Howl's Moving Castle (of 1) (

By:Paul Jacques
Review Date: Thursday, March 09, 2006
Release Date: Monday, March 13, 2006

What They Say

The Review!
This is a promo only disc with no box or insert.

The review
Well, here we are again, with another Studio Ghibli (hops from foot to foot in anticipation).

This release comes with 5.1 DD on both Japanese and English tracks. There is some use of left and right channels, so it’s worth turning on the surround sound system. And for my money, the Japanese track is the one to go with, as they put a little more effort into their sound effects.

Oh, be aware that closed caption is the first subtitle, so don’t panic, just select the next subtitle.

The theme song is called Sekai No Yakusoku by Joe Hisaishi, and is very reminiscent of the Spirited Away’s theme.

Video is very good, and looked superb on both the TV and the PC. Colours are solid, lines well defined and at no time did I see any transfer flaws or artefacts- top job!

On a slightly downer note, this release comes with an alternate angle option (original story boards). Now depending on your type of DVD player this will automatically put the alternate angle symbol onto the screen. Unfortunately on one of my players this symbol is a whole blue bar that runs across the screen, obscuring some of the picture (grrr), and no way could I turn it off while watching the film.

I also noted two instances where the subs got a tad distorted, but it was very minor and everything remained readable.

This is a promo only disc with no box or insert.

A simple animated menu, with Howl’s castle walking to the Lake side, sitting down, then the menu options appear. All links worked and no dead ends were encountered.

The vast majority of the extras are to found on the 2nd disc. On which you’ll find a slew of Japanese theatrical trailers. A very thorough explanation (19 minutes) on how they CG’d many of the effects within the anime. A quite amazing piece of handy cam footage (16mins) of Hayao Miyazaki’s visit to the Pixar studios in SF (where they did the English dub). And finally interviews with Diana Wynne Jones and Peter Docter, which are very illuminating indeed.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
The anime is based on the story (of the same name) by Diana Wynn Jones. It’s a tale of young Sophie – she’s quiet, demure, helpful, insecure and somewhat plain – who works in a hat shop, and who, quite by accident, is drawn into the world of magic when the Witch of the Waste casts an evil spell on her. This spell turns her into an old hag who cannot tell anyone who she really is. Realising her predicament can only be solved by more magic she leaves the hat shop and heads out into the wilderness to seek help.

The Witch has done this dastardly deed because she knows that Sophie once met Howl, and thinks that Sophie may like Howl (and visa versa), and her plan is to trap him using Sophie as bait. And you can understand why: The Witch hates Howl, as he once courted and then dumped her- if I was to say “hell hath no fury like a woman spurned”, then I think you’d get my drift.

On her travels Sophie aids a magical scarecrow (aka Turniphead), who shows her where to find Howl’s Moving Castle. And it is an old hag that Sophie finally enters the castle, where she meets two other inhabitants; Markl (sic) the very young magician apprentice; Calcifer, the fire demon who powers the castle. After winning over their trust Sophie finally gets to meet Howl again, although she cannot tell him of her predicament (the evil spell stops her). In the end she tells them she’s the new cleaning lady and settles down to keep house (castle).

As for Howl, well he’s a young, handsome, vain, flamboyant (a real dandy) and slightly wussy man, but with a good heart. Except for the kind heart, his personality is almost the exact opposite of Sophie’s character- and opposites do seem to attract. Yet, for all Howl’s superficial pouting, what he hates the most is the senseless destruction of the country side and villages.

The backdrop to this fairy tale story is the less than pleasant war that is going on between two adjacent kingdoms, which has started over a missing Prince. And it’s this war that Howl is ineffectually trying to stop. And the more Howl tries to stop the war, the more it eats into his body and soul, as the price of magic he is utilising can have a high price.

Alas, Howl doesn’t have a monopoly on magic, and to make matters more complicated his old Master Suliman seeks to strip him of his power, and the Witch of the Waste still seeks to capture his heart (literally) by any means.

The rest of the story is about Sophie overcoming her infirmities – her youthful beauty occasionally shines through when she becomes passionate - in order to help Howl become a better person and stop the war. This she does by unravelling Howl’s past and reconciling his mistakes before he goes too far with his magic. And by helping others, she solves her own problems along the way.

In summary-
There is an internet rumour that the Miyazakis have made an allegorical comment with this anime, on the Gulf war. And there is no getting away from the many scenes of destruction, all animated with full and graphic effect. Then you start drawing parallels between characters and certain elements that pervade any war, so you have to wonder about that rumour.

So, is this the best Ghibli yet? No: It is visually striking, with quality animation throughout and the trademark landscape scenes generated in all their flawless beauty, it just didn’t touch me emotionally as other Ghibli movies have in the past. I think what didn’t ring true was that no character was still a baddie by the end of the anime, and all was forgiven…. maybe I’m just too cynical.

To summarise: It’s a DVD that everyone should have in their home.

Japanese Language DD 5.1,English Language DD 5.1,English Subtitles,Alternate Angle (story boards),2nd disc of extras

Review Equipment
JVC 28" Pure Flat Wide Screen TV, Pioneer 454 Progressive Scan code free DVD player, Logitech Z-680 THX DD/DTS receiver & Speakers. Secondary equipment, 19” SM930bf LCD, ATI X700 & PowerDVD v4, Creative Audigy 2 & headphones and a duck.

Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: All
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Optimum Asia
MSRP: 19.99
Running time: 119
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Howl's Moving Castle