What Makes It A Perfect Love Story

Valentine’s Day is right around the cornerand it’s the perfect occasion to cuddle up to someone special and watch a good movie! There’s no shortage of amazing love stories to choose from, but some stand out as truly remarkable examples of romantic tales. A crowning jewel of the romance genre is Howl’s Moving Castle, a gorgeous Studio Ghibli movie often regarded as a masterpiece.

What makes this movie so incredible is how it approaches romance. The wizard Howl Jenkins Pendragon and young seamstress Sophie Hatter collide in a wildly unexpected way, and their journey unravels in a world at war. Against all odds and despite their own problems, they find love in themselves and each other. If you’re looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day movie, here’s why Howl’s Moving Castle is the ultimate love story.


Related: Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

It Teaches About Unconditional Love

Howl's Moving Castle
Via: Studio Ghibli

When they first interact onscreen, Sophie and Howl are two very different people: Howl is a handsome wizard infamous for stealing women’s hearts, while Sophie is quiet and resigned to working in her family’s shop. After Sophie is cursed into an old woman by Howl’s old flame, the two meet again and their dynamic builds. Howl reveals a childlike, irresponsible personality underneath his suave exterior, and Sophie gradually reveals that she lacks self-love and confidence. Regardless of their jarringly different needs, they bring out the best in each other for one reason: they love one another unconditionally.

Sophie is right there cleaning up the mess when Howl throws a temper tantrum and begins to melt away. She’s swift to defend his name to the wizard Suliman when he’s insulted, and she begs Howl to let her help him when she learns what the war is doing to him. On the other hand, Howl treats Sophie the same whether she’s young or old – he shows her kindness, trust and affection at every turn, and he can hardly believe it when Sophie confides that she feels useless and ugly. No matter the situation, these two desperately want to support each other. Their love is based on consistent mutual respect.

Howl and Sophie Have Individual Character Growth

Studio Ghibli

Something that’s often lost in modern romance stories is the importance of individuality in a relationship, and that’s one of the places this couple shines. They’re not constantly around each other, and when they’re apart, they’re growing and bettering themselves. Sophie begins running the castle like a well-oiled machine, and she forms close bonds with Markl, Calcifer, Turnip Head and even the Witch of the Waste. In taking care of other people, she feels strong and useful; she gradually builds newfound confidence and forges a purpose in life, which makes her a steady grounding force for Howl’s free-spirited ways.

Though he’s a little careless and does not always make great decisions, Howl spends his time away giving everything he has to the war. He chooses to risk his humanity by fighting on both sides of the conflict, which he believes to be the right thing in his heart. As he realizes that each monstrous transformation makes it harder to become human again, he makes the responsible decision to set his new family up in a stable life in case he dies fighting. Toward the end of the film, he remarks that in loving Sophie, he found a reason to stop running away. Since the two can develop themselves as people and grow as a couple, they build a meaningful relationship without sacrificing their own identities.

It Conveys An Important Message About Beauty

Howl's Moving Castle Howl and Sophie
Via: Studio Ghibli

The film’s opening shows Sophie as a young woman, though this quickly changes when the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. This is extremely important to her relationship with Howl for a few reasons. We already know Sophie struggles with self-confidence and believes she’s unremarkable. Surprisingly, this starts to reverse when she’s cursed – deciding that her outward appearance now matches her personality, she takes it in stride and starts enjoying life more. However, we see Sophie change back to her young self multiple times, especially when she’s expressing her love for Howl or otherwise standing up for someone. The way she views herself directly impacts how she portrays herself to others, and she’s far happier when she’s old and not even concerned about her beauty.

Now let’s talk about Howl: he’s obsessed with being attractive and even suggests that his life is not worth living if he can not be beautiful. This means nothing when Sophie comes into his life. He whisks her away and shows her affection right from the beginning of the film, and his attitude towards her only stiffens a little when he meets her as an old stranger. Once he warms back up to her, he’s exactly as sweet and enthusiastic as he was when she was young.

Both characters are highly consumed with their own perceived beauty (or lack thereof) until they connect. Once this happens, they’re so concerned with helping the other person recognize their worth that they gradually learn to accept themselves in the process.

The Use of Time Travel Enhances the Story

Howl and Calcifer
Via: Studio Ghibli

One of the coolest things about Howl’s Moving Castle is how the film uses time travel as a storytelling device. When Howl guides Sophie away from the two harassing guards, we’re led to believe that they’ve never met before. Later, Sophie travels back in time and sees Howl as a child just as he’s giving Calcifer his heart. She suddenly understands how to break his curse, and she calls out for him to find her in the future.

If you revisit their initial meeting with this in mind, you realize that Howl already knew Sophie before she knew him. He greets her with, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”, Though she has no recollection of meeting him. It’s often theorized that young Howl did not know who Sophie was, but he still spent the rest of his life trying to find her. What’s more, he’s wearing a ring that leads him to his heart’s desire for most of the film; there’s a very strong chance that it leads him to Sophie in the first place, and she later uses it to find Howl. The two lovers had met somewhere in time before they truly knew each other, and it’s part of what draws them so close together so quickly.

Related: Studio Ghibli Takes to Twitter to Answer Spirited Away Fan Questions

It Shows How Love Can Change the World

Howl's Moving Castle
Via: Studio Ghibli

Looming over this love story is the impending doom of war, and we can see how it’s tearing the country apart. Bombing runs level entire towns, people suffer from the violence and the countryside is destroyed. Fortunately, love is a major theme in the film, and the expression of love between many characters brings an end to a few long-winded conflicts.

When Sophie shows her gratitude to Turnip Head with a kiss on the cheek, the power of her love breaks his curse and reverts him into his human form. Though he claims that Sophie is his true love, he understands her relationship with Howl and instead sets off to find his family. Madame Suliman is watching all of this from afarand she’s glad to finally end the pointless war when the lost prince is found.

Markl, Howl’s young apprentice, also changes with Sophie’s love – he initially distrusts her, but ultimately benefits from the discipline and routine she brings to the household. When he fears she might leave them, he asks her to stay, and he remains at her side as often as possible. Big and small, love makes an impact on everyone’s lives throughout the story.

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