Various visually stunning Japanese anime, vol 3

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Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Summary: A young woman named Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste and is turned into an old woman who is unable to tell anyone of her plight. Unable to continue her job at her mother’s hat shop, she goes to the ambulatory castle of the notorious wizard Howl and insinuates herself into his household. Sophie befriends Calcifer, the fire demon who powers the castle and who is bound to Howl by a contract, the terms of which Calcifer cannot reveal. They promise to help each other with their problems. Like Calcifer, Howl can also see through the Witch’s spell, and he and Sophie fall in love as she helps Howl confront his former teacher, and the Witch of the Waste.

Recommendation: Sophie works in her family’s hat shop with a relatively normal life, until she meets the sorcerer Howl. One incidental meeting with him and the witch obsessed with him assumes that Sophie is his new romantic interest and curses her to appear very old. With this new identity, Sophie feels a certain amount of freedom but still looks for a way to break the curse, ending up inside Howl’s magical moving castle. Between learning about the sorcerer from his apprentice Markl and more about Howl’s connection with the fire demon Calcifer, Sophie becomes part of the team. She learns what it costs Howl to be a practitioner of magic who is working so hard to avoid a war he didn’t start. She concentrates on helping him and the other denizens of the castle navigate these difficulties until the breaking of curses are all that are left.

Steamboy (2004)

Summary: In 19th century England, young Ray Steam receives a mysterious, powerful device, from his inventor grandfather. Governments and businesses around the world covet this technology and Ray finds himself in a murderous conflict over its possession. He’s also caught between his father who builds terrible weapons for an American arms merchant, and his grandfather, who believes science should improve people’s lives.

Recommendation: For movement and detail, you can’t beat Steamboy. From the heights of a dirigible looking down upon gleaming architecture to the close-up clockwork mechanics of an engine, the visual is king. The Steam family have been expert mechanics and engineers for three generations. Ray, the youngest of them, struggles in a subversive tug-of-war between opposing sides. His family developed this amazing steamball device – who deserves the right to use it? Will all of London pay for this hubris?

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Ponyo (2008)

Summary: A young boy named Sosuke rescues a goldfish named Ponyo, and they embark on a fantastic journey of friendship before Ponyo’s father forces her to return to the sea. Ponyo’s desire to be human upsets the balance of nature and only Ponyo’s mother, a beautiful sea goddess, can restore nature’s balance and make Ponyo’s dreams come true.

Recommendation: If five-year-olds were allowed to go about unsupervised, this is the fantasy they’d enjoy. Getting to know a newly-found friend is always an adventure. Make the new friend a fish from the ocean and you can bet the challenges multiply. But it is SO beautiful and cheery and delightful, you can’t even care how unrealistic the plot is. Loosely based on The Little Mermaid tale by Hans Christen Andersen.

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