and is harassed by two soldiers. Out of nowhere, Howl appears and offers to escort her to her destination. Of course, things aren't so rosy, and several black blobs close in behind the pair, but Howl effortlessly dodges them, walking on air and rooftops to escape, and delivers Sophie safely. And because we all know that in anime, all it takes is a pretty face and a random act of kindness for a girl to fall for a guy, Sophie is quite in love with her mystery beau by the end of their encounter.

The drama continues when Sophie returns to her hat shop to find an extremely large and unpleasant woman as followed her inside. When Sophie asks her to leave, the Witch of the Waste curses her with old age before arrogantly strolling, as much as a woman of that size could stroll, out the door. Sophie panics, and the next day, sets off to find a cure. Fate again plays its part when Sophie is led to Howl's castle, where she befriends its inhabitants and becomes the much needed housekeeper to the wretchedly dirty, dusty, and disgusting place. Yes, only boys live there and they couldn't be messier.

The characters are what make this animation a delight to watch. They may look cute and simplistic, but their movements, reactions, and facial expressions bring them to life. This movie is Sophie's story, and throughout, her character morphs from a young girl to an elderly woman. In every scene, she's portrayed somewhere in between. She never quite breaks the curse, but she tends to take the appearance of how she feels in the moment - becoming slimmer with longer hair and no wrinkles when she's feeling like a young girl in love and growing plumper with shorter hair and lots of wrinkles when she's playing the wise grand-mom.

The accompanying cast is an eclectic bunch, with Turnip the mute scarecrow who bounces happily around the castle, Calcifer, the demonic flame who moves the castle, and Markl, the little boy who acts as Howl's clerk and runs his day-to-day business of delivering books and potions to various townspeople. And of course, there's Howl, the powerful wizard who remains, literally, a child at heart.

While there's a lot to like in Howl's Moving Castle, there are also some confusing bits. We never really understand Howl's motivations or why Sophie is so in love with him. He seems like a lost puppy trapped in his own world and carrying a heavy burden. At some point in his childhood, he made a deal (presumably for his powers?) in exchange for something valuable to him. Now, Howl is caught in a war between 2 nations that is never fully explained, but portrayed as pointless in Miyazaki's classic anti-war stance. Howl works himself to the brink of death night after night, but is afraid to refuse the king's orders and abstain from fighting.

He is also rather superficial. At one point he mentions something to the effect of what is the point of living if one isn't beautiful? This really gets under Sophie's skin. While incredibly warm-hearted and cheerful, Sophie has never seen herself as beautiful in her life, so she takes it personally.

Finally, I had a number of questions concerning the film's concept of magic - what is it, where does it come from, why can some people use it, why do demons make pacts with humans, how do curses work, etc - that were never answered.

Still, this movie is well worth your time, especially if you can see it in theaters. Watch it for the characters and gorgeous animation, not for the under-developed plot. It's not really a deep movie that sparks philosophical discussion later on, but it is pretty darn 'feel good.'

Animation:

My Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

Miyazaki creates a lush world combining the industrial era with fairy tale magic. The colors are rich and brimming with details while the characters are some of the most lifelike you'll find in any animation.

Music:

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

Joe Hisaishi has put together a lovely score for the film, adding to the already magical mood of the animation. The songs range from slower, piano numbers to playful, full orchestral pieces.

Character Design:

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

As mentioned above, this movie is all about Sophie, and her character is quite fun to watch as she changes from a young to an elderly woman and how she deals. Never one to harbor bitterness or dwell on the negative, she maintains a positive outlook no matter what obstacles are thrown in her path. The rest of the cast seemed to be side characters, never really changing, but adding to the magic of Sophie's journey.

In one scene, for instance, the elderly Sophie must climb several flights of stairs to visit the King on Howl's behalf. The Witch of the Waste, a much heftier lady, has also been invited and climbs beside her. For whatever reason, there's a silly rule in place where no guards can help their guests climb these stairs, so the two older women struggle up the stairs. To make matters worse, a pooch which Sophic believes to be Howl in disguise, has been tagging along beside her but is too small to climb the stairs itself. True to character, Sophie can't just leave the poor dog behind, so she carries it up the stairs with her.

During the scene, Sophie is torn between taunting the old hag who cursed her with old age and compassion for the woman, who looks like she's about to keel over at any moment. By the time Sophie reaches the top, she becomes the Witch's cheerleader.

The painstaking effort these two women put into climbing this mountainous set of stairs comes through incredibly well in how it's animated, from how they move to the looks they give each other. You feel that this has been one of the more challenging events in their lives and through it, you grow fonder of both. Rarely in animation is the baddie portrayed in such a sympathetic light - she's not the arrogant bastard we so want to hate but a human with all her weaknesses laid out for all to see. And Sophie's reaction to this made you like her even more.
Last Updated: 2/9/2007
Other Reviews by Animetique
1) FLCL (Updated: 1/18/2007)
2) Ah! My Goddess! (Updated: 1/18/2007)
3) The Animatrix (Updated: 1/18/2007)
4) Chobits (Updated: 1/25/2007)
5) Parasite Dolls (Updated: 1/25/2007)
6) Noir (Updated: 1/25/2007)
7) Martian Successor Nadesico (Updated: 1/25/2007)
8) Gasaraki (Updated: 1/25/2007)
9) Fullmetal Alchemist (Updated: 1/25/2007)
10) The Vision of Escaflowne (Updated: 1/25/2007)
11) Neon Genesis Evangelion (Updated: 1/25/2007)
12) Scrapped Princess (Updated: 2/8/2007)
13) Escaflowne (Updated: 2/8/2007)
14) Metropolis (Updated: 2/9/2007)
15) Howl's Moving Castle (Updated: 2/9/2007)
16) Spirited Away (Updated: 2/15/2007)
17) Tenchi Forever! (Updated: 2/15/2007)
18) Blood: The Last Vampire (Updated: 4/4/2007)
19) Paranoia Agent (Updated: 4/23/2007)
20) Perfect Blue (Updated: 5/10/2007)
21) Elfen Lied (Updated: 5/17/2007)
22) R.O.D the TV (Updated: 6/5/2007)
23) Read or Die (Updated: 6/5/2007)
24) Elfen Lied (Updated: 6/29/2007)
25) The Twelve Kingdoms (Updated: 7/9/2007)
26) Love Hina (Updated: 8/17/2007)
27) Samurai Champloo (Updated: 3/6/2008)
28) Texhnolyze (Updated: 3/12/2008)
29) Tsukihime Lunar Legend (Updated: 9/2/2008)
30) Full Metal Panic! (Updated: 2/2/2009)
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