Anime Architecture | Art of Storytelling

Anime architecture offers the most magnificent and stupendous environmental backdrops designed by the most skilled and revered illustrators of Japanese animated films. The anime creators have conjured memorable and painstakingly detailed worlds that range from futuristic cities of steel to romantic pastoral locales. The visual art of storytelling of animation is not that different from the realm of architects. Each frame in traditional anime needs to be hand-sketched, where every line has a singular purpose of selling an idea. Just like architecture, the animator designs and prepares a set of drawings that gives meaning to the set and provides a background setting for the story to unfold. The only difference here is that the story and universe that are built-in animation only exist in our minds. 

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Art of Storytelling-The Castle moving through different landscapes in the movie_©

Hayao Miyazaki’s Anime

The Architecture of Animation has a unique process of creation, but much like architecture, it has several layers of design. Hayao Miyazaki films’ greatest sense of enjoyment comes from experiencing the various set pieces rather than absorbing the entire anime storyline. Miyazaki’s 2004 film – Howl’s moving castle is a fantasy anime film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by British writer Diana Wynne Jones. Every second of the film is meticulously constructed to present the theme and message that Miyazaki wants to portray, which makes the film one of the best in the business. If the movie is about architecture, the concept of ‘less is more is not followed; rather – it is the details that make a world of difference.

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Art of Storytelling-Howl’s room is covered with various talismans and artifacts reflecting his personality_©
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Art of Storytelling-The palaces at Kingsbury as pictured in the movie_©

Howl’s Moving Castle | Art of Storytelling

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into Howl’s Moving Castle, what is portrayed in its architectural animation; more accurately, the castle itself. Sophie (the lead character alongside Howl), who is cast under a spell by the wizard of waste, is forced to leave her house and find a way to get rid of the spell. On her journey, while searching for a shelter, she smells smoke and stumbles upon the moving castle. To contextualize for those who have not read the book or watched the film, Howl’s house is exactly as it sounds- a moving piece of architecture which appears to be made of steel and junk from the outside. The interiors of the castle, on the contrary, although unkept and neglected, give the warmth and protection that is essential for living. 

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Art of Storytelling-Howl’s Moving Castle appears as a heap of junk from outwards_©
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Art of Storytelling-Messy Interiors_©

Design of the Castle

“Look at that. Is this what they call a castle? Is that the way in?” Sophie is astonished at encountering the moving castle and seems quite confused to find the way in. The moving castle appears as a giant, off-balanced, black-brick castle with four turrets and three doors. The turrets often billow smoke, and the harder Calcifer works, the more smoke is issued. The interiors of the castle are not what anyone can expect. In fact, it is not the interior of the castle at all. Upon entering the castle through its magical door, one actually enters the house in which Calcifer is kept. In the movie, the castle is depicted as a hodgepodge of houses, mechanics, and cannon stations that appears to be a walking mechanical creature with chicken-like legs and a huge, frog-like face.

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Art of Storytelling-Sophie commenting on the ugliness of the castle_©

Calcifer: The Hearth of the Castle

Calcifer, the fireball, is metaphorically and literally the hearth of the castle. It is he who boils the water, moves the castle, and is generally responsible for running the moving castle. The castle would not exist the way it is without Calcifer. He is the energy of the house. There is an important view that Miyazaki tries to express about architecture. All houses have a fire or a centre (not always physical), often expressed in the people that occupy the space. Much like Calcifer, the richness of the home and its spirit is determined by how much effort or part of yourselves you put into the space. Calcifer and thus the house becomes a reflection of the characters; he is the foil of Howl and Sophie.

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A moment between Sophie and Calcifer in the movie_©
Art of Storytelling-A still from the movie_©

What truly makes Howl’s castle a moving castle is its unique front door. There is a small dial near the doorknob which controls which place the door opens into. It gives a chance to jump many miles instantly. 

Role of Animation and Architecture | Art of Storytelling

Thus, we see how important role architecture plays in our lives. It is the foil of our individual stories, and we interact with it more than humans to fulfil our desires. Without architecture, the story of our life would have little context, and the context would change with the weather making the world alien to all of us. What needs to be understood is that even though Calcifer is a fictional character, his role and ideas fulfil the ones necessary for a house to fulfil.

The re-designed castle post war_©

Howl’s Moving Castle is an animation of architecture, all anime can be viewed as a nonstandard reality, but it is the parallel reality that we are more accurately reflecting on our own. Architecture and anime are not too different and have been close cousins of creativity all the time. 

Art of Storytelling-Howls moving castle traveling through mountains_©


  1. Howl’s Moving Castle movie by Hayao Miyazaki on Netflix

Ankita is an architect with a passion for writing. A Design enthusiast and a movie buff, she loves to travel, explore different cuisines and write fascinating stories related to art, architecture, and design. She is currently exploring the field of architectural writing and journalism with RTF.