Kiki's Delivery Service

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Trust us, that's not a sign that the movie is boring.


It's one of our oldest customs that when a witch turns thirteen she has to leave home for a year to begin her training.

Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyubin / 魔女の宅急便 in Japan) is a Hayao Miyazaki film from Studio Ghibli based rather loosely on an illustrated novel by Eiko Kadono. Kiki is a witch who has just recently turned 13, which means it's time for her to strike out on her own. Heading "south towards the ocean" she soon finds a town that does not yet have a resident witch of their own and tries to establish herself, only to be lost in the sights and wonders the big city has to offer. As she tries to cope with city life it's pretty clear that her witch powers still need some fine tuning. She quickly befriends a baker who temporarily employs her to make a delivery, which Kiki makes using the only power she has -- flight, via broom. Inspired by her initial success, she establishes an independent delivery service in the attic of the baker's shop. As time goes on and her business gains success, she continues to refine her magical skills and befriends a young boy from a local aviation enthusiasts' club. Despite the magical setting, however, Kiki's real adventures mainly revolve around the trials and tribulations of a normal adolescence.

The setting of Kiki's Delivery Service is intentionally ill-defined, a Europe where WWII apparently never happened that was inspired by Napoli, Lisbon, Stockholm and Paris. A very laid-back, Slice of Life animated movie, it nonetheless is thoroughly enjoyable and gorgeously executed -- and unlike many Slice of Life works, actually manages to have an exciting, action-packed climax at the end. It also depicts more people laughing out of sheer delight than any other film of recent memory.

This was Disney's first effort at localization, nearly 9 years after the movie first came out. They produced a dub with some celebrity voices (including Kirsten Dunst and Phil Hartman in his last voice acting role ever), with additional pieces of music (mostly piano solos, as provided by Paul Chihara). The opening and ending theme songs -- two iconic Japanese pop songs from the 1960s -- were also replaced for the dub with two "American pop"-style songs by Sydney Forest. This release of the film sold over a million copies on VHS and a later bilingual DVD was met with similar success, cementing the film's popularity in the U.S. A 2010 re-release of the film removed much of the ad-libbed Phil Hartman dialog (in particular, a controversial line added to the end of the film) and also reverted the musical track to the Japanese songs and music.

Interestingly, the film might have been never produced at all owing to Yamato Transport Co. Ltd's objection to the use of their copyrighted term "Takkyuubin" -- which Kadono had appropriated without permission -- along with their black cat trademark. (Takkyuubin was the term Yamato Transport coined for their guaranteed overnight delivery service and the logo is a black cat carrying a kitten.) Miyazaki cleverly solved the problem by convincing the company to sponsor the film. Presumably Yamato was pleased by the resulting bonanza of free publicity.

Another little-known fact is the alternate dub produced by Carl Macek and commissioned by Japan Airlines for in-flight entertainment. Unlike Macek's similar dub of Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro the Streamline Pictures version was never licensed for official release in the North American market.


Tropes used in Kiki's Delivery Service include:
  • A Girl And Her Cat: Kiki and Jiji.
  • Adorkable: Tombo.
  • All Witches Have Cats: All witches have a cat as a guide and mentor. Kiki's personal cat is the usual black variety.
  • The Abridged Series: Kiki's Delivery Service: The Abridged Movie
  • All There in the Manual: Some things from the book--like why Kiki's mother hung bells in the trees around their house--are never explained in the film.
    • When Kiki lifts off, she clumsily loses control of her broom and flies into the tree, ringing the bells. A neighbour on the ground remarks "I'm going to miss hearing those bells", indicating that because of Kiki's poor flying ability, she crashes into the bells a lot. This implies that the bells were put up so her parents could keep track of how many times she crashes into the tree.
    • The name of the town Kiki settles in, Koriko, is never mentioned in the film itself.
  • Alpha Bitch/Spoiled Brat: Two of them, both with very brief screentime. The first one is a snobby older witch Kiki encounters while flying, and the other the rich grandaughter of Madame (who shows up in the credits sequence as a friend of Kiki and Tombo, so she presumably got better.)
  • Animal Jingoism: At first, Jiji is scared of the dog Jeff, but later on comes to like him.
  • Animal Talk: Jiji can talk to Kiki, but also to other cats, and birds.
  • Artistic License: Biology: In one scene, Jiji is shown sweating. (Although cats do have sweat glands, they're mostly in the pads on their feet.)
  • As You Know: The opening scene features a conversation for the purposes of exposition between Kiki's mother and an older witch about how all witches have to leave home at the age of 13, to undergo a year of training on their own.
  • Author Appeal: Flying sequences, precipitous heights, the beautiful but thoroughly anachronistic Handley Page biplane airliner.
  • Babies Ever After: The ending of the film shows that Osono and her husband finally had her baby - and so did Jiji and his mate.
  • Be Yourself: The central message of the film.
  • Blush Sticker: Kiki has them throughout the film.
  • Book Ends: The story begins and ends with a scene in Kiki's parents' kitchen.
  • Bowdlerise: Kiki's frustrated "I'll chop you to bits" got turned into "be a good broom."
    • TV airings often omit Jiji's jocular speculation as to whether Kiki will model naked for the painting.
  • Brick Joke: Kiki's mother is mixing a potion in the opening scene, which she neglects to watch and it explodes. At the end of the film, she's so distracted by Kiki's letter that the same thing happens.
  • Bumbling Dad: Kiki's father is a lovable version.
  • Captain Crash: Kiki's piloting leaves something to desire when she first leaves home (see Cute Clumsy Girl). By the end of the film, she's become an expert flyer.
  • Cats Are Snarkers: Jiji.
  • Cats Hate Water
  • Coming of Age Story: The entire plot of the film, mirrored in Kiki's daily life and especially her struggle to regain her powers after she loses them.
  • Creator Cameo: Miyazaki himself appears as an extra in the crowd near the end of the film, in the scene where the man who lent Kiki his broom points her out on TV. Because he's in the extreme top right corner, full-frame cropped releases have him chopped out.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: Kiki.
  • Cute Witch: A rather mild version of it (though Kiki's still cute).
  • Daddy's Girl: Kiki, although she also takes after her mother.
  • Dawson Casting: Kiki was voiced by 41-year-old Lisa Michelson in the Streamline version. Oddly, her voice sounds identical to 16-year-old Kirsten Dunst, who played Kiki in the Disney version.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jiji. Kiki can occasionally shoot back, too.
  • Death Glare: When Kiki first meets Tombo and finds him annoying. Later on, she and he become good friends.
  • Determinator: Kiki, especially in the climax of the film. She gets a borrowed broom to lift off simply by focusing hard and telling it to fly.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Tombo, who combines this with Extroverted Nerd. It takes a while, but eventually Kiki warms up to him.
  • Don't Think, Feel: The advice Ursula gives Kiki, which allows her to save the day at the end.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Or in Kiki's case, flies like crazy. (She gets better.)
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: For some strange reason, the old Streamline dub altered references to "coffee" to "hot cocoa." This creates a strange scene in which Kiki is asked about putting sugar in her cocoa. This is retained by the Disney subtitled version, which used the Streamline script (see the next trope), creating a sub-induced plothole as well.
  • Dubtitle: Before Disney came into the picture, there was a Streamline dub produced by Carl Macek for use on Japan Airlines. When Disney started localizing the movie for wide release, Ghibli actually gave them a copy of the script from the Streamline dub and they used it unaltered. A strange case where the dubtitles are from a completely different dub.
  • Fireman's Safety Net: At the big climatic rescue, the attending firefighters rush one under Kiki and Tombo so the kids can land safely.
  • Flying Broomstick: Played with in several ways.
  • Foreign Looking Font: All of the signage in Koriko is in a Germanic-looking font that resembles blackletter, complete with tons of umlauts. It's not a real language, but the town is based on Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Free-Range Children: It's a Studio Ghibli film, so of course.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: All the double-decker buses in the film belong to the Ghibli Bus Company.
    • Similarly, the box of pancake batter on Kiki's table says "Jiburi no Hot Keki".
  • Ghibli Hills: For obvious reasons.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Kiki loses her magic for a while (including the ability to talk to Jiji), as a part of growing up. While she eventually regains her powers of flight, she no longer can speak to Jiji, though as she has human friends now, she no longer needs Jiji in the same way anymore. The original US Disney dub added a line to the end of the film that showed Jiji talking to Kiki again, but the later re-release of the dub took this line back out to retain the original ending.
  • Hair Decorations: The preposterously large bow Kiki wears.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Kiki in her new life befriends and learns from a young artist, a mother-to-be, and an elderly lady. Given that Miyazaki studied enough Greek mythology to name a prior heroine Nausicaa, this is probably intentional (even though the trope does not occur in actual, genuine Greek myths, only in modern interpretations of them.)
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Or mop, since Kiki didn't have a broom handy.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Kiki says this when Ursula wants her to model for a painting. Ursula convinces her that it's not true, and Kiki agrees to do it.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: Averted through most of the film. It's the attention to detail, of things which don't matter but simply add realism, that elevates this past normal animation into a lifelike picture.
  • Laying On a Hillside: The film opens with a scene where Kiki is laying on the grass outside.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Justified. Witches may only wear black once they start their training. (In the Disney version, this was changed to purple.)
  • Moral Guardians: Concerned Women for America boycotted the movie during its 1998 US debut because the protagonist is a witch and witchcraft is evil, ignoring that it's a lighthearted family film about a young girl finding her way in life.
  • Motorcycle on the Coast Road: A propeller-powered bicycle, actually.
  • Nerd Glasses; Tombo has them.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Jiji.
  • No Antagonist: The film has no active antagonist - the source of conflict is Kiki's inner struggles with growing up.
  • Plucky Girl: Kiki's a poster child for this trope. She's a Miyazaki heroine, after all.
  • Psychosomatic Superpower Outage: The crux of the film's conflict revolves around Kiki losing her witch powers. If she can't fly her broom, what's she to do?
  • Ravens and Crows: The birds that attack Kiki for getting too close to their nest. Later on, she meets Ursula and discovers the birds are tame.
  • Reclusive Artist: Ursula, who lives in a cabin in the woods. Subverting the trope, she's quite friendly and later visits Kiki in town.
  • Rule of Three: When Kiki almost crashes her broom into a train.

Jiji: All right, first: don't panic! Second: don't panic! And third: did I mention not to panic?

  • Scenery Porn: Wouldn't be Miyazaki without it.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: At the hotel, the man behind the desk asks Kiki for identification after the latter says she is a witch. Kiki leaves immediately after.
  • She's Got Legs: When Ursula's friend gives a lift to her and Kiki, he jokes that he almost mistook her for a boy based on her outfit. She replies that boys don't have legs like hers.
  • Shout-Out: See Freeze-Frame Bonus.
    • At one point, an animal that looks like Totoro can be seen on TV, and one of Kiki's customers looks like an Expy of Gina from Porco Rosso, except with red hair.
  • Shrinking Violet: Kiki, when she believes that Tombo's friends don't like her. Later on, she grows out of it.
  • Slice of Life: Both the movie and the novel, especially the latter.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Tombo comes across this way to Kiki intially, so she avoids him as much as possible. (She later realizes that she has misjudged him and becomes his friend.)
  • Standard Snippet: An excerpt from "In the Hall of the Mountain King" plays during the bird chase.
  • Tactful Translation: When Kiki asks Jiji what the birds are saying about her after crashing into their nest, combined with You Do NOT Want to Know.
  • Take a Third Option: When Kiki arrives at Madame's house and her casserole isn't ready because her oven doesn't work. She offers to just pay Kiki for her trouble, but Kiki has the idea of using the woodstove to bake it, and delivers it on time.
  • Take My Hand: When Kiki rescues Tombo from the blimp, combined with Catch a Falling Star.
  • Talking Animal: Jiji, though the movie implies that Jiji actually can't talk, it's just that Kiki can understand and talk to him. Made more obvious when she loses this power later in the movie.
  • Talking To Herself: Kiki and Ursula are both voiced by Minami Takayama in the Japanese version.
  • They Should Have Sent a Poet: As Kiki swoops into the main setting.
  • Title Drop: The sign outside the bakery that's put up to advertise Kiki's delivery service.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Kiki and Ursula (who even has Tomboyish Sidetails).
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The American trailer showed the climax of the movie wherein Kiki saves Tombo after getting her powers back. But it's a Slice of Life, so is it really a spoiler?
  • Tsundere: Kiki is type B. She only seems to lapse into Tsuntsun mode when Tombo is pestering her, yet when he invites her to a party, she instantly wants to go. Jiji lampshades this mood swing ("I thought you didn't like him!")
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Yes, in a kid's film. Kiki keeps things down the front of her dress while flying her broom.
  • The Voiceless: Osono's husband, the baker. The one line he has is to note the blimp outside, which is about to crash.
  • We Need a Distraction: Tombo rescuing Kiki from the traffic cop.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue: The ending credits show what happened with Tombo's aviator's club, Jiji and Lily, etc. in the immediate aftermath of the film.
  • Witch Species: Witchcraft appears to be inherited through the maternal line, and while it's normal for each town or city to have a resident witch, it's not universal. By the time of the film, many people seem surprised that witches still exist if the reaction to Kiki's arrival in Koriko is any indication.
    • There doesn't seem to be any prejudice against witches. Kiki comes in for some catty remarks from muggles, but they're mostly about her unfashionable dress. In the end credits, a little girl walks by dressed in imitation of the new local heroine.