I hate to give anything by Ghibli a negative review, trust me it has NEVER happened before, but Whisper of the Heart is hardly as good as any of Ghibli's great films, such as Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies (2-Disc Collector's Edition), and My Neighbor Totoro. The technical aspects of the film are on par with anything Ghibli has done up to this time, and a lot of the same plot devices are present in this film, but Whispers lacks the magic and wonder which made other Ghibli films, including its sequel The Cat Returns, great.
Although Hayao Miyazaki (Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke) wrote the script and storyboarded for this film, he didn't direct it. It has a lot of the same elements of any Miyazaki film, female lead, a coming of age story, romance, etc. but whereas Miyazaki's films almost always held a universal appeal in that almost anyone could enjoy them Whispers is directed and will appeal to only one group of people, young girls, of which I personally am not. This is a coming of age story about a young middle school girl who, at the start of the film, spends most of her time in a book or fooling around doing absolutely nothing. Her life is turned upside down, however, when she meets a young man named Seiji. She sees that he knows what he wants to do with his life and that he has a purpose for livening, which forces her to examine herself. She realizes that her life, for the most part, is meaningless and sets out on a journey to find herself.
Parts of this story are extremely easy to relate with, the overbearing overachieving sister (she was EXACTLY like my own sister), the self doubt, the insecurity, the hopeless search for happiness and meaning in ones life are all emotions which are easy to see in oneself. Unfortunately the movie doesn't focus on these elements as much as they should; instead it decides to turn the story into yet another generic and cliché tween romance. The story starts out so heartwarming, so beautiful and light, but then takes a nose dive straight into mediocrity. Maybe romance just isn't my thing, but whenever I see middle scholars talk about romance, love, and (cough) getting married when they grow older, I can't help but role my eyes. There is nothing more annoying then tween romances.
The animation, like all Ghibli's works, is good for the most part and great in all the right places. The character designs are relatively simple, the motion fluid, and the backgrounds detailed and diverse. One of the closing scenes, when Shizuku and Seiji are together looking at a sunrise, was one of the most beautifully animated scenes for any Ghibli movie ever made. I'm a sucker for a good sunrise scene, and although it didn't match the brilliance of similar scenes from movies like The Place Promised in Our Early Days, for the time it was made (1995) its fantastic.
Overall if you like tween romances, then go ahead and see this film. Just because I didn't like it (and I'm in the minority here) doesn't mean that you won't, but I warn you do not expect the same wonder and excitement of Miyazaki's films, this is a romance and nothing but.