I used to watch anime a lot when I was younger. Recently, in an attempt to re-live those nice times, I gave Howl’s Moving Castle a try. As usual, before diving into the spoiler-free review, allow me to present some general details first.
The Studio Ghibli masterpiece is based on the first volume of the trilogy written by Diana Wynne Jones.
Howl’s Moving Castle is exactly that: an impossible steampunk-like aggregate that travels through the land of Ingary. The Castle’s owner is Howl, a powerful but frivolous wizard who – rumor has it – steals young women’s hearts. When Howl saves Sophie from some soldiers’ unwanted attention, he unwittingly changes her life.
The jealous Witch of the Waste turns Sophie into an unrecognizable person, making her unable to tell anybody about her curse. Sophie leaves her city, befriends Turnip-Head, the nicest scarecrow you could ever dream of, and finally reaches The Moving Castle. Inside, she meets Calcifer, a rude fire demon, Markl, the magician’s apprentice, and Howl himself. With a raging war at their doorstep and old enemies stuck in their wrong ways, Sophie fights to keep her loved ones safe.
Get ready for a whimsical adventure
The action takes place in a fictive country, at the beginning of the industrialized era. As the movie progresses, the viewer follows Sophie on the cobbled streets of her picturesque hometown, climbs mountains, has tea at the royal court, and fights to escape from an air raid. The ever-changing landscape lulls them from a vivid world to another, in a mesmerizing blend of nature, technology, and magic.
I suppose that in Hayao Miyazaki’s vision, the scenery is a character itself. The Castle is a brilliant example, with its multitude of rooms, secret passageways, and intriguing enchanted objects. It’s easy to understand why people who had found it never wanted to live. Through Sophie’s eyes, the viewer experiences a carefree way of life but also discovers the secret bond that keeps The Castle moving.
Sophie, a relatable protagonist
It’s been a long while since I wholeheartedly liked a protagonist, but Sophie Hatter won my sympathy. She lived according to her own rules, an idea many of us agree with. Even when her existence took an unexpected turn, she tried to make the most out of it. Her good-natured heart, her courage and curiosity, and her determination to prevail helped her overcome the dangers of war and treason. One of the aspects I liked about her was her wisdom, reflected in unexpected, but truthful lines such as this: Well, the nice thing about being old is you’ve got nothing much to lose.
Howl, the antiheroic hero
Much can be said about Howl, but I’ll go with a simple explanation: he is always in-between of what he was and what he would shortly become if he doesn’t change his ways. The first time Sophie sees him, he is this sophisticated blond figure, with a witty word playing on his tongue, but Howl is much more than a ladies’ man. While he often acts immaturely and even states that ` I see no point in living if I can’t be beautiful.`, he secretly battles the horrors of war.
I must say that love stories usually don’t impress me, but I will make an exception in this case. Not only Howl and Sophie are multi-layered characters who want the best for each other but keep their individuality. Their dynamic evolves from strangers to allies to soulmates, which ultimately breaks both their curses. To sum it up, Howl keeps Sophie physically safe, while Sophie creates an emotionally safe space for Howl to evolve as a person.
Family is where the heart is. Literally.
The main themes of the animated movie are the pointlessness of war, kindness, sincere love, and friendship. Additionally, by the end of the adventure, the characters come together despite their differences and past mistakes. It’s one of my favorite tropes, so I was glad to see it here too.
As Howl stated at some point, Looks like we have another addition to the family. Hmmm, you’ve got quite a nasty spell on you too, huh? Seems everyone in this family’s got problems.
Even if he doesn’t understand how a cursed girl, a scarecrow, a decrepit witch, and a spy dog came to live with him, he accepts it nonetheless. Likewise, the other characters make amends to maintain the new-established balance, which is enough to keep The Castle Moving.
So if you’re searching for a heartwarming animation, Howl’s Moving Castle might be a good start due to its hypnotic artwork, diverse characters, and fairy-like storytelling. Moreover, if you want to dive deeper into Japanese visual art, here are five compelling anime suggestions for you.