In seeking meaningful animated films, I was recommend to watch Howl's Moving Castle, a movie about a young wizard named Howl who roams the countryside in a quadruped mansion. When a storegirl is unprovokingly cursed to be four times her age, she seeks Howl's help in breaking the curse. Hilarity ensues.
I found much to enjoy about this film. Despite aging literally overnight, Sophie adapts to the role of a crotchety oldtimer amusingly well. More so than her and Howl's central performances, though, the supporting characters steal the show. A bouncing, mute scarecrow nicknamed Turniphead always lends a helping hand, imbuing himself with more personality than many spiky-haired protagonists. But it's Billy Crystal as a Muppet-like, hearthbound fire demon who's far more enjoyable than any of his screen brethren. His quirky, animated expressions, enthusiastic exclamations, and near-constant bemoaning of his situation are very much in character.
Howl wasn't a great film, though — just average… which still makes it one of the best anime I've ever seen. Yes, this film, published in America by Disney, is a product of Japanese animation and the eccentricity that is its hallmark. I'm sure I'll receive many a rotten tomato for this admission (sorry Arc — Alissa), but I've just never been able to penetrate or comprehend the genre.
It's not the animation style; of a recent bout of unemployment, 80 hours were easily consumed by the video game Dragon Quest VIII. And in the film department, it's not that I am choosing either obscure or poorly-received titles in my efforts to acclimate myself to anime, either. In 1997, I watched Akira. In 2001, it was Princess Mononoke. 2006: Steamboy and Spirited Away. These are all award-winning, well-hyped films, and the quality of animation and voice acting are undeniable. Nonetheless, I often simply don't "get" it. Princess Mononoke, I was later told, had a message about environmentalism that was over my head. Spirited Away was abstract to the extreme; I think I was watching a Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland, and once I figured that out, I turned it off.
There are elements of obfuscation even in Howl. For example, the country in which the story is set is at war — but with whom? Why? Maybe that's not important; what is, is that Howl finds the courage to fight in said war. Still, it would help define his character if we knew what he was fighting for — which leads me to the setting. Are these stories set in London? Japan? Wonderland? How does the prevalence of magic impact daily life? Can anyone wield it? How long has it been around? I don't know that my analytical mind can shut down to the degree anime requires.
Howl, at least, was an attractive and entertaining movie. But it hasn't convinced me of my potential to appreciate anime.