I’m not a huge anime guy, but I do know if you’re gonna give it a crack, you go straight to Studio Ghibli. They’re basically the Disney of Japan, and if you’ve ever seen an anime movie in a western country, especially if you’ve seen one playing in a cinema, chances are it’s a Studio Ghibli product. I’ve seen a few over the years, like Porco Rosso, Ponyo and My Neighbour Totoro, but I think that’s about it. Spirited Away is probably the most well known. It won an Oscar for best Animated Film and I remember it getting fair bit of coverage when it came out. I plan on getting to that soon, but first, I watched Howl’s Moving Castle.
Straight away, I was hit with something that I get in almost every anime movie. They always seem like they’re in the middle of a franchise and I’ve missed the first couple of movies. It’s like the world and the characters have already been established in previous instalments, so now they can just get stuck into the story and assume the viewers will keep up.
Howl’s Moving Castle kicks off in a French looking village, and even though it’s populated by humanoid looking people, I don’t think it takes place on Earth. But that doesn’t really matter. A young girl named Sophie works in a hat shop, soon she meets a wizard, who we find out later is Howl, and not long after that she has a curse put on her by local professional bitch, the Witch of the West. The curse turns Sophie into an old lady and she sets off looking for a cure.
The idea of witches and wizards being an everyday part of the world is established very early on, so is the military plot in which Sophie’s country is headed for war with a neighbouring country who’s prince has gone missing. Sophie soon ends up working as a cleaning lady in the titular moving castle of the titular Howl where she meets a talking (non-titular) flame named Calcifer and a kid named Markl.
Soon, all the witches and wizards are being summoned by the king to help in the war effort. Howl’s not so keen on the whole war thing and avoids it. Sometimes he turns into a bird, sometimes it’s hard to turn back, sometimes Sophie looks like her young self, we find out that the flaming Calcifer is the source of power in the moving castle, there’s a magical scarecrow and some portals to get everyone around. I know that may sound a little incoherent and all over the shop, well that’s kind of how I felt watching it. It all made sense in the end… Kind of. It just gets there in a different way to what western movies have made me accustomed to.
If Howl’s Moving Castle had been made by Disney, there would have been forty minutes or origin stories for everyone and exposition crammed in at every orifice to make sure everyone was up to speed. It may have been a little easier to follow, but it would have been a whole lot less interesting.