OP: 「春のさけび」 (Haru no Sakebi) by 手嶌葵 (Aoi Teshima)
「かみなりの夜の子」 & 「はじめての森へ」 (Kaminari no Yoru no Ko & Hajimete no Mori e)
“The Child of the Night of Thunder” & “First Time into the Forest”
I make no great secret of my mad love for Studio Ghibli, even if it’s mostly the works of director Miyazaki Hayao (and composer Hisaishi Joe) that have drawn my unconditional admiration (that said, nothing haunted my soul as a child quite like Grave of the Fireflies). It is a sobering thought to think that Sanzoku no Musume Ronja (Ronja Rövardotter) may well be Studio Ghibli’s swansong, with Miyazaki going into retirement (apparently for real this time) after his own swansong, The Wind Rises. Studio Ghibli has so long been an anime icon and Miyazaki Gorou, directing Ronja Rövardotter has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Ronja Rövardotter is not an entirely Studio Ghibli production; you will notice that Polygon Pictures provides the CGI. Unfortunately, you might notice it a bit too much, because character models are entirely CGI in Ronja Rövardotter. It’s not bad, per se—everyone moves fine, and the design are still pleasantly Ghibli-shaped—but there one does get the feeling when watching that something is odd. In fact, sometimes it just creeps me out. Maybe it’s a strange kind of uncanny valley; it looks too similar to traditional animation designs, and my brain keeps telling me it’s CGI. It may be an acquired taste; you’ll get used to it if you stick with it. Even if the CGI offends you, you can still ogle at the backgrounds: very detailed, very pretty. In fact, 3D models on 2D backgrounds have a somewhat videogame feel to it, so if you can get into that then Ronja Rövardotter will give you no problems.
It’s also quite evident that Ronja Rövardotter is based on a children’s novel; even the dialogue has a fairytale air to it, especially the exchange between the eponymous Ronja (Shiraishi Haruka) and her father, the bandit king Mattis (Seki Takaaki) about the dangers of the forest. Speaking of which, normally, sending your child into the wild forest alone and barefoot is simply not responsible parenting, but it just goes to show that this is from a different time and context. It’s a good thing Ronja (born under a doom omen and with too much hair) is one of those plucky child protagonists who are immune from mundane harm because she lives in a world of Scandinavian folklore, reinforced by a soundtrack that breaks out the strings and pipes now and then for something suitably medieval. Ronja’s childlike wonder as she forays into this untamed land is probably what’s going to give this series most of its charm and sense of adventure. They do spend a lot of time getting us to know Ronja; a good 45 minutes of this week’s double-length feature was just getting Ronja born and out the door. This narrative investment is used to make it clear that Ronja is very precious to her bandit family, but it also made the pacing feel very slow. I expect it to pick up next week, since the plot has finally taken shape.
I know it’ll be hard for a lot of viewers to get past the CGI, but Ronja Rövardotter still has the soul of many previous Ghibli works—stories in which the world is beautiful, innocence is a virtue, and curiosity rewarded. Even if you’re a jaded cynic (or, perhaps, especially if you’re a jaded cynic) it’s a show that may make your week just a bit brighter, in the way only the laughter of children can. Seriously, Ronja is happy. Why are kids so happy? It’s too much for the charred husk I call my soul. But it’s probably a healthy feeling.
Full-length images: 37.
ED: 「Player」 by 夏木マリ (Mari Natsuki)