Howl's Moving Castle: Why I Still Think It's The Best Studio Ghibli Movie To Date

The castle in Howl's Moving Castle.
(Image credit: Toho)

I’ll be honest right here and say I love animation. Whether it be the latest and greatest Disney films, to some of Pixar’s best, to independent studios, I have grown up on animation and love it to death. I have fond memories of my father and I seeing these types of films in theaters and they will always hold a special place in my heart. Another form of animation I’ve learned to love as I’ve gotten older is anime animation. 

While I love catching up on my favorite animes on television, there are some really awesome anime movies out there. For the longest time, the only ones I would watch would be the Pokemon movies – which are great, but there are so many other great ones out, especially from Studio Ghibli. And one of those movies I’m going to talk about today: Howl’s Moving Castle. 

Many fans probably know Spirited Away from Studio Ghibli, as it's the only anime film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, despite many other movies getting nominated in other years. But today, I’m going to go over why I believe Howl’s Moving Castle is the best Studio Ghibli film out of all of them -- and yes, I mean even better than Spirited Away. 

Sophie and Howl in Howl's Moving Castle.

(Image credit: Toho)

The Theme It Portrays Is Something We All Need: The Value Of Compassion And Love

Something I have always adored about Howl’s Moving Castle is that it’s very wholesome about the type of story it’s trying to portray, and themes of which it tells as the tale progresses. While the film is based on a book of the same name, it’s also different, where the movie focuses more on the idea of how love and compassion can truly change a person – something we all need in our daily lives. 

I’ll give you an example. Howl, the main man himself, is quite conceited, where literally having the wrong hair dye on his head is, like, a life-altering horrible situation. But throughout the course of the film, as we see him get closer to Sophie and share his past with her, we start to see the shells crack. The foundation he’s established underneath him is exposed and we truly learn as to who Howl really is, and we only found this out through Sophie’s compassion. 

The love between Sophie and Howl is one of my favorites really, because at first, it doesn’t feel like this relationship is going to go anywhere, but their story is a classic love trope – the “she fell, but he fell harder,” idea, and I just love it. It’s so wholesome in the way it tells its story, and it makes me feel that if I spread my kindness to one unknown person, it’ll make their day just a little better. 

Sophie and Howl in Howl's Moving Castle.

(Image credit: Toho)

Both The Sub And The Dub Are Equally Amazing

There is this constant debate in anime about which is better, sub or dub -- meaning subtitled or with dubbed audio. For someone like me, I’ve always personally preferred dub. It's not that I can't focus with subtitles, but I like to be able to see everything that's happening and I don't want to miss out on a second of animation, which is why dubbed is usually the way I go instead of having to read lines constantly. I'll still watch things subtitled, but I tend to go to dub for re-watches as well. 

However, Howl’s Moving Castle is great in both, and the voice actors for both the subtitled version and the dubbed version are just amazing and do their roles so perfectly that I can watch both versions interchangeably and enjoy them just as much. And, I mean, who wouldn’t want to hear the one and only Christian Bale voice Howl? Or the amazing Billy Crystal as Calcifer? It just works. 

Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle.

(Image credit: Toho)

The Animation Is Above And Beyond Any Other Studio Ghibli Film

Dude, I could go on for hours about the animation in this film. While Studio Ghibli -- as well as Hayao Miyazaki (who directed and wrote the screenplay for Howl) -- is known for their beautiful animation, it’s stunning in this film. I’ve always thought nothing could quite beat Spirited Away in terms of its style but Howl’s Moving Castle reminds me of all the fantasy books that I read as a kid, mixed in with some true wonder. 

It’s vibrant and colorful one moment, with a million moving parts, and then bleak and lifeless in the next, and yet still so hauntingly beautiful, especially in the climax of the film. It’ll make you smile and make you cry in the best way possible, and it’s all because the story is told through such glorious, visual means. I love it. 

Sophie and Howl in Howl's Moving Castle.

(Image credit: Toho)

The Music Is Out Of This World

I think the music in Howl’s Moving Castle is, hands-down, the best music in any Studio Ghibli film. I like the other soundtracks but wow, I could listen to this one on a daily basis. 

Just listen to the opening piece, the movie’s main theme, featured as Howl is taking Sophie across the sky to her home. It’s called “The Merry-Go-Round of Life.” This song pops up on my playlist on a daily basis, because it’s magical. I listen to this and I feel as if I am dancing with my one true love at a ball. 

The score, composed by Joe Hisaishi, has the right amount of fantasy and whimsicalness and yet still adds that hint of drama that makes this soundtrack work wonders. I could listen to it over and over. 

Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle.

(Image credit: Toho)

Sophie Is Such A Likable, Real Protagonist 

On a real-note, there are some protagonists in anime that I find hard to really follow and get along with. That’s not to say they aren’t great characters, but there are few where I feel I really connect to on a personal level.

Sophie is one where I genuinely see myself in her. 

I’ll use the hero from Spirited Away (also directed by Hayao Miyazaki) for comparison. I love the film, but Chihiro is still just a child and, in my eyes, while her journey of bravery and self-discovery is beautiful, there is still this nagging part of me that just doesn't connect with her as well as I do with Sophie.

But with Sophie, she is just so likable and real that I can’t help but love her. She’s a young woman who is considered old in the eyes of society with younger sisters, who just wants to live her life but is held back by societal standards due to her age. But as time goes on, she reveals to everyone that it’s not age that matters, or beauty, it’s the pure love and compassion that gets you through love, and the common phrase that we should all know – be nice to others. 

When I look at Sophie, I think of someone who has gone on a personal hero’s journey. It’s not an epic quest, besides her trying to get her curse undone by the end of the movie, but one about her own mental journey and growing as a person alongside Howl and the others. And that’s just beautiful to me. It’s so authentic and I adore it. 

If you for some reason haven’t seen Howl’s Moving Castle, be sure to check it out, as it’s truly one of the best Studio Ghibli films - if not the best. I swear to you, you won’t regret it. You just might have a new favorite on your hands, maybe even for your kids too.

Alexandra Ramos
Content Producer

A self-proclaimed nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, Alexandra Ramos is a Content Producer at CinemaBlend. She first started off working in December 2020 as a Freelance Writer after graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. She primarily works in features for movies, TV, and sometimes video games. (Please don't debate her on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!) She is also the main person who runs both our daily newsletter, The CinemaBlend Daily, and our ReelBlend newsletter.