There’s a distinct lack of Ghibli’s TV series, Sanzoku no Musume Ronja, on my Feedly and Twitter, which is a shame given its charm. Watching this show feels like a step into my childhood, with memories of tales like the series Pippi Longstocking (no surprise, since the writer is the same), several of Roald Dahl’s books, Charlotte’s Web, and the Chronicles of Prydain with its European-inspired setting. The original story of Ronia the Robber’s Daughter comes from Swedish writer, Astrid Lindgren, and takes place in a magical time in a forest populated by spiteful harpies, baneful dwarves, playful will-o’-wisps, and jolly thieves. Ghibli is the perfect vessel for a story like Ronja’s, and would have likely made a beautifully drawn film with music orchestrated by the esteemed Joe Hisaishi or Cecile Corbel. Instead, it is the first of the studio’s TV series–and I dearly hope it isn’t the last.
I can think of a couple major reasons for why so many people have decided to skip on this show: the studios involved and the perceived demographic. Studio Ghibli is a household name in Japan, and has a strong fan base in the U.S. and other countries. The animation studio is often synonymous with Miyazaki Hayao, whose notable character designs, background art, and stories eclipse many other works from the same studio. With his retirement and this show’s subsequent pairing with production company Polygon Pictures, justifiable fears of writing and art arise.
Polygon Pictures is perhaps most recently remembered for Sidonia no Kishi, although they have output many other commercials, films, and video games. A wholly computer-animated television series, Sidonia’s art is plagued with block-y character designs and movements. But when you take a bigger view, the background environments of the ship and space are spectacular in detail and breadth. Ronja shows many of the same issues. The forest and castle are beautifully imagined and presented in a style reminiscent of Princess Mononke and Castle in the Sky. The characters, though animated in awkward CG, are still recognizable as Miyazaki’s design. While I initially winced at the visuals in the first episode, I soon forgot my misgivings in the face of the anime’s characters and story. Part of me wonders if the decision to use CG will positively affect the time and attention spent on pacing and writing as the season continues into a second cours.
Studio Ghibli’s directing is headed by none other than Miyazaki Goro, son of Miyazaki Hayao and director of the disappointing film, Tales from Earthsea. However, From Up on Poppy Hill showed significant improvement in direction, and I have had little to complain about in Ronja thus far. On the contrary, the leading children, Ronja and Birk, have enchanted me with their fearlessness and curiosity. While Ronja is far less in tune with her family’s way of living than Birk, she still demonstrates the type of courage I’ve come to associate with Ghibli films and their female protagonists. The circumstances of her birth and unusual rearing promise tumultuous teenage years ahead, especially when you take into account her new found friendship with the child of her family’s longtime rivals, the Borka bandits. Unlike her father, the head of the Mattis bandits, I think Ronja likely to not back down from a true friendship despite their families’ feuding history.
While speaking with a couple of fellow bloggers about this show, the subject of its intended viewers came up. One of them dropped Ronja within the first five minutes because it looked like a “kid’s show.” He is correct. This is a series told from the point-of-view of a child and is one I would feel comfortably showing to any kid. The fantastical creatures, peaceful forest, and castle come straight out of a fairy tale. But I happen to like those sort of things! If you like many Ghibli films and other fairy tales, than there’s a good chance you’ll like this particular story.
Now that we are three quarters of the way through the first cours this fall season, I’m comfortable in recommending this show to the young of heart. Do not be dissuaded by the art or the idea that this show is for kids. Ronja’s is a tale of adventure, true friendship, and family, and with Thanksgiving on the horizon, I see no better show than this one to watch with those closest to you.