Anime Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

TL;DR – A coming-of-age story about a witch looking to find her place and purpose.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Kiki’s delivery service delivers more than mail and packages by broomstick. It brings a lot of heart and charm. In a world where people accept the existence of witches, not as terrifying or evil creatures but as human beings that can perform magical feats, Director Miyazaki demonstrates his full capabilities in telling an engaging story without the age-old trope of good versus evil. In the world of Kiki, there is no Voldemort, or Sauron, or Maleficent. The ability to conjure magic or fly a broomstick is to serve humanity.

Kiki’s mother is an alchemist who can create potions which can heal or cure illnesses. Kiki bumps into another budding witch who has become a fortune teller. They live among the rest of us non-magical folk and seek to find their purpose. In this way, Miyazaki tells a story that is more akin to Tonari no Totoro rather than Howl’s Moving Castle. He weaves a film that is utterly enjoyable in its simplicity.

When Kiki comes of age, she sets out with her black cat, Jiji and settles in a bustling town trying to plant her own roots and obtain her own identity. For a witch, she doesn’t seem to exhibit any special magical ability other than being able to fly a broomstick (not very well) and communicate to her cat who talks back to her and gives droll observations about her attempts to achieve independence.

Eventually, she sets up a postal delivery service in a bakery, delivers packages small and large, and along the way meets a variety of people young and old. One of the people she meets is a boy named Tombo, who has a fascination with flying and wants to one day fly as a pilot. Initially, Kiki is not all that drawn to him and acts aloof. But his persistence slowly pays off, and they become friends.

I expected that, by the end, their friendship would grow into a stronger attraction, but Miyazaki subverts this, and the film is all the better for it. Instead, the climatic scene is one driven by Kiki overcoming her own inadequacies (including the fear that she is losing her magical powers) to save Tombo out of the desire that it is the right thing to do, and he is her friend. Nothing more. Again, it is the power of simplicity in the storytelling. The distinct artistic style of Miyazaki’s films combined with a European setting creates an atmosphere that is both familiar and beautiful. It reminded me a lot of the backdrops and landscapes used in Porco Rosso, which was set in Italy.

One particular scene where Kiki is sitting on the back of Tombo’s bike, which has been modified to have an airplane propeller connected to the front and spun by using pedals is truly magical without having an ounce of witchcraft involved (at least, not until they almost crash). It is one of those scenes that reminds me of the creative and imaginative powers of the young, which should be encouraged rather than stamped out as immature. It is as if Miyazaki is saying that we should all dream, think outside of the box, and find what we are truly passionate about.

Kiki’s Delivery Service delivers a heartfelt tale about perseverance and the transformative and challenging time of growing from child to adult. Watch it and be inspired.

9 out of 10

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