Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, Trans. by Emily Balistrieri

Information

Goodreads: Kiki’s Delivery Service
Series: Kiki #1
Source: Library
Published: 1985, translation 2020

Official Summary

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.

Star Divider

Review

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.

3 Stars

17 thoughts on “Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, Trans. by Emily Balistrieri

  1. David says:

    I do not envy the translators of fiction!

    I’m excited to see you review this, even though the book sadly disappointed you. I’ve never read the book, but as it happens, I just saw the movie for the first time only a few weeks ago! I’ve only started watching Studio Ghibli movies in my adulthood, and decided I didn’t want to wait any longer for this one. It was instant love. I watched it a few times before returning it to the library. I love the gentleness and kindness that pervades it. I love that the characters are all happy to help each other, truly and generously, and yet personal responsibility is still encouraged. I loved the city, which looked pretty close to an ideal “modern” city for me. And the music was, as usual, pitch perfect in tone. I’m gonna be watching it a lot in the future too. It’s too bad the book disappointed. This is a reminder that sometimes adaptations can indeed improve on the source material.

    Tonight I’m gonna start watching Castle in the Sky, another first-time for me!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I’m so excited for you! I love Studio Ghibli, but it’s been too long since I’ve last watched one of the film! Kiki is one of my favorites, for the precise reasons you mention. I love how kind everyone is in her world, how they all are ready to help. I also love the gentleness of the film. There’s no villain to overcome, only Kiki’s own self-doubt. Oh, and the city! I want to live there and ride my bike everywhere everyday and know everyone and look at the sea and just have the best possible life. Plus there’s a talking cat, which gives any film bonus points, in my opinion. I also highly recommend Whisper of the Heart for many of the same reasons as I would recommend Kiki’s Delivery Service, but I think you will also enjoy Castle in the Sky! (One of the films with an actual villain!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Julie Anna's Books says:

    Great review! I’ve been wanting to pick up this book from the library as well, however I have not seen the movie either! I will keep in mind the differences going into it though – I know the movie is so loved by many!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I definitely recommend the movie! It’s one of my favorites. The book wasn’t quite to my taste, but that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy it! I definitely think it might be better in the original language than in the translation I read.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    It seems like most people who love the movie don’t love the book as much!

    Oh and about the belts thing – on my first trip to Japan (in late Autumn), I saw straw mats being tied around trees. Our guide said it was to keep them warm. Later I learnt that it’s supposed to attract insects and prevent the insects from harming the trees, so I can see how that idea came to be.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I can see how that would happen, since the movie and the book seem pretty different! I do think I may have liked the book more if it hadn’t been in translation? Something about the writing style just didn’t capture the whimsy for me. So the lady with the belly bands was supposed to be funny, I think, but to me she came across as sad and lonely, and I just thought, “I’m not sure she’s okay! Her son should probably visit more often!”

      Cool story about the straw mats! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lexlingua says:

    “One of the things I love most about Miyazaki’s work is that everyone seems so kind” — that’s so true. The Ghibli movie wasn’t one of my favorites (Howl and Spirited Away are), but it had its share of feel-good charm. Pity the book couldn’t match up.

    Liked by 1 person

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