When Walt Disney in the US [and Studiocanal in the UK] released Studio Ghibis 1989 classic “Majo no Takkyūbin” [literally “Witches delivery service”] to a western audience the response was overwhelmingly positive , with even oft-time critical review site Rotten tomatoes declaring it “a heartwarming, gorgeously-rendered tale of a young witch discovering her place in the world.”
However, while some may have known that this film was based on a series of children’s novels by Eiko Kadono – not many would have known that it had had a brief, English language release!
This single volume release, published in 2003 by Canadian publisher Annick Press under the westernised name of Kikis delivery service, starts off as per the movie – Kiki, a newly fledged witch, leaves her family and home to find herself a new place in the bigger world, eventually arriving in the small town of Koriko where, in-between developing her magical arts further, makes a living as a titular Delivery service.
However thats where the similarities between the book and the film pretty much end.
In the original book Kiki never loses her powers, nor does she have to rescue a runaway Dirigible [both of which were the creation Of Hayo Miyazaki for the film version, which Kadano was massively unhappy about, at one point threatening to have the entire project scrapped because of it, with only hurried negotiations by Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki saving the film].
Instead what we get is more a series of standalone stories, from a visit to the beach, to an accidental discovery of a new form of music – even a novel use for a woolen tummy warmer – however we never really get more than a brief glimpse of the world of kikis – why is magic hereditary? Where is the town of Kokori?
The artstyle [drawn by Akiko Hayashi] may put off some more used to Ghiblis version of kiki and yet i would say that they, rather than subtract from it its adds all the more to the book as we get to see a more truer idea of Kadano’s vision for her characters – it also make a relieving change for anyone tired of yet another moe looking magical girl image.
The writing also betrays the intended target audience, with its truncated plot, limited world building and simpler writing prose showing it to intended for a younger reading age [about 8-10]. Likewise the side characters themselves seem limited in their details, mostly being there to advance the plot or to weave said plot around – even Tombo, who played such a major role in the movie, only appears in three of the ten chapters of this novel, and often only briefly to aid Kiki, with a brief hint of a crush on her on the final chapter – presumably to be continued in later volumes.
And that brings us to a major problem – in Japan there are a total of 6 volumes in the series, yet as of this post only one was ever published by Annick press during the tenure of the publishing licence they held from 2003 to 2008 . I contacted Annick press to find out why, but their Representative was unable to give me an answer.
Yet there is still hope for this series – unlike back in the early 2000’s the rise of crowdfunded projects, and the increasing interest in licencing novels by Western manga companies has given otherwise obscure series the chance to be seen by a western audience – so who knows? maybe, with enough fan interest or the right company, one day a certain little witch and her cat from Kokori town will fly their way back to our shores yet again.
Kikis delivery service was released in Hardback by Annick press however,as previously stated, the series has since been out of print for about 10 years, so this will require some legwork to conjure up a copy of your own.