Kiki's Delivery Service

When The Crow came out in 1994, many critics gave it surprisingly high reviews, much higher than most of the average audience thought it deserved. However, what many critics later noted was that The Crow was not so much a great movie as it was the best movie released after a season filled with terrible films. Toss in the unfortunate demise of the film's star, Brandon Lee, and the critics had something to hold onto.

Where does this fit within an anime review? Simply put, it's this...Kiki's Delivery Service is an absolutely wonderful, charming film by renowned filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. It deserves an A rating completely. I've watched so many junky one-shot OVAs recently that perhaps my bar had been lowered; though I'm certain that shows like Demon City Shinjuku are still quite good, I can tell that my enthusiasm for them was measured by the number of really bad shows I've seen. In this case, Kiki raises the bar to a standard by which all anime should be held accountable. Even though it has some slight problems, they are relatively insignificant to the whole.

Kiki's Delivery Service opens with the start of a journey. Kiki, a young witch, is about to leave home on her own for the first time at the tender age of thirteen. With her best friend, an obnoxious yet often hilariously funny black cat named Gigi, she scours what appears to be the French oceanside to find an appropriate city to begin her training. She winds up helping a mother-to-be who owns a bakery with her husband, and in return for help, Kiki is given a room of her own right next door to the shop. It also becomes clear that Kiki's best skill is flying--though that isn't saying a whole lot--and so she starts a delivery service to make enough money to stay. Although I would love to tell you more about where the story goes from there, I'll refrain so that you can experience some of the magic yourself. I can say without revealing too much that this is one of the very few films I have seen that translates the gentle angst of early adolescence onto screen, where we see a girl becoming a young woman before our eyes, with all her fears, doubts, and dreams.

The only thing that keeps this film from the A+ category (my highest rating) is that Miyazaki casually skims over some things that cause ever-so-slight problems in the narrative structure of the film. It seems curious, even strange, that no one would really question that witches exist; in fact, most of the characters are amazed to see one, but not shocked. The film also completely sidesteps the issues that go along with having a witch as a main character; there is no good vs. evil going on here, no "kill the witch" puritanism, just mild curiosity. This is perfectly appropriate for the story being told, but it removes the film from our concept of reality. Finally, there are certain conventions that make for good storytelling but are a bit hard to believe. A child on her own at age 13? The predicament of the dirigible at the end? A world where all the adults are so doggone nice? Still, these are very minor distractions--Miyazaki has created a world that is certainly entertaining, and one that we might hope he'll return to again. If any film that he's done in recent memory asks for a sequel, it's this one.

I did do a quick comparison between the Japanese and English version of the title. The version available in America is only a dub, but what a dub it is! The voice acting from the whole cast is excellent, especially the late Phil Hartman who brings a whole new dimension to Gigi the cat. Most of the film's music remains the same, save for the opening and closing themes...and honestly, I like the English ones better, especially the song over the end credits. Disney did a very nice job here. I did check a small amount of the dialogue against my fansub copy, which is titled very strictly to the actual Japanese. Certain scenes are virtually identical in content; others have some mild changes, but the paraphrase in English actually worked well. It may not appeal to the purist--I know some will howl about the fact that there are places where there is dialogue in the English version where none exists in the Japanese. Although I tend to be among those purists, I must break from my brethren on Kiki...certain bits of that dialogue expand the characters, and I loved the dub. This is the first title I have seen where I know I will watch the dub often and will heartily recommend to friends. In their 1998 roundup, Entertainment Weekly considered it the top video pick of the year and they are unquestionably right. This is a classic title not to be missed.

Kiki's Delivery Service -- nothing objectionable -- A