Despite all the discussion of Goro Miyazaki’s films, his TV show Ronja the Robber’s Daughter has flown under the radar.
Goro Miyazaki is best known for directing three Studio Ghibli films: Tales From Earthsea, From Up on Poppy Hill and Earwig and the Witch. However, he’s also directed an anime TV series that is often overlooked by fans: Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter. Based on Astrid Lindgren’s novel Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, this 26-episode series is centered on a young girl named Ronja, the heir to the Mattis clan raised by bandits and thieves, who sets out on an adventure.
Her adventures with her hot-blooded and warm-spirited tribe are altered forever when she meets Birk, the son of a rival Borkas clan’s chief. What follows is an adventure exploring Ronja and Birk’s relationship as they try to live together despite the conflict between their clans.
Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is a CG series co-produced by Studio Ghibli and Polygon Pictures. Goro Miyazaki’s history as a director is hit-or-miss, so viewers who aren’t Ghibli completionists might be inclined to skip this relatively obscure series. However, Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is worth your time, provided you can vibe with its slower pace and somewhat stiff animation.
Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter’s CGI
Predating Earwig and the Witch and even the Ghibli Museum’s Boro the Caterpillar, Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter was Ghibli’s first real experiment in CG character animation. It was in part thanks to his experience working on Ronja that Goro Miyazaki got the chance to make Earwig entirely in CGI. For many, the initial novelty of this series was to see what a CG Ghibli co-production would look like. However, several years after its release, how has this 2015 series aged visually?
As expected, Ronja looks dated compared to the likes of Beastars and other recent hit CG anime. However, for its time, this was one of the better-looking all-CG anime out there. The animation manages to capture Ghibli’s enchanting visual style, though it doesn’t perfectly emulate it. It doesn’t compare to Earwig and the Witch‘s CG animation, but of course, this was made for a smaller budget. Ronja’s character models move a bit stiffly, but they blend surprisingly well with the 2D environments, resulting in a pleasant storybook fantasy aesthetic.
Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter Is A Light-Hearted Family-Friendly Fantasy
Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is a less conflict-driven and more experience-driven fantasy series. Sure, there is conflict, with Ronja and Birk coming from rival tribes and grappling both with their clans’ rivalry and their own gradual disillusionment with the robber lifestyle. However, the conflicts remain far more low-stakes than one might expect in a fantasy story. The series ends on a somber, subdued note rather than culminating in any grand cathartic battle. Rather than resulting in grand war scenes or violent bloodshed, the conflict between the clans feels small-scale and petty.
In theory, this is what Goro attempted with Tales From Earthsea, where the majority of the film focused more on the characters farming and living life rather than engaging with the greater conflict. However, this approach works better in Ronja because of its episodic nature. The plot develops slowly from episode to episode. While there are action sequences, the series maintains a slower-pace to focus on the characters and their day-to-day life.
A show like this makes it or breaks it if the characters aren’t strong enough. These characters are fine enough to carry an episodic series, but you won’t find anyone as memorable as Sophie or Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle in this series. Even so, the characters are likable and are solidly developed, with the strong-willed Ronja being a particular highlight. If you can get immersed in the slower narrative, you might feel a familial connection to them.
Ronja’s greatest difficulty as a series is that it lives in the shadow of it its other Studio Ghibli productions. Many reviewers who gave it negative reviews upon release criticized the series for not being as good as Studio Ghibli’s masterpieces. However, Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is proof that Goro Miyazaki can craft a compelling fantasy story, a vast improvement over the lackluster Tales From Earthsea. If you’re interested in family-friendly, slower-paced fantasy, then Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is a heartwarming gem. If you want something a little more epic and grand, however, this might not be for you.