Liked this one even better than my first experience of Miyazaki: Princess Mononoke, as it maintained the focus on its main character far longer than the latter (which lost itself in the greater plot.) Visually stunning, I quickly found myself wishing to visit the magical vision of Europe that Miyazaki provides.
Somewhere in the cross between steampunk and fantasy, we're introduced to a semi-industrial city on the borders of a rugged, green waste. Sophie is a young, plain girl who works in a hat-shop, and is, entirely by accident, caught up in the affairs of wizards when a mysterious stranger rescues her from a pair of churlish soldiers. Soon after this Sophie is assaulted by a jealous witch. Left with the fall-out of this encounter, Sophie refuses to feel sorry for herself, but sets off into the waste to remedy the problem, where she meets a number of eccentric characters, including legendary wizard Howl. Romance ensues.
From a character standpoint, Sophie is a marvelous heroine, providing a down-to-earth contrast to the beautiful, self-important wizard Howl, though the romance between the two did not quite convince me (her falling for him made much more sense than vice versa), much like that of Mononoke. I think this would have worked better if Howl had been given more character scenes, he was a little bit too idealized and feminine (Manic Pixie Dream Boy?). The whole relationship felt like Jane Eyre opposite a more perfect Mr. Rochester. But quibbles aside, it's still a lot of fun, incredibly creative and beautiful. Miyazaki, once again, thoroughly wowed me with his sumptuous visuals. I'll be watching again.