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「山賊のむすめローニャ」(Sanzoku no Musume Ronia/Ronia Robber’s Daughter), Studio Ghibli’s first venture into TV in a collaboration with Polygon Pictures, premiered in Japan yesterday, with BS Premium airing a double episode to introduce (most) characters and the setting.

I haven’t seen any reviews of the opening yet (at least not in English), but did manage to watch an unsubbed version of this double episode (meaning I didn’t understand everything that was said though knowing the original story helped a lot). And: I liked it! In fact, I loved it. I was laughing and crying at various moments. The episode managed to tug at my heartstrings and stir up memories from long ago – of when I read the original tale, a children’s book by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, that the anime is based on.

Ronia is in 3D CGI animation style, which isn’t Ghibli’s normal way of doing things. 3D CGI animation certainly feels rather different from hand-drawn animation, and in the teasers and trailers I found it awkward to watch. In the full first episode I hardly noticed it all – I was too enchanted by the story and the characters. Because while the animation style isn’t the usual Ghibli-way, here’s the thing:

  • They are sticking very close to the source material.
  • Song and music are incorporated into the anime – they play a central role in the book and featured prominently in the Swedish TV adaptation too. Honestly, it wouldn’t be Ronja without all the singing and dancing.
  • They are spot on with the characters. This is crucial to me, because it just shows that they understood the original story and what made it and the characters tick. Lovis absolutely rules the roost of rowdy robbers, no matter what they might pretend (love her!). Mattis is gruff and tough, but a total softie at heart – which is obvious the second Ronja is born. Ronja, wonderfully spirited already, has all the robbers wrapped around her little finger. Skalle-Per, who may seem no more like a old guy too frail to participate in robberies, is witty & wise and never afraid to speak his mind.
  • There are hints of darkness… and I’m hoping we’ll go properly dark. In fact, I’m trusting we will – Studio Ghibli was never a company to tone down and omit the hard facts of life, so get ready for some heart-wrenching moments.

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If there is anything I would criticise at the moment it is the voiceover (a female narrator), but it is used so occasionally that it is easy to ignore.

Some highlights:

  • Lovis breastfeeding Ronja in front of the bunch of rowdy robbers. Not something you are likely to see in Western animation! Indeed, the very fact that the episode spent a good chunk of 46 minutes focused on a cooing, babbling baby is impressive:

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  • The robbers racing home to play hide & seek with Ronja, crawling on the floor and talking in baby voices, while Lovis shakes her head over these men that have gone gaga (of course, it’s just Mattis who has gone gaga, but the others follow suit to be in his good book).
  • All the squabbles between the robbers… they are straight out of the book and I’m loving it.
  • Also love that they are using all the original names.

Being an anime, and a Japanese one at that, of course Sanzoku no Musume Ronia has its own feel, but so far I think it’s shaping up well. It has been years since I read the original story, but even without me understanding much of the dialogue this first episode managed to bring it all back – even tiniest scenes, like Skalle-Per getting lost in the castle and nearly starving to death. I can’t wait for more. And I must dig out the book next time I’m at my parents’.

Sketches for the anime (via Ghibli-Collector):

Bonus Bits:

  • Anime News Network has good introduction to the characters here.
  • Note: If you get confused but the spelling, Ronja is the originally Swedish name (also used in German), Ronia is the English and Romaji spelling. I just habitually used the Swedish/German spelling except when I’m referring to the Romaji title of the anime…

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