Goodreads: Kiki’s Delivery Service
Series: Kiki #1
Published: 1985, translation 2020
Nostalgic fans of the Miyazaki film and newcomers alike–soar into the modern classic about a young witch and her clever cat that started it all!
Half-witch Kiki never runsfrom a challenge. So when her thirteenth birthday arrives, she’s eager to follow a witch’s tradition: choose a new town to call home for one year.
Brimming with confidence, Kiki flies to the seaside village of Koriko and expects that her powers will easily bring happiness to the townspeople. But gaining the trust of the locals is trickier than she expected. With her faithful, wise-cracking black cat, Jiji, by her side, Kiki forges new friendships and builds her inner strength, ultimately realizing that magic can be found in even the most ordinary places.
Blending fantasy with the charm of everyday life, this enchanting new translation will inspire both new readers and dedicated fans.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films, so when I learned that a new translation of the book it is based on would be released in the U.S. in 2020, I immediately put a copy on hold at the library. I was ready to live the magic all over again! To my dismay, however, I found that the book Kiki’s Delivery Service did not enchant me as I expected. The townspeople of Koriko are not nearly as kind or as helpful in the book, and the story is actually episodic, with Kiki not interacting with most of the characters for more than one chapter. I wanted desperately to be charmed by Kiki’s adventures, but instead I found most of them just rather odd.
I had a rather bad feeling about the book as soon as it began, since Kiki and her mother were arguing. One of the things I love most about Miyazaki’s work is that everyone seems so kind–I want to live in his world! But here, from the first pages, Kiki’s mom seemed a bit overbearing and Kiki a bit petulant. I could tell they loved each other, by the dynamic between them was off. And I didn’t get any better relationships from the book–even Osono, the baker who takes Kiki in, seems more standoffish and a bit judgmental. I just wasn’t feeling the love that pervades the film.
I hoped that the story would end up enchanting me more than the characters, but, alas, the book is very episodic, meaning there is no strong arc for either the plot or Kiki, really. Readers will recognize episodes from the film, such as Kiki meeting an artist in the woods, but usually Kiki meets a person, interacts with them briefly, and never sees them again. It is hard to see her growing from her interactions with them, because the interactions do not feel as meaningful.
Tombo is one of the characters who appears more than once. However, his characterization and relationship with Kiki are again very different. Tombo still loves flight, and he is in an aviation club. However, readers first meet him when he is stealing Kiki’s broom to try it out. His next appearance involves a sort of silly invention to get a painting in the air. One could argue that his flying bike in the film is silly, too, but somehow the book invention does not have that same whimsy, just a sense of, “Well, that would obviously never work.” Ultimately, Tombo does not get any significant page time, however, nor any deep character development. The book hints at Kiki having a crush on him, but it is difficult to see why, when she barely knows him. Perhaps their relationship is expanded upon in later installments of the series.
In fairness, I think the translation hindered my enjoyment of the book in a significant way. The book maybe should feel whimsical and charming, but the language feels stilted. So when chapters such as the one about the old lady who makes belly bands for everyone and everything, to keep them from catching cold (yes, she thinks inanimate objects get sick without yarn around them!) happen, they just seem weird. I kept on reading, hoping that at least one episode would catch my imagination, but none did.
I tried to adjust my expectations for Kiki’s Delivery Service because, of course, the book is going to be different from the film–in this case, very different. However, even if I had never seen the film, I do not think I would have enjoyed this book. The prose did not feel very enjoyable, nor did the episodic structure of the book. I am sure many readers have found it magical, but I, unfortunately, could not feel the magic myself.