Howl's Moving Castle (anime)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Sophie: All right, Calcifer, let's get cooking.
Calcifer: I don't cook! I'm a scary and powerful fire demon!

Howl's Moving Castle is a 2004 Studio Ghibli film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, very loosely based on the 1986 novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Miyazaki considers it his favourite creation. In 2005, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but lost to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Jones has stated that she liked the adaptation, saying that she is "very fond of Miyazaki's castle" in an interview, acknowledging that movies are always different than books, and that she has several models of Miyazaki's version of Howl's castle around her house.

Instead of a Medieval European Fantasy, the film portrays the land of Ingary is a Steampunk/Gaslamp Fantasy world filled with both technology and magic. The story starts in much the same way as the book: Sophie is cursed after offending the (rather petty) Witch of the Waste, and sets out to find a way to break the spell. A scarecrow she calls "Turnip Head" leads her to Howl's Castle after she stands him up, and she makes a deal with Calcifer to break each other's curses under the guise of becoming Howl's cleaning lady. But now, there's a raging war going on in the background, over a missing Prince. Howl's teenage apprentice Michael is now a cute young kid named Markl, and Howl, a rogue wizard, is doing his best to try and halt both sides of the war, but the transformations that he uses in order to fight (into an enormous birdlike figure) are bringing him closer and closer to losing his humanity.

The film focuses on both Sophie and Howl's romance as well as the war plaguing their nation. Unlike the original, which was an Affectionate Parody of fairy tales, the film is a straight-as-the-monster-crow-wizard-flies fairy tale itself.

Tropes used in Howl's Moving Castle (anime) include:
  • Adaptational Personality Adjustment: Compared to the original novel:
    • Sophie's personality considerably changes. In the book she is less tolerant towards Howl, and less patient, often questioning why Howl is doing something he does because of his reputation as a wizard that steals hearts. She constantly looks around the castle, which Howl acknowledges, saying that Sophie keeps sticking her nose where it doesn't belong while it isn't a plot point at all in the film. While Sophie says resignedly in the film that as the eldest she's cursed to not find a happy ending in a magical world, it's a one-time thing and not something that drives most of her character arc.
    • Happens to Lettie and Martha by default. When their mother-stepmother apprenticed them, the girls used a spell from Michael to switch places for baking and magical studies, because their woman miscalculated what would actually interest them. The movie shows the real Lettie baking with no problem, hinting she is happy in her job.
    • Howl's over the top reactions and impulsiveness remains unchanged in the green goo scene, but he is less of a womanizer and a Jerkass than he is in the source material. (In fairness to Book Howl, he admits the womanizer bit is an act so that people will leave him alone and he's forced to reveal he's only had eyes for Sophie when the Witch of the Waste takes her hostage.) Movie Howl's first scene is rescuing Sophie from what he thinks are a retinue of hostile guards, and helping her walk on air so she can get home safely. Unlike in the book, where he withheld from Sophie that he knew she was under a curse, something that infuriates her when she finds out, he reveals to her in a nightmare that he knows and he can't break it.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Suliman is a more benevolent and less antagonistic character in the book, and was also cursed by the Witch of the Waste. His film counterpart inherits her role as Howl's mentor from another character, Mrs. Pentstemmon, a kindly figure in the book who the Witch murdered.
  • Adaptation Dye Job: Sophie's red hair in the book was changed to black, and later light grey. Howl describes the changed colour like "starlight".
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Calcifer being OK after Howl gets his heart back, Howl's reasons for catching a falling star in the first place, and other details are left out of the movie from the original book. Although the reason for the deal is pretty obvious from that sequence. The falling stars shaped like people, die when they hit the ground/lake.
  • Author Appeal: A lot of Miyazaki's favorite staples — including flying and themes of environmentalism — were added to the film. Even one of his favourite actresses, Lauren Bacall, has a role in the dub.
  • Beautiful Dreamer
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't ask Grandma Sophie if she's working for the Witch of the Waste, Markl.
    • And when Howl's hair is accidently coloured orange... boy, does he freak out!
  • Bishonen: Howl and later Turniphead.
  • Body Horror: Wizards who fight in the war end up remaining as bat-like things, forgetting who they really are.
  • Can't Live Without You: If Calcifer dies, so does Howl.
  • Canine Companion: Hin/Heen
  • The Casanova: Howl is one according to gossip by the townsfolk. However it's implied that Gossip Evolution occurred. Sophie's sister was genuinely terrified when she found out Sophie met a wizard because "If he were Howl he would rip out [her] heart and devour it."
  • Character Development
    • Sophie's is a bit subtle. At first when she's turned into an old woman, she hunches while she walks, uses a cane and is very slow, needing a break every so often. As the film moves along, she begins standing up straighter with her stamina increasing until eventually she doesn't need it anymore. This is also symbolic of her low sense of self worth as the film begins.
    • Howl gets this as well. At the beginning of the movie, he acts in a very mysterious and flirtatious manner, behaving like an experienced lover when he charms Sophie. As the movie goes on, he starts to behave in a more open and natural way around her, until he is willing to act responsibly and fight off the enemy planes to protect his "family".
  • Composite Character: Madame Suliman, Howl's mentor and the court magician, is two separate characters in the original book: Mrs. Pentstemmon (his mentor, deceased) and Master Sulliman (the court magician, very much alive -- and male).
  • Continuity Nod: When Calcifer moves the house, the design he briefly changes to (truly demonic looking and blueish) is Calcifer's form in the original book. As well, the English dub makes references to lines from the original book, such as Calcifer's "Here's another curse: May all your bacon burn." Some other minor details, such as Howl cracking eggs one-handed, are also straight out of the book.
    • In a more roundabout way, the war that is an important event in the movie is little more than an off-hand background comment in the book, if it was even mentioned at all. The second book in the series, however does have a prominent war.
  • Cool Gate: The door of the moving castle, which has four destinations.
  • Cool Old Lady
    • Sophie's pretty tough even when aged.
    • Arguably also the Witch of the Waste.
  • Curse: One is placed on Sophie.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Sophie's old age curse is genuinely unpleasant, but it does help her to come out of her shell. She's quite philosophical about it for the most part, quipping that her aging-up means that her rather unfashionable clothes now finally suit her and that aging has apparently made her smarter.
  • Dark Is Evil: Howl's transformations into a near-black bird-monster are destroying him, even when he does have a genuinely good reason to fight.
  • Dirty Old Woman: The Witch of the Waste.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Turniphead, albeit you only fully realize that after knowing the final twist.
  • Flight of Romance: When Howl first encounters Sophie, they start flying and walking through the sky.
  • Flying Car: A Steampunk take on the trope.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy
  • Gentleman Wizard: Howl
  • Ghibli Hills: Wow! Guess who made this film! Totally not the Trope Namer! Ghibli hills are everywhere, including an entire set — Howl's garden he made for Sophie — made out of them.
  • Ghibli Plains: The titular moving castle often takes a journey through Ghibli Plains. Ghibli Plains are a frequent occurrence in the countryside. The trope is used to give audiences time to breathe and relax between more intense and emotional scenes.
  • Gonk: The Witch of the Waste after her beauty spell is drained.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: What Lettie, Martha, and many background characters wears at the beginning of the film. Sophie chooses to remain more humble, wearing a plain dress.
  • Gratuitous German: In the background of one scene is a recruiting poster that says "Mut und Willeskraft" ("Courage and Strength of Will").
  • Happily Ever After: The war has ended once the missing prince has been found. Howl's Castle is modified to be able to fly. Sophie and Howl kiss, and the last shot in the film is of the castle flying away into the clouds.
  • Inter Class Romance: Sophie and Howl.
  • Kinetic Clicking: Used liberally whenever Howl's castle moves.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Madame Suliman and the Witch of the Waste are non-RPG examples.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Howl can be somewhat described as one. Another nod to the book where he's even more so, though that is partially Sophie's fault. She has latent magic that allows her to bring inanimate objects to life, and accidentally sews her love for Howl into the outfits of his she mends. Cue mass amounts of girls falling for him.
  • Light Is Not Good: As the Witch of Waste learned, magical lamps are the polar opposite of "good". To a lesser extent Suliman as well.
  • Master of Disguise: Howl, which is to be expected of a Wizard of his caliber.
  • Meaningful Background Event / Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Sophie and Howl are escaping the capital on the airplane, a group of soldiers are seen in the street below shooting at what look like protesters. This is never mentioned again, so it's possible it was just background filler. Or it could be the reason why at the end Suliman asks for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, rather than the King.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Madame Suliman, the Witch of the Waste and old Sophie.
  • Nice Hat
    • Sophie's mother's hat had little cannons on it!
    • Averted with Sophie's hat, despite her attachment to it.

Howl: You're going to wear that hat? After I used all of that magic to make your dress look pretty?

  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Don't let the fact that the Witch of the Waste is now powerless fool you. She is still a crafty person with all knowledge of magic intact. Many times she is looking intently at Calcifer as though trying to see what he has of Howl's while pretending to be senile and benign. It is only when Howl is gone from the premise does she drop the act.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: When Madame Suliman tries to capture Howl, there are a few seconds of very creepy singing (seriously, it cannot be watered down how creepy the singing is) from the sprites that encircle him. Might overlap with Ironic Nursery Rhyme.
  • Opposite Gender Protagonists: Howl and Sophie. This is also used in the source material. Here, the trope is used as a vessel for a romance, as the two leads meet and slowly fall in love. It gives Howl something to protect, and Sophie something to support her status as a newly cursed ninety-year-old woman. Howl builds a garden for Sophie, after finding something he wants to protect.
  • Partial Transformation: Howl
  • Perpetual Molt: Bird!Howl, naturally.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Nothing too elaborate, despite the era, but Madame Suliman shows off with the gold trimmings, jewelry, and fur collar.
  • Portal Door: The door of the titular Howl's Moving Castle, with four destinations which can be selected by turning a knob.
  • Portal to the Past: The black dial on the door.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The original book has too much content to fit into a two hour movie, so some aspects, such as Howl's love for Lettie, Lettie and Martha's Freaky Friday Flip, and Sophie visiting Lettie using seven-league boots are all cut out. Instead of these items, the film inserts anti-war messages to reflect Miyazaki's pacifist view. Just like the book, the conflict is started by the Witch of the Waste, however halfway through the conflict shifts to focus on the effects of war on Howl and civilians.
  • Scenery Porn: The movie is stunning in practically every frame.
  • Snarky Non-Human Sidekick: Calcifer
  • Schizo-Tech: Generic 19th Century clothing and locations, but with giant airships, and of course magic.
  • Steampunk: The design of Howl's Castle.
  • Theme and Variations Soundtrack: There are maybe three tracks (of 26 total) that don't include the main theme, "The Merry-Go-Round of Life," in some form.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Many beautiful Steampunk and Magitek examples. Some are used to bomb cities, though.
  • Trash of the Titans
  • True Companions: Howl refers to the castle gang as his "family," even though they're all unrelated.
  • True Love's Kiss: Subverted. Sophie breaks the curse on Turniphead by kissing him, and it is indeed a "kiss from your true love breaks it" kind of spell. But as the Witch of the Waste notes, she's already in love with Howl. Turniphead is fine with that, however, as he sees no reason why someone can't have more than one true love over the course of a lifetime. The translators took a bit of liberty with that "true love" wording. The actual line in Japanese translates to "a kiss from someone you love". But then again, it literally means "beloved person", so some artistic license can be forgiven.
  • Utility Magic
  • Vain Sorceress:
    • The Witch of the Waste, who had been using a spell to keep herself young and beautiful. She gets a lot nicer after she stops using her magic.
    • Vain Sorcerer: Early on, Howl cared so much about his appearance that he freaked out and then became depressed after an accident caused his hair to change color in the wash. The DVD release plays this up by calling that scene "Drama Queen". To quote the man himself, "I see no point in living if I can't be beautiful." Lampshaded by Sophie: "Such drama!"
  • War Is Hell: The film, unlike the novel, focuses much more on themes of war and destruction. Near the beginning of the film, a military parade is shown, and machines designed for war continue to be featured throughout the film. It shows the effects of war and bombing campaigns on civilians, with relentless spreading fire.
  • White-Haired Pretty Girl: Sophie, differing from the book. Considering how Howl's hair is black at the end, the change is probably supposed to evoke yin yang and be symbolic of how they've found a balance in their relationship, or how they both change. Sophie starts off with her hair dark and it turning silverish shows how she's matured and grown self-confident. Howl starts off dying his hair blonde and lets it stay dark after he gets over his vanity.
  • Winged Humanoid: Howl in his bird-like form, at least early on. His transformation becomes much more monstrous when it goes out of control later in the film.
  • Zorro Mark: The Witch of the Waste sends Howl a "scorching love note" via Sophie, which falls on the breakfast table when Howl touches it and burns a scorch mark on the table. However, the permanent marking is averted when Howl proceeds to declare the mark "not good for the table" and wiped it away with his bare hand.