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Wayback Wednesday: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Her magic power is…manual labour?

Outside of the Pokémon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! franchises, my knowledge of and exposure to the world of anime is admittedly very little. In fact, besides Digimon: The Movie (2000) and a few of the Pokémon movies – check out my review for the original, here – I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen any other kind of anime movie. I’ve certainly never seen one as breathtaking and celebrated as Hayao Miyazaki’s adaptation of Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). I may not know much about anime but I do know how much of a staple this movie is among fans of the genre, as are most of Miyazaki’s movies. One of my strongest memories of high school is all the art kids absolutely worshipping this movie. And I understand why! Well, to an extent. 

Credit: / Toei Company

Based on the novel of the same name, Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of Kiki, a young witch who moves to a new town to develop her talents. Accompanied by Jiji, her talking cat, Kiki uses her ability to fly on her broomstick to start a delivery service and earn a living for herself.

For this week’s Wayback I knew that I wanted to branch out and review an anime movie. When I was mulling over which one to pick I was pretty torn between Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro (1988). While the synopsis for the latter sounded like it may have been interesting, as soon as I found out that Kiki’s Delivery Service was about a witch I knew wholeheartedly that I had to review it. What can I say? Make a piece of media about a witch of any sort and I will absolutely give it my full attention. I have to say though, while the movie’s synopsis promises the story of a young witch honing her witchcraft, I was disappointed to discover that Kiki’s Delivery Service is surprisingly light on witchy activity. Kiki goes away to a new town to train and for a majority of the movie, does nothing even remotely witchlike. At around a half hour in I said to myself, “is she going to do any magic? Or does she just fly?” While the character of Kiki and the movie as a whole possess their fair share of charms, I personally would have been much more invested if the movie had put more focus on the fact that she had witch abilities. Can Kiki cast spells? Concoct potions? Converse with Satan? There’s so much potential for storytelling when your protagonist is a budding witch but the movie spends a majority of the short runtime devoted to scenes of Kiki flying. And when she’s not flying, she’s doing equally un-witchlike activities like household chores.

I was floored by how many scenes there are of Kiki doing things like scrubbing floors, collecting firewood, dusting, and manning the cash register. No offence, but that’s not exactly the content I tuned in for, you know? I was confused. I was even more confused when Kiki discovers that using her flying ability to make money is slowly crushing her soul and stopping her from flying. I mean, kudos to Miyazaki for showing kids at a young age that sacrificing your passion for profit is ultimately unrewarding. Despite that rather mature notion, the rest of Kiki’s Delivery Service flows very much like the children’s novel it’s based on. Things move along swiftly and with ease, with plenty of pops of childlike joy and wonder peppered throughout. There were times when the movie was a a tad too precious for my taste, but that’s just personal preference. In my mind’s eye I can see exactly the type of person Kiki’s Delivery Service would appeal to. It’s easy to see why this is such a beloved children’s movie. If I had grown up with this movie in my VHS collection, I could easily imagine it being one of the cassettes I would have come close to breaking through repeat viewings. Again, not because the plot is particularly sensational, but because Kiki’s Delivery Service as a whole is so picturesque and serene, possessing such a chill, calming vibe. Honestly, that’s the beauty of anime. 

I cannot stress enough how utterly gorgeous the animation of Kiki’s Delivery Service is. Anime in general is a beautiful art form but oh my God, the art in this movie is positively stunning. Watching this movie is like watching a moving oil painting, or a piece done in watercolours. I’m not a huge fan when it comes to hanging real paintings or artwork in my space, but I would seriously consider hanging any screenshot of this movie on my wall. The world that Miyazaki creates is so lush, vibrant, and breathtaking that who wouldn’t want to take a step inside and live there. I for one would LOVE to live in Kiki’s mom’s house. As long as I can keep Jiji the cat. He’s so freaking adorable! You guys, he was without a doubt my favourite part of this movie. Is anyone surprised the black cat was the high point for me? The animation in Kiki’s Delivery Service more than holds up. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if you had told me this movie came out a only a few years ago. Yes, as I’ve mentioned again and again the plot is nonexistent, but the animation is so bewitching that I almost don’t mind. This movie is worth watching for the art alone. 

If I’m being completely honest I probably won’t be revisiting Kiki’s Delivery Service anytime soon. I thought it was cute and fun enough, but there just wasn’t enough substance for me. Also, I don’t think I can listen to a young Kirsten Dunst (whom I love, by the way) scream all of her lines. No, I’m much more inclined to just gaze at this incredible art for hours instead. Oh! Finally, for fans of the movie let me just say this: Can we all agree that that girl in the pink dress is the worst? Yeah, herring and pumpkin pot pie sounds disgusting but show some respect to grandma Debbie Reynolds!

Are you a fan of Kiki’s Delivery Service?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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