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Media Essays: Kiki's Delivery Service Book vs. Film

Last month, I reviewed Kiki's Delivery Service, one of Studio Ghibli's most beloved movies and one of my favourite animated movies of all time. I loved the movie and as a result, I ended up reading the book as well. Yeah, you may not know this but the movie is one of those movies that's based on a book and needless to say, it was rather fun checking it out to see what the original source material was like.

And thus that's why we're where we are today. I wanted to do a comparison essay to see which version of Kiki's Delivery Service is the superior media. Which one tells its story the best and which one has the strongest cast of characters and most memorable themes? Does the movie win out or is the original book the one that can't be beat?

Let's dive in as the battle commences between these two versions of this classic story...

Section 1: Best Story

Both medias tell the same kind of story: a young witch named Kiki leaves her town after turning 13 and heads out into the big wide world to use her magic to perform mundane tasks and find her calling in like. Essentially, it runs on Pokémon logic. Kiki uses her ability to fly as a means to open up a delivery service and has to use her magic and smarts as a means to help out the people she meets while also trying to fit in to her new city setting.

We'll start with how the book tells its story and then get to the movie. The book's story is more like an anthology series where each chapter is devoted to a day in Kiki's life and we see how she uses her magic to solve a problem or make a delivery. This is a good structure for a children's book and it does allow us to see more in the life of Kiki as she settles into her new environment and hones her flying skills to carry out her deliveries. The only problem is that this plot structure does get repetitive after a while and it doesn't really feel like it leads up to anything. Yes it does show Kiki growing into her new life and all but the plot overall feels more like just a series of events that Kiki gets involved with rather than an actual straight-forward story. Half the characters she meets in the story don't even show up again outside of their chapters, or if they do show up again it's not much, which further emphasizes how episodic this plot feels. Also I don't really feel like Kiki struggles all that much with her duties here and aside from trying to fit into her new town, the book doesn't delve that heavily into it.

The movie on the other hand has a more linear narrative that ditches the mostly episodic nature of the book's plot and expands on some of the book's themes while also adding more of its own thing to make the story more engaging, namely Kiki's struggles to fit in with her new setting and her beginning to lose her magic powers due to her insecurities and suffering a burnout. The plot structure is less repetitive than it is in the book and the themes are much stronger and better utilized here to the point I felt more engaged with the movie's story than with the book's story. It also helps how the characters are personified more and expanded on such as Tombo and Ursula and they contribute more to the story than just being random people of the day Kiki meets. It just feels like the movie has more meat to it than the book does and it made for a more engaging experience as a result. Also the movie very subtly builds up to an exciting climax that wraps up the movie rather nicely whereas the book doesn't really have a climax. Kiki just goes home for a bit and the book ends with her returning home. Not quite as exciting an ending by comparison, is it? Then again, both the book and the movie kinda feel like they just stop abruptly rather than having an actual ending so nobody really wins here.

But I'm not saying the movie did EVERYTHING better than the book did. On the contrary, the book succeeded in other areas like explaining the world-building and the lore behind the witches of this world while the movie had to condense most of it for pacing purposes. As a result, I feel I understand more about how witches function and live in this world compared to the movie. Also the movie makes Kiki act aloof and rude to Tombo for no real reason, especially when you consider Tombo's the guy who saved her from the cop and yet she's ungrateful about it. That was uncalled for. The book on the other hand gave us a better reason for Kiki not to like Tombo given he nicked her broom and as a result she struggled in trying to save someone from drowning at sea and yet book Kiki didn't act anywhere near as rude to Tombo as she does in the movie. If any scene should've been kept from the book, it was this one as it would've justified Kiki's indifference to him and not made her seem like a jerk for blowing him off.

Both the book and the movie have their strengths and weaknesses when it came to how they told their stories. The book has the better world-building and has some fun quirks with the cast that the movie missed out on as well as a handy way to provide context for Kiki's dislike of Tombo while the movie has a less repetitive plot-structure, stronger themes, a better use of its characters and a more exciting conclusion. In the end, I have to go with which one I had a more fun time experiencing and as much as I do love a good book, I have to go with the movie on this one. It just entertained me more and I felt more engaged with it due to being able to relate to its themes a lot.

Both are great, I cannot emphasize this enough, but overall, the version of Kiki's Delivery Service that tells its story the the movie version.

Movie: 1

Book: 0

Section 2: Best Kiki

Both versions star a teenage witch named Kiki who's speciality is flying. Witches in this world only really specialize in one kind of magic and in Kiki's case, it's flying. And it's because of their ability to fly as to why they prove to be successful in running a delivery business. After all, if you can fly on your broom, who needs a delivery van?

When it comes to Kiki, both versions of the character are very sweet, charming and likeable thanks to their kind personalities and their insatiable need to help those in need, a noble trait that sadly has its downsides that causes them a bit of trouble. If I were to compare them, I'd say the book Kiki is the most mellow of the two and is a lot more thoughtful and quirkier with what she comes out with sometimes while movie Kiki isn't quite as patient as her book counterpart, namely when it comes to Tombo as mentioned earlier, and is also more insecure about how people feel about her. Both versions of Kiki are well-written, charming and lovable but if I were to pick one, I'd once again have to go with the movie version.

The reason why is because of how they're handled. Book Kiki doesn't really go through as many struggles as Movie Kiki does, especially in the later half when Movie Kiki starts to lose her magic thanks to burnout and goes through a depressive phase. I think the best way to sum them up is that Book Kiki is more of an idealized protagonist while Movie Kiki is more realistic. Book Kiki is someone we can look up to and want to be like while Movie Kiki is someone we can relate to and likely have been through the same kind of struggles that she has. This to me is why Movie Kiki is a much stronger protagonist than Book Kiki. She's more relatable, goes through more struggles and is just more interesting a character while the book version isn't quite as strong by comparison.

If I ever had to pick one thing that's better about the book version of Kiki, it's the fact that she doesn't just hate Tombo for no real reason like in the movie. In the book, Tombo stole her broom and caused trouble for her, which gave her a good reason to be mad at him and the fact this whole scene is missing in the movie version just makes Kiki's aloof behaviour towards Tombo feel forced and unnecessary. Even now, I still don't get what her problem was with him as he didn't do anything wrong and even saved her from the policeman so why she was so cold to him, I don't know. The book version has a better reason not to like him and yet even she manages to warm up to him without ever being a jerk to him so it does make book Kiki a little more likeable as a result. But at the same time, it could be another example of how overly-perfect book Kiki can be at times for any normal person in her situation wouldn't have been as forgiving. It's why I say Movie Kiki feels more believable as a protagonist because she feels more like a real person while Book Kiki feels more like an idealized person.

Once again, I love BOTH versions of Kiki but put them together and it's really no contest, the movie version wins.

So the version with the much stronger protagonist and portrayal of Kiki is the movie version.

Movie: 2

Book: 0

Section 3: Best Supporting Cast

This will be a pretty obvious win for the movie but let's cover them anyway.

The supporting cast in the book version of Kiki's Delivery Service feel more like characters of the day like what you'd seen in a long-running series such as the Pokémon anime. You know the kind of episode where Ash and friends would just meet some person who would be in this one episode and never show up again and we're now beginning to see this formula return in the second season of Pokémon Horizons (much to my annoyance). It's the same case here: book Kikki would have a chapter where she meets some new person and has to make a delivery or perform a task for them and that's it, they'd likely not appear again. Even Tombo I was surprised to see is barely even in the book compared to the movie! He only has the one chapter and aside from appearing again the odd few times, he has no real bearing on the rest of the story. These characters do have some memorable quirks to them like Mimi the impish girl who wants Kiki to send a poem to someone she fancies, the sailors and their belly bands, the band that plays on New Year's Eve and Violet the elderly lady who gets Kiki to help with her laundry but aside from their little quirks, there's not much else to the characters. The artist who would become Ursula in the movie doesn't even have a name! The characters mostly exist in the book just to be part of Kiki's various misadventures and that's about it.

The movie on the other hand does expand on some of them and give them more to do. Tombo and Ursula especially are given an extended role and play more of a part in Kiki's story than just being people she meets that day with Tombo playing into Kiki's arc of needing to learn to befriend other kids her age in this new setting she's in and Ursula helps Kiki get over her depressive phase after she starts losing her magic. Instead of being just characters-of-the-day for a chapter, those two are expanded on and it really added to the story's strengths if you ask me as it showed how the story could've done more with the characters instead of just having them show up once or twice and do nothing else afterwards. I even feel the movie didn't miss anything by dropping a lot of the other characters Kiki meets in the story. Trying to adapt the belly-band sailors, Mimi, Violet and others would've just over-crowded the story otherwise. I do wonder if Madame is essentially a fill-in for Violet for the movie version...

For the characters who aren't characters-of-the-day, there's Osono and Kiki's parents. Osono is pretty much the same in both versions and plays her part well in both medias so I don't have much of a comparison to make. Kiki's parents on the other hand, I found them way more interesting in the book than in the movie. In the movie there's not much to them and they don't even have names while the book did name them (Kokori and Okino respectively) and Kokori explains much of the world's lore to Kiki and the readers while also offering some insight into her own past. I'm not saying the movie needed to include all this as well as that might've dragged the pacing down but I can still say Kiki's parents were more interesting and personified in the book than the movie.

And then there's Jiji. Jiji is yet again another character whom benefitted from the movie adaptation. Both Jijis serve their roles well as the mentor figure for Kiki but Jiji in the book is just that: the mentor figure. Jiji in the movie is not only the mentor figure but also the comic relief (especially in the Disney dub where he has Phil Hartman's great improvisations to make him even funnier) and he also plays into the movie's themes of growing up and maturity with Kiki being unable to understand him being a sign that things are changing for her. Book Jiji on the other hand, his and Kiki's relationship is never really challenged and nothing really changes between the two. They begin and end where they started as the mentor and student duo and it's just not quite as interesting as how the movie did it. Book Jiji is still a fun character, don't get me wrong, but Movie Jiji managed to be a fun character as well as playing more of a part in the development of Kiki and the story's themes, which makes him feel better utilized as a character to me. But I do like this detail from the book that the movie left out, and that's how witches are paired with cats from birth. Jiji has known Kiki since she was a baby, which only emphasizes how close they are and how well they know each other. It's a pity the movie didn't keep that detail in as it would've been nice to know if Jiji has been with Kiki for that long in this version like in the book.

Overall, the book has the better version of Kiki's parents and has extra context to Kiki and Jiji's relationship with how long they've been together but the movie has a better version of everyone else, helped immensely by a trimmed down cast that allowed more time to develop and characterize the characters we meet and also give them stronger roles to play rather than just being people Kiki meets that day.

So the version of Kiki's Delivery Service with the far superior supporting the movie version.

Movie: 3

Book: 0


Yeah, a bit one-sided wasn't it? Now I cannot stress this enough, BOTH versions of Kiki's Delivery Service are fantastic and I enjoyed experiencing this story in the two different ways it can be seen. It's just when comparing the two, I feel the movie unanimously wins out and that it's barely even a contest. Even the author of the book, Eiko Kadono, seems to agree for not only did she enjoy the movie, she would actually recycle some of the film's ideas for any sequels to the book she wrote (and sadly have never been released in the West). The movie has a stronger story, more memorable cast, deeper themes and better plot structure that makes for a great and enjoyable viewing experience while the book's story is more episodic, the cast aren't quite as memorable or as strong and its themes aren't as deep. I may prefer the movie but I still love both versions overall and I recommend you check both versions of Kiki's Delivery Service out. Will you prefer the book or the movie? Why not check them out and see for yourself...

And that's it for this Vs. essay. I hope you enjoyed it and I'd love to hear your thoughts down below. Do you prefer the book or the movie? Was my comparison well explained or did I sound too biased? Do let me know. Next week I'll be back with another Robot Wars career essay. But which robot will I cover this time? Tune in next week to find out media fans...

26 views3 comments


Nice job for you returning taking inspiration by combining Old vs New form Nostalgia Critic and TMNT 2n3 form Marcman2020 (Formerly youtuber)

Funny how where you mentioning book Kiki's was like Pokémon despite the book came first while game and anime came 10-12 years after lol

Anyway, I'm aware this film was based on the book yet haven't read it myself. But I still love movie far more though.


This was interesting to see. I don't know if I can get the book anywhere in my country though. Though its rare to see a movie adaptation of a book proves the superior version, don't see that very often.


I think it's worth bringing up that in the book Kiki knew Jiji since she was a baby, its tradition a witch is paired with a cat since they're born, I found that rather sweet, so I think there was this to mention.

I do kinda agree with you in the characters of the book just making the one appearance, though Mimi was funny enough to be memorable. I feel the movie is superior though I still love the book.

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