They’re the best Anime that 2004 has to offer! We counts down the best anime to come out this year, including the likes of Steamboy, InuYasha Movie 4: Guren no Houraijima, Mind Game, and more!
MAL Score: 7.34
Ray is a young wunderkind inventor living in Victorian England. His life is turned upside down when he receives a special package hailing from the United States, sent by his grandfather, Lloyd Steam. The package contains a device called a Steam Ball, a device so powerful that it can drive any machine that requires steam with a nearly limitless amount of energy.
Ray is instructed to not let the Steam Ball fall into the wrong hands, which include the mighty O’Hara Foundation, who desperately want to bring the Steam Ball back into their control so they can achieve their less than noble goals.
He will need to use every bit of his brilliance in order to dodge the countless goons that are sent to snatch the device from him. It will be a battle between good and evil, a battle for redemption, a battle for the future!
The plot of Steamboy is really nothing all that original. If you’ve seen any adventure stories before then the overall premise is going to feel very familiar to you. The story centers around the boy Ray Steam, who is an inventor from a family of inventors. After he receives a mysterious package from his grandfather he soon finds himself chased by villains who want it for themselves. The story has lofty goals but by the time the movie ends, I found myself confused about what actually happened and what the purpose of the whole thing was. Also it didn’t feel like any of the villainous characters ever really faced any consequences for their actions and the only people hurt were the innocents they stepped on throughout the story. Maybe I am being to idealistic but I want the bad guys to get their just deserts, and Steamboy didn’t leave me feeling that they had.
There is a lot of very good action in Steamboy however. Fans of action will have a lot to like here. The battles and action scenes are marvelous to watch and the CGI effects are wonderfully embedded within the animation. The movie also does a wonderful job in building a Victorian Age fantasy with amazing steam powered machines of all types. It reminds me a lot of a Jules Verne style story.
Ray Steam is an adequate leading character. He is heroic and idealistic and very much a standard and predictable character type for this kind of story. There just isn’t enough development of his past or personality to make him all that compelling or memorable. Scarlett is even less interesting as we learn almost nothing about her either. I did not find her to be all that likable nor did I care much about what happened to her. She’s spoiled and arrogant and cruel to animals. She seems to make a little progress as the story unfolds but not enough to make me actually like her. Steamboy’s villains are not anymore interesting. While they don’t fit the black/white stereotype that one often seen in these characters for this story type their motivations are obscure and not well defined for most of them. The ones that are just don’t give you enough reasons to dislike them and cheer on our hero.
While the animation was really top notch in most cases, I did not care for the character designs. Particularly that of Scarlet as she looked more like a cross dressing boy than a girl. As I mentioned the animation for the various steam machines and action was amazing. The level of detail and fantastic designs were definitely a highlight. The music and acting was all very good though. The background music did a lot to build the grand scale of the movie.
Steamboy is overall though just an average adventure story. I certainly didn’t dislike this movie at all, I’ve just seen a lot better. Still I don’t think anyone would dislike this so if you enjoy fantasy and adventure stories, Steamboy will be well worth your time.
It’s not ‘weird’ as in something ridiculously abstract or disturbing, but weird in other ways.
The alternate-history setting is a visual feast for the eyes via Production I.G’s commitment to detail and quality animation. The dub is actually really good, and this is coming from a guy who hates dubs. But in a story like this where its set completely in 19th century England, it would be too strange to hear Japanese voices, so the heavy Manchester and cockney London accents fit very well with what’s going on. Yeah, an anime set entirely in 19th century England, with no Japanese characters, weird already.
And damn if what’s going on isn’t bloody amazing. I actually think this is a two act story which is very interesting and unconventional. For any laymen to cinema theory reading this, most common films have three act structures, but Steamboy is basically Setup and then Resolution. Maybe a bit of an act 2 is floating around somewhere in this strange anime, but you’d be hard pressed to find it, as it moves so quickly from a beginning that feels deceivingly generic: a regular boy-receives-package-and-goes-on-run-with-it scenario that doesn’t follow all the clichés of the past thankfully, but instead saves us the trouble of watching the story lull then pick up then lull over and over again. No, Steamboy just keeps going from the first chase scene and doesn’t let up until the destructive climax.
But what a climax. There are images in this anime that are purely breathtaking. Images you’ve never seen before. Katsuhiro Otomo’s eye for apocalyptic action is second-to-none; no one can do it better than him. Seeing it in action in London is a treat. His direction, especially in action sequences, gives you scope to all the mayhem, his pans and tracking shots are perfect.
Its all complemented by humour in the form of a bunch of weapons buyers on a tour of a gigantic weapon of mass destruction, unwittingly being involved in the ‘demonstration’, to sly observations of Londoners’ reactions to horrific disasters unfolding in front of them, it’s never forced but very quirky and funny.
Steamboy can be criticised for its two act structure and may lead people to believe it’s all style and no substance, and I wont even try to defend it’s attempts at philosophising on the purpose of science and technology, as the two characters that keep spouting their speeches gets old very quickly, but this anime is simply unlike any other out there and for that reason alone it deserves your full attention.
There are so many things going on in Steamboy, from the surface narrative of a boy being dragged into an ideological quarrel between his father and grandfather, to the philosophical implications of steam technology on the 19th and 20th century, and most interestingly of all: that this was actually the origin of a superhero which just made me grin big time.
The only down-side to this anime I see is that it is very generic steampunk but I also see this as its bet asset to those who are interested in understanding this genre.
4: InuYasha Movie 4: Guren no Houraijima
English: InuYasha the Movie 4: Fire on the Mystic Island
Japanese: 犬夜叉 紅蓮の蓬莱島
MAL Score: 7.54
The mysterious island of Houraijima has reappeared after 50 years, and with its reappearance has brought the attack of four gods, the Shitoushin, who have their eyes set on the powers that protect and sustain the island. Now it’s up to Inuyasha and his friends, along with Sesshoumaru, to find a way to defeat the powerful Shitoushin.
The scenario is very weak and most unimpressive even for the tv standards. So far they had being fighting top level demons who could take over the world, control time, and even raise hell. Now they deal with… four convicts??? Surely, where is the excitement in that? Four nobody demons that are trapped on an island and just lure other demons in order to eat them and stay alive. Another annoying feature is the little kids in this movie. You would expect token kids begging for the shounen hero to save them in a Naruto or a One Piece film, but in Inu Yasha it just feels stupid. I guess so many years past that by now the franchise had turned to just another silly show about teenagers saving kids.
The plot is not something great either. All they do is fighting one demon at a time before the last one fuses with the rest to form a last moment big boss. That’s it, nothing more. The previous movies had the decency to try to deal with some sort of drama or romance from the various themes of the main story. This one here does absolutely NOTHING! You could replace the characters with those from any other shounen show and you wouldn’t even know the difference.
Not even the action is something good, since by now Inu Yasha had enough firepower to take on the Devil himself and the enemy demons were just generic bad guys without any backdrop or interesting battle strategies. Not even the setting is good either. It is just a sort of tropical island that appeared on the sea; nothing nightmarish or complicating.
In all, this is a completely pointless movie that has no point in existing. I don’t recommend it one bit.
3: Mind Game
Japanese: マインド ゲーム
MAL Score: 7.79
After seeing her jump onto a subway at the last second and getting her ankle crushed between the doors, Nishi reconnects with his high school sweetheart, Myon. Nishi is still very much in love with Myon, but is shocked to learn that she is engaged to another man. Nishi agrees to meet Myon’s fiancé at her family’s Yakitori restaurant, but members of the Yakuza storm the joint and murder Nishi when he tries to stop them from raping Myon.
Nishi, now dead, wakes up and meets a constantly shapeshifting god, who mocks him for dying. The god tells Nishi to walk into a portal and disappear from existence, which Nishi rejects, choosing instead to sprint past the god and reanimate. With a new outlook on life and knowledge of how the Yakuza are going to attack him, Nishi kills one of the Yakuza with his own gun, fleeing in a stolen car with Myon and her sister.
Acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa’s debut film, Mind Game’s constantly shifting visuals tell a story about living one’s life without regrets that is unlike any other.
Produced by one of the most innovative animation studios around, Mind Game takes an abstract approach to a theme that a lot of mainstream anime has been promoting to viewers for decades: Don’t give up, live life.
You see it everywhere, from Naruto to Mobile Suit Gundam to Ghibli. Anime is always reminding you of how short life is; encouraging you to stop watching it and go outside. Stop being self-conscious, act freely, chase your dreams, jump into the melting pot of humanity!
Mind Game’s humorous approach is through a breezy kind of animation style that isn’t afraid to become inconsistent at random moments. The most striking moments are when characters’ faces are replaced by actual real life actors, which gives a surreal charm to the whole thing. A reason why I keep thinking of obscure quirky live action Japanese films, like Survive Style Five+, instead of other anime, because that’s where Mind Game’s sensibilities lie.
It is both aware and ignorant of the fact that it’s animated, taking full advantage of the medium to show us wonderfully insane visuals, and ignoring it to use a narrative template that is underused in anime-land which is obsessed with plot driving the characters rather than the other way around, and whenever it is the other way around its labelled as ‘slice of life’.
Not so much slice of life in Mind Game as it is a gigantic bite. We follow Nishi as he hooks up with a childhood sweetheart, we laugh at a violently ugly encounter in a restaurant, we grin stupidly at a loony action scene and spend the long remainder of the film captivated by a couple humans stripped bare, their hearts naked for all to see, and with that freedom enforced on them they’re truly able to live life like they never were before.
The enforced freedom ultimately has to be taken away, which results in the film’s powerful climax which is basically a race for life. A metaphorical dash across the debris of 21st century living; a furious rush that takes everything in the characters to achieve a future full of life and possibilities.
Mind Game itself shows the future and possibilities of anime. Another accomplishment for Studio 4C.
Despite the title, this isn’t a movie that will mess with your head or challenge you to think. It has a very simple message, one that was clearly stated: Live Life. The characters go on a journey that, while being fantastic, ended up feeling like a hollow victory come the climax. You can either blame that on the "reset button" ending or on the fact they chose to send us on acid trips over fleshing out the story.
The characters themselves were very much the same as the story. Decent, with some depth, but you could feel as though there was a wealth more to be explored that simply wasn’t for one reason or another. Again, more time was given to the exploration of the art.
But what about the art? This movie is probably best known for its atypical style and beautifully executed animation. The problem though is its not a matter of execution, its a matter of content. Yes, the animation was expertly done, but the animation itself was a Wal-Mart bargain bin of good, bad, and indistinguishable. In this department, it really relies on the person watching and their preferences. Personally, I found it to be distracting and in some cases, absurd.
Basically it should come to this. If you’ve seen the movie or if you’re thinking of watching it, ask yourself this one question…"Did I enjoy it?" . No, don’t ask yourself if you ‘understood everything’ or if you ‘appreciated the art’…ask yourself if you truly and honestly ‘enjoyed’ it.
Personally, its not a movie I’ll watch again nor a movie I’ll forget. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t that one amazing movie that its hyped to be either. It falls in the middle of the road.
It was fair. Decent. Average. 6 out of 10.
Story: It’s a story that you cannot take seriously. There are essentially 3 different scenes in it. All three of them are beautifully executed. The pacing in this movie is also very nice, the few slow scenes are beautifully shown, there’s never a single moment of tediousness.
Art: " I think that Japanese animation fans today don’t necessarily demand something that’s so polished. You can throw different styles at them and they can still usually enjoy it." -Masaaki Yuasa (director) The art in this is so spaced out, to call it anime would be to really push the border of what anime is and can be. This free, wild form is both beautiful and also sometimes detrimental. There are some scenes that are not beautifully executed, they seem dull and boring, almost lifeless. Whereas others are beautiful, and some are quite hilarious. One of the best scenes involves God. However the best scene, is a love scene. It is worth it to watch the entire anime JUST for this one 3-4 minute scene. I cannot describe to you how beautiful this one scene was to me, you really need to see it for yourself.
Sound: The voice actors are magnificent, Niishi is especially great, he’s energetic and sounds absolutely crazy half the time. The sound effects are also amazing and the background music incredible as well.
Character: To fully get the characters, to fully understand all the relations and dreams of each character this anime needs to be watched at least twice. Almost every character has a detailed story and aspirations. Niishi’s dream of being a Manga artist leads to a cute little story. The characters at all time seem human, they seem pliable and three-dimensional. This aspect is so beautifully shown, it’s one of the many highlights of this series.
I was never let-down during this entire movie. However I would not recommend it to everyone. If you don’t have an open mind about what you believe anime is, then don’t watch this. This anime is incredibly unique. To use the word "weird" would be an insult to this. I have never seen anything like this, it’s an anime that really does a magnificent job at being a beautiful piece of art.
2: Detective Conan Movie 08: Magician of the Silver Sky
Japanese: 名探偵コナン 銀翼の奇術師[マジシャン]
MAL Score: 8.08
Once again, Kaitou Kid crosses swords with Conan Edogawa in this annual installment of the Detective Conan movie franchise. After receiving a letter from the thief, famous actress Juri Maki seeks the help of private detective Kogorou Mouri to protect the Star Sapphire—the “Jewel of Destiny,” said to represent faith, fate, and hope. Thinking he has deciphered Kid’s riddle, Kogorou personally shows up to the newly constructed space theater where Juri is acting in the play “Josephine” in order to catch Kid in the act.
The next day, Conan and the gang are invited by Juri to her holiday home, to celebrate the thwarting of Kid’s plan and the success of the play. However, their triumph crumbles when a murder occurs during the flight there. Although unintentional, this sets off a series of events that escalate to catastrophic results. Conan and Kid, unlikely allies that they are, must work together to save both their friends and every other passenger aboard the plane.
One of the movie’s most interesting aspects is how it takes three different scenarios and combines them into one, cohesive story where the elements in one part carry on into the next. While this is some very interesting story-writing, one could not help but wonder if more time went into writing one part more than the others. In 1995’s Goldeneye, the movie begins with an opening so great, that the rest of the movie fails to measure up to it. The same can be said for Magician of the Silver Sky. As fun as the other two parts are, the first part is and always will be the most memorable part of the whole movie. It’s kind of like eating a three-course meal, where the first dish is a juicy steak, the second is a PB&J sandwich, and the third is a bowel of chicken noodle soup. All are of varying quality, but none are better than the first dish.
One other thing that people do not like about this movie is how Kaito Kid always disguises himself as Shinichi. As genius as it was for him to do so, it sort of takes out the fun of figuring out who Kid is. Back then, I wouldn’t really have a problem with Kid disguising himself as Shinichi since it meant Conan can’t point him out without giving himself away. But after 15 years and 2 other movies where Kaito disguises himself as Shinichi (plus 1 if you count Fist of Blue Sapphire), I think now would be a good time for Kid to change up his Modus Operandi.
Despite my earlier analogy about chicken PB&J, Magcian of the Silver Sky is still a worth while watch. Everything that people love about Detective Conan is here and is still just as good. The story structure is interesting, the art and animation is pretty good, and the characters are still their usual lovable selves. Definitely a good watch.
Story-wise, it isn’t the typical Detetive Conan wherein the ending is usually when the culprit is caught. It somehow has a mix of other genres as well that made it unique in a way to the other movies so far. The mystery and detective-ness of the typical Detective Conan though was outshone by the scenes in the plane. In a way that made this a bit anti-climatic in terms of mysteriousness. It was however refreshing to see a different story from the typical series. There were also some scenes that had a bit of a bland after taste to it but still the good parts outweigh those. The story was good not the best one there is but it was good.
Every anime has its own unique art style. What sets Detective Conan apart from the others is that aside from the unique plot the art is also different so the author’s work can be easily distinguished for the others. Growing up with this anime makes my rating for it biased but I, for one, am content with the art.
The usual sound effects used in the series but there were a few added sound effects to make it sound new to the ears. Not complaining with the usual opening though, it just makes it even more exciting since it is the signature opening of Detectuve Conan so nostalgia from it isn’t lost to me.
The characters were okay though the culprit was predictable. The different sides of Kaitou Kid was seen here though his identity remains a mystery and that makes him all the more a character one can look forward to every time he appears. The kids however were a bit unnecessary in some scenes. Ran’s parents however made it refreshing. Everytime those two show up it’s really fun to watch. There were characters though that were a bit lacking in presence and sort of easily remained in the background. Conan though, is still the typical Conan we all know and love.
It was not what I had expected from the title and the movie poster though, so at the beginning I thought it was going to be a full on Kaitou Kid vs Conan movie but the unexpectedness of the plot all the more made it a good movie to me. There were some scenes that for me, were not needed and felt like they were just a few added scenes to make the movie longer. But other than that it was good. Not the best Detective Conan movie I’ve watched but nonetheless a good movie to watch.
If you want something a bit different from the typical Detective Conan, this is probably the way to go. There are a lot of mixed genres here that made it enjoyable to watch. It was a good movie. There were unexpected scenes and twists but that just made it even more fun to watch.
1: Howl no Ugoku Shiro
English: Howl’s Moving Castle
MAL Score: 8.66
That jumbled piece of architecture, that cacophony of hissing steam and creaking joints, with smoke billowing from it as it moves on its own… That castle is home to the magnificent wizard Howl, infamous for both his magical prowess and for being a womanizer—or so the rumor goes in Sophie Hatter’s small town. Sophie, as the plain daughter of a hatmaker, does not expect much from her future and is content with working hard in the shop.
However, Sophie’s simple life takes a turn for the exciting when she is ensnared in a disturbing situation, and the mysterious wizard appears to rescue her. Unfortunately, this encounter, brief as it may be, spurs the vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste—in a fit of jealousy caused by a past discord with Howl—to put a curse on the maiden, turning her into an old woman.
In an endeavor to return to normal, Sophie must accompany Howl and a myriad of eccentric companions—ranging from a powerful fire demon to a hopping scarecrow—in his living castle, on a dangerous adventure as a raging war tears their kingdom apart.
Story: the story is about a girl named Sophie who gets turned into an old woman and ends up living with a wizard named Howl in his moving castle. The story is the only part I felt was lacking in this movie. Though I have to admit I see more flaws with the story after reading the book (even though I find the movie much better). Overall, I felt many of the war scenes were overdramatized and left a lot of questions. There were also a lot of small things throughout that they could have done a better job at explaining. Even after watching the movie so many times I cannot fully explain some scenes and still have questions about the movie.
Animation: The animation is absolutely stunning and many of the backgrounds look realistic. I also have to say that I am impressed with how Sophie is animated, and how it is so easy to tell when she is aging/regressing just simply by looking at the animation (her voice also helps). Overall this is the most impressive Miyazaki art I’ve seen and I really haven’t seen much that can top it.
Sound: I’ll just start off by saying the music in this movie is so beautiful. I love every single background music in this movie, and the only song I don’t like so much is the theme with the words that plays at the end. Aside from the beautiful soundtrack, the sounds in the movie are so dead on. Hearing Sophie’s bones crack as an old woman is really painful, and as much as I don’t like Sophie’s voice, her seiyuu does a great job at portraying the character and how she fluctuates between young and old so frequently throughout the movie. I think all the seiyuu in the movie were good as well.
Character: The characters in this movie make up for all the lack of closure in the plot. Each character has their good points, even the Witch of the Waste. I personally adore almost all the characters, though I actually like Sophie the least of all. Calcifer, Heen, and Turnip head are such adorable and fun characters to watch (and Heen and Turnip have pretty much no lines in the whole movie). Howl is also another loveable character as well. The characters have such different personalities that you will probably like at least one character or more.
Enjoyment: Obviously I enjoy this film a lot. I’ve watched it so many times! Each time I sit there in awe of the animation and empathize with the characters. It’s one of those movies that I love to watch and I have not gotten bored of it yet. I do have to say that towards the end I get slightly bored with the stressed focus on the war, but that only lasts at most 15 minutes.
This movie is defenitely worth watching, and even if you watched it and didn’t like it, you only spent two hours watching it since it’s a movie. I think it’s defenitely one of Miyazaki’s better works. If you have time or interest, I think it’s worth checking out the book, since it’s a completely different take on the story. It’s got a lot less romance between Sophie and Howl in it, but it brings a lot more character development to Markl and Sophie’s sisters (she has more than one in the novel). But if not, just watch the movie!!
STORY – This movie was apparently based off a book, but as I haven’t read the book, I’m judging this movie as a work all on its own, for better or worse. So I suppose this was, in a way, a story about courage and facing one’s fears, but it was approached in such a roundabout way that I’m really not sure, even now. The premise of the movie — Sophie getting bewitched into an old woman — seemed almost completely random, and I was left wondering why? and what was the point of that? Those questions were, for me, repeated a ridiculous number of times throughout the course of the movie. Indeed, most of the scenes seemed haphazardly spliced together with little rhyme or reason connecting them. Eventually, the focus of the movie fell onto Howl and his troubles, which was fine, except that we seemed to forget entirely about Sophie’s initial dilemma because of it.
In some ways, Howl’s reminded me of Spirited Away, what with its eclectic assemblage of characters, all with their own problems and goals. But while Spirited Away maintained and remembered its initial story and theme, Howl’s Moving Castle was seriously all over the place. The further we progressed into the movie, the more it seemed like Sophie’s problems were taking a backseat to Howl’s, and even her position as a member of his castle and one of his helpers didn’t seem very important. One of the things that annoyed me the most was also the fact that the spell placed on Sophie was never explained the depth — all you knew was that she couldn’t tell anyone about it (which was pretty useless since most characters seemed to be able to tell anyway). Nothing was explained as the spell seemed to gradually fade; when Sophie randomly appeared to be her old self, you were never sure whether it was for real or a dream. Eventually, you sort of accepted that she was slowly regaining her old self, but even then, you weren’t sure why.
There’s also the matter of the war. Throughout the entire movie, it seemed like more of a background element more than anything else. We were never told why the war was going on or against whom they were fighting; thus, it didn’t seem like all too important of a thing, even when leaders were requesting the aid of magical folk. In a way, I find this impression interesting as there seems to be a distinct separation between the affairs of our characters and the world around them. Despite the war, they’re in their own little world, even with airships attacking every so often and Howl’s subsequent injuries. I’m not sure why that is or whether it’s a positive or negative element, but it’s there all the same…
CHARACTER – I wasn’t really all that impressed by any of the characters in this movie. Most of them seemed to be typical of Miyazaki both in personality and goals and were consequently predictable. Sophie is an all around "good" character who only wants the best for her family and friends. Howl is the mysterious one with great power and internal insecurities. Calcifer is the sharp-tongued, sarcastic one who just wants to be free, despite a seemingly good relationship with his master. And Markl is just a good kid, more or less in the same vein as Sophie except younger, and the Scarecrow was a similar personality as well. The Witch of the Waste is a completely stereotypical semi-villain, as is Suliman.
Though there are certainly attempts at expanding on some of the characters’ very flat personalities, I don’t really feel as if any of them are successful. Sophie’s fascination and eventual love for Howl was a little interesting, but the feelings could be attributed very easily to the typical goodness of her personality, and it didn’t seem like Howl was very special to have her affections. Similarly, Howl’s feelings for Sophie seemed generic, or perhaps he (and all the other characters) could not help but be attracted to her goodness, as there didn’t seem to be very many flaws in that purity at all.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – This is easily what contributes the most to the entire movie. As we have come to expect from Studio Ghibli, Howl’s Moving Castle was an exceptionally beautiful film. The highly detailed background renders were superb and featured all sorts of fantastical elements, giving the environment a wonderful personality. The streets and storefronts were inviting and cheerful, and the darker alleyways held a mystery of their own. The characters were all wonderfully animated, especially Howl, who transformed slickly between his human and harpy-like form.
The design for the castle was especially fun. As more or less a gigantic heap of metal parts, its lack of uniformity gave the viewer a lot to look at, and all of it was interesting. It was also great to see rooms and halls within the castle shift, contract, and expand as Howl magicked them around.
MUSIC – I don’t remember anything especially extraordinary, but I think it’s safe enough to say that most of the music was satisfying and fitting for their scenes.
VOICE ACTING – I’ve only seen the movie subbed. The voices were about average, but I would say that’s more because of the characters’ flatness more than lack of talent on the part of the actors. Calcifer is the only one that had a particularly memorable voice — it was a little whiny and a little scratchy: absolutely perfect for his grumbling character.
OVERALL – Howl’s Moving Castle was a very fun movie to look at. The visuals were gorgeous and everything smoothly animated. Unfortunately, the story and characters definitely left a lot to be desired; there was so little substance that I might have gotten about the same impression if I’d seen the whole thing on mute (or without subtitles). I’ve been told that the original novel is better, and I wonder if Miyazaki’s downfall is only in that he was trying to adapt someone else’s work, because certainly I know the man’s capable of telling a story better than this.
NOVEL, ANIME: Howl’s Moving Castle was originally a young-adult fantasy novel written by Diana Wynne Jones in 1986. It won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1987, and was also was designated an ALA Notable Book for children and young adults.
Howl’s Moving Castle was produced by Studio Ghibli (Ponyo on the Cliff, Spirited Away), and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). Howl was released in theatres in Japan on November 20th, 2004, and showed dubbed in theatres Stateside starting on June 10th, 2005, courtesy of Disney, and is available both subbed and dubbed on DVD.
STORY: Sophie Hatter is a young, self-conscious young woman who, after a chance encounter with the wizard Howl, is cursed with the body of a ninety-year-old by the spiteful Witch of the Waste, and is unable to tell anyone about the curse. She ends up going into the Waste, and, with the help of an animated turnip-headed scarecrow that she helps, ends up finding Howl’s home; a legged, walking, amalgamation of a castle. In order to break her spell, she makes a deal with the fire demon who powers the castle, Calcifer; if she can break the spell on him and Howl – which he also can’t tell anyone about – he will break hers.
Howl’s Moving Castle isn’t necessarily one of Ghibli’s strongest movies, story-telling wise. There are a lot of disparate plot elements floating about, with not a lot of explanation given, or even development, for that matter; the movie kind of just drifts from scene to scene, as if it can’t decide what plot element it wants to focus on. Probably the biggest example of this is Sophie’s curse. There are times in the movie where she’ll appear younger or older; it’s hinted that this difference in physical appearance is tied to her self-confidence, but it’s never explained, it just happens. The ending is kind of unsatisfying, as everything’s quickly wrapped up in a neat package with even little to no explanation of sudden plot elements that end up popping up.
The characters themselves are all fairly well fleshed out, though, and are at least intriguing to watch; the moments in this movie that center around the characters alone are where it really shines, such as Sophie going through and cleaning the house, Markl going to market with Sophie, or Calcifer and Howl talking by the fire.
Taken in terms of the original novel, Howl is a nice retelling. The basic plot elements from the novel are mostly intact, though a great deal of the actual plot has been changed around. If you don’t mind a looser retelling of the novel, then you should be fine with this; however, if you’re looking for the novel translated exactly onto the screen, then you may not want to see this.
ART: As always with Studio Ghibli, the art for this is beyond beautiful, that goes without saying. There are three big things that stood out for me with the art, though:
-The castle. I can’t say enough about how intricately this was done; just the design itself is amazingly thought out, and the animation of the movement and all the little parts moving and operating on their own and as a part of the larger whole is incredibly steampunk.
-Anything to do with magic being used. Incredibly created, especially in how it manifests from character to character, and with beautifully intricate detail.
-The war sequences. Incredibly realistic and devastating, though it should be noted that production on this was happening while the Iraq War and the bombings were just beginning.
MUSIC: Joe Hisaishi does the composing work on this, as he always does. While his music has most of the normal chords and progressions it normally does, the music here tends to be variations on several instruments of the main theme song, which, while not my favorite ever, is passable. Not the greatest soundtrack he’s ever done, but still fairly solid.
SEIYUU: The cast for this is fairly new to voice work, but it doesn’t show; there are some excellent performances in this, especially the voice actor for Calcifer. I actually like the sub and dub about equally, so I can’t state preference here for any one cast. I do like that there is a single seiyuu for Sophie, whether she’s young or old, as it just shows you the range of the seiyuu.
VOICE ACTORS: The English dub for this has some fairly big names for the performances; Christian Bale does a pretty good job (and even utilizes the Batman!growl) as Howl, Jean Simmons does an amazing job as the older version of Sophie (even though I don’t really understand why there needs to be two separate voice actors here), Billie Crystal does a good job of being the comedic relief in Calcifer, Lauren Bacall is an amazing Witch of the Waste, and Crispin Freeman even shows up for a few lines. Overall, a solid performance.
DUB: I have absolutely no criticism whatsoever for the dubwork on this. Translations are done accurately, there’s no intentional flubbing of the original meaning, and it’s fairly well done.
LENGTH: The movie does tend to drag at times, especially with how the movie tends to float from scene to scene. The whole thing feels kinda dreamy, though, and you tend to not notice where the time’s gone at the end of it.
OVERALL: Not Ghibli’s best story or score, but still has wonderful characters, amazing animation, and a fairly solid dub, and cast in both languages. A dreamy sort of film, good for a rainy afternoon.
VOICE ACTORS: 8/10
OVERALL: 55/70; 79% (C+)
Did YOUR favorite anime make the cut? Let us know in the comments below!
1. Howl no Ugoku Shiro
2. Detective Conan Movie 08: Magician of the Silver Sky
3. Mind Game
4. InuYasha Movie 4: Guren no Houraijima