Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is a throwback in more ways than one.
No, I’m not picking up Ronja for blogging purposes, but I felt compelled to post a few words and share a few lovely images from what’s turned into a vastly entertaining series.
As anyone who knows Astrid Lindgren’s book could tell you, it’s one of the essential children’s stories of the 20th Century. It’s wistful and magical, but with an edge as hard as steel that sometimes shows itself when you aren’t expecting it. It’s rather remarkable that no one anywhere has made an animated adaptation of it before now, actually – it’s massively popular in Europe and not unknown in America. It has had a movie, stage play and musical, but until Ghibli took up the project the story had never been animated.
There are some issues with this series, as I mentioned when I did the First Impressions post. Even in the book the opening stages aren’t exactly riveting, and in the stretch to 26 episodes that’s exacerbated in the anime. Ronja’s adult seiyuu is frankly pretty mediocre. The CGI is no better than you expect. But on the other hand it’s no worse than you feared – and over time one does begin to adapt to it. The backgrounds are Ghibli-gorgeous, the music by Ghibli veteran Takebe Satoshi is superb, and once the story kicks into high gear, it does so in a big way. So all in all, the problems are tolerable because the rewards are so great.
We’re into the meat of the story now, when Ronja and Birk have their grand adventures living free in the forest. The setup to this – what drove Ronja to leave her home and live in a cave with the son of her father’s arch-enemy – is one of those hard-edged elements I was talking about. The story soars when Ronja and Birk are together, and one can see why it has tremendous appeal to children around their age – their life together in the woods really does seem like an innocent dream come true, the grandest adventure possible. But for older viewers, the cracks in the facade that Lindgren subtly makes visible lend the story a certain poignancy and a distinctly bittersweet quality. This is what great children’s literature does – it appeals to both children and adults, yes, but it also enthrals children with the same themes that make adults wistful about the impermanent nature of childhood and innocence.
I think Miyazaki Goro already proved himself with Kakuriko-zaka Kara (he certainly did to my satisfaction) but make no mistake – he’s capable of delivering the goods. Sanzoku no Musume Ronja has become quite an enchanting experience, unmistakably Ghibli without losing the spirit of Lindgren. Its excellence is a testament to just what a sad day it will be if Ghibli passes from the anime scene, because they truly are capable of delivering something magical as no one else can – and not even CGI can mask that magic.
As an added bonus of sorts, the experience of watching Ronja isn’t a time capsule just because it’s a children’s story in the classic tradition – it’s also a reminder of what it was to watch subtitled anime in the days before streaming. I remember many a day spent waiting for a favorite series to appear, resisting the urge to ask about when that might happen. No, Ronja has not been licensed by any English-language streaming service – which seems odd, given its pedigree of names well-known in the West. It gives us an opportunity to express some gratitude to a few folks providing a service for free, out of love of the art, and to remember what it was like when a few people in one group were all that was standing between being able to enjoy a series we loved and being deprived of it. It’s mostly forgotten now, but this used to be the norm for all but the most hyped few shows – and it’s not such a bad thing (though occasionally a frustrating one) to be reminded of that.