Studio Ghibli: Why Do We All Love Howl So Much?

Screenshot of Howl from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Copyright goes to Studio Ghibli.

Hey! Hallie here!

It doesn’t matter what fandom I’m in, I always inevitably stumble across some sort of ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ reference. Whether it’s fan art of K-Pop idols as Howl or a quotation of his from the movie or book under a video, the amount of love Howl receives from everyone who’s ever encountered him is always evident. At this point he’s pretty well passed any Disney prince in terms of the amount of collective fans who find him dreamy. But why has Howl become THAT popular? Especially after the author of the original ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ book openly admitted that she feels he would be too irritating to be a good partner to anyone? I’m going to try to address both the movie and the book here, but as a bigger fan of the movie, here’s your warning that I’m probably going to talk about the Ghibli film more. Also, SPOILER WARNING for all the poor souls who haven’t seen or read ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’.

Howl’s Flaws:

Before I start shamelessly obsessing over Howl, let’s talk about why some, including the author, find Howl annoying. First off, let’s talk about that slime scene. In both the movie and the book Sophie goes into the bathroom to clean despite the fact that Howl declares the bathroom off-limits. A little while later he goes into the bathroom to take a bath and runs out of the room shrieking at Sophie about how her organization of his potions in the bathroom caused him to accidentally dye his hair red. At which point he has a complete mental breakdown and slimes himself and the entire room while calling some kind of dark forces to him. And the entire reason for the breakdown? He thinks his beautiful looks are ruined. This isn’t the only time where Howl resorts to dramatics mostly because of selfishness. Not to mention his reputation with women, which is even worse in the book than in the movie. In the movie Howl’s reputation for dating and breaking-up with women is pretty synonymous with the rumor that he eats the hearts of women and is really only mentioned in passing. In the books we get to see his reputation with women in action, in particular with Sophie’s sister, and because it’s the main manifestation of his heartlessness it’s a huge part of the story. There’s also Howl’s cowardice to discuss, which is another huge part of the character. He openly admits he’s a coward in both the movie and the book. In both Howl sends Sophie to blacken his name so he doesn’t have to answer to the king simply because he’s frightened of doing so himself. So so far Howl’s a dramatic, selfish, womanizing, coward. But unfortunately for the two Howl haters who exist, I’m not finished yet.

Howl’s a Good Person and Love Interest:

There’s a few theories as to why people like Howl so much, one being the idea that Howl represents the fantasy of taking someone from their regular, boring life and into a world that’s more magical. But given the fact that Sophie’s adventure doesn’t start as much with Howl as it does with herself and the Witch of the Waste, I don’t think that’s true. And I think that idea also overlooks all of the really amazing qualities Howl has. For one, despite his bad points both the book and the movie set out to prove he’s a good guy early in the story. In the movie Howl swoops in to help Sophie when she gets accosted by two pushy men, and ensures that he returns her safely to the bakery her sister works at after they’re both chased down by servants of the Witch of the Waste. In the book it establishes that Howl lessens prices for his potions drastically for the poor, and even sets up IOUs for those who can’t pay for them. And though Howl has a reputation for breaking women’s hearts, there’s no denying that he’s never cruel or demeaning towards them. He always treats Sophie with the utmost respect in every interaction, though he’s often amused by her actions. And in the book, Howl is described as a kind and doting suitor up until he breaks up with a girl. Though that doesn’t completely excuse his actions, it doesn’t make him feel toxic.

There’s also a few extra moments in the movie that proves how kind he actually is. When he sends Sophie out to blacken his name, he goes to watch over her and appears at the end of her interaction with Madame Suliman to help her. He also does fight in the war he claims he’s too cowardly to participate in, he just refuses to pick sides because he’s against the war. In the book he slowly overcomes his cowardice for Sophie, but it’s just further proof he’s willing to overcome his flaws when it matters. Then there’s the little details. Such as the fact that Howl encourages Sophie whenever possible and argues with her when she demeans herself. He’s never aggressive but instead he’s gentle and attentive. He tries to be thoughtful about the gifts he gives her. There’s even something positive to be said about his breakdowns. Though he’s dramatic, there’s still the fact that we don’t get to see men express their emotions so freely so often. That scene alone indicates that he’s more emotionally available than many, many other male love interests we often see in fiction. In other words, the general way that he acts communicates safety, particularly to women who are used to seeing love interests on screen who are entirely full of red flags. He might be a lot to deal with, but he also proves himself to be worth the frustrations Sophie goes through by the way he makes it up to her and cares for her. There’s no wonder why so many people want to have a partner like him.

I wrote all of that and I didn’t even have to mention how attractive the “That’s my girl,” line is! But you really couldn’t expect me to go the whole post without mentioning it, could you? In any case, this post isn’t to say that if you’re someone who doesn’t feel like you could deal with Howl’s energy, you’re wrong. He’s really chaotic and his flaws don’t just disappear because he has good points. But I did want to come out in defense of all the girls, gays, and theys who won’t ever shut up about how amazing Howl is. Because he is amazing and I truly do wish more men were like Howl.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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