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'Howl's Moving Castle': Sophie Was Boring and Pathetic

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Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

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Howl's Moving Castle is a 2004 Japanese animated film directed by Hayao Miyazaki and based on the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones.

I always wanted to read the book but for some reason, never really got around to it.

As the title of the film suggests, the story is about a wizard who lives in a moving castle and falls in love with a mortal woman. Unfortunately, she's the most boring, mousy, uninteresting mortal woman in the entire universe.

Sophie = Zzzz

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Sophie is a plain young woman who manages to be bored and discontent despite the fact that she lives in a beautiful steampunk world full of wizards and witches and magic. She works in a hat shop, doesn't like to have any fun, and is probably the most boring person ever.

I'm not entirely sure why the handsome wizard, Howl, falls in love with her at first sight. But he does. Opposites attract and all that.

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On her way to see her prettier, more lively sister, Sophie is stopped by some soldiers in the alley, who take it upon themselves to sexually harass and terrorize her.

Howl steps in just when things are looking bad for Sophie and forces the soldiers to march away with a flick of his powerful finger. He then offers to escort Sophie to her sister's shop.

On the way, it becomes clear that Howl had no choice but to escort Sophie, as stepping in to save her from the predatory soldiers had led his enemies right to her.

Howl is apparently being chased by some black, gelatinous blobs. These blobs are the henchmen of the Witch of the Waste, a wicked sorceress who collects young men and is after Howl to be a part of her collection.

Howl manages to guide Sophie to safety by flying her over the rooftops. He then drops her off at her sister's, promising to lead the witch's henchmen away from her.

Sophie is smitten. She's just been rescued by a handsome man -- like the typical damsel in distress, I might add -- and is now flustered and in love with him. Because women fall in love with basic human decency???

When I was a kid, I loved this film. The animation, the magic, the characters -- I considered all of it superb. Now as an adult, I feel too cynical and jaded to see the magic anymore. Now I just see a silly story where the protagonist is sort of pathetic.

Maybe I won't read the book after all.

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The Witch of the Waste quickly realizes that Howl is in love with Sophie (for whatever f****** reason) and comes to Sophie's hat shop to appraise her. Wishing to be rid of the competition, she casts a spell on Sophie that turns her into an old woman.

Her Entire Life Revolves Around Serving Howl

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Sophie is embarrassed and mortified by the fact that she's now a ninety-year-old woman, so she runs away from home and heads where? Straight to Howl.

This might make sense if she was running to him for help to cure her curse. Instead, she becomes his domestic slave, cooking and cleaning and docilely putting up with his childish tantrums when she accidentally mixes his shampoos with potions.

She's not clever enough to trick Howl into helping her.

She's not resourceful enough to poke into his supplies and make her own cure.

She's not brave enough to just ask him for help.

No. Her solution is to become his domestic slave and live in his castle, serving him for the last few weeks of her elderly life.

Why the **** is Sophie the protagonist again?

A protagonist is supposed to be a remarkable person who has remarkable qualities. But it pretty much seems that Sophie's one defining trait is the fact that she is not remarkable at all.

She's not brave, she's not smart, she's not resourceful. She's a meek, fumbling slave to the will of men. In the beginning of the movie, her sister even accuses her of living for their dead father rather than herself.

Sophie was perfectly willing to live a boring life slaving away in her father's hat shop because that was what he would have wanted. Once she meets Howl, she becomes perfectly willing to slave away in Howl's moving castle because that's what Howl would want.

Throughout the entire film, Sophie never learns to live for herself, instead always centering a man in her life and working herself to the bone for him -- even when he's dead.

"Wow, Gray Hair! I LOVE You Now!"

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By the end of the film, Sophie eventually becomes young again, but her hair remains silver. Howl is suddenly madly in love with her, because now she finally has something that makes her interesting and unique: her silver hair.

It's pretty silly.

Silver/white hair is a very old trope in fantasy fiction. It's usually a trait of a character who is special or magical in some way. Ironically enough, Sophie has silver hair for the duration of the film, and yet, she is the most mundane, boring, snooze-fest of a character to ever grace the plot of a science fantasy story.

To be fair, Howl is surrounded constantly by so much magic and chaos and beauty, it makes a little sense that he would reach out for someone boring and colorless and plain like Sophie. Howl has always been surrounded by fantastical adventures since he was very young, and in the movie, we see how an excess of magic nearly takes his life.

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Much like Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea, Howl's constant shapeshifting and overuse of magic nearly takes his sanity. He becomes stuck in the shape of a bird and can't change back. It's Sophie's persistent love for him that eventually brings him out of his trance.

Sophie being magic-less and boring in nature gives Howl's extreme excess of magic and his ultra-magical world a balance that it sorely, sorely needs.

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I'll admit, it's a nice little love story about how opposites attract at its core. But it's also hard to take seriously when one of the main characters lacks any remotely interesting qualities whatsoever.

Even when she's saving Howl's life, threatening Calcifer, or kissing turnips, Sophie still manages to be uninteresting and subservient.

I will forever keep her in mind as a perfect example of what not to do with my female characters.

© 2019 Ash