On the one hand, I think it’s a real shame that Sanzoku no Musume Ronja (Ronja the Robber’s Daughter) wasn’t covered more by the anime blogging community while it was airing. On the other hand, I also wish Ronja hadn’t almost put me to sleep for about half the show.
I’d like to believe I would have given Ronja a shot even without knowing Studio Ghibli’s Miyazaki Goro was in the director’s chair. Most children’s anime these days tend to be exceedingly long-running affairs attached to big-name franchises, yet here we have a regular two-cour series based on an 80s Swedish fantasy book; that alone is interesting enough. Our titular heroine is the daughter of a bandit chief, whose clan of robbers inhabits the woodlands of Medieval Scandinavia. Granted, Ronja’s episodic adventures navigating the surrounding forest, and her eventual sibling-like relationship with Birk, the similarly-aged son of the neighboring robber clan, may not make for the most exciting of premises. However, it’s always good to see more variety outside of the usual teenage protagonists and Japanese school settings, and I’d hope I’m not the only one to think so.
The fantasy elements of Ronja are definitely a highlight of the show. The forest is populated by more than just foxes and wild horses – most notably also by a flock of harpies, whose main hobbies appear to include raking people with their giant claws and carrying them off to be eaten. Luckily, these harpies don’t appear to be the brightest of creatures, but their very real threat greatly aids in upping the tension during several episodes. Another major positive of the series is that there are some fantastically-crafted moments scattered throughout, and occasional emotionally powerful scenes work to make up for the long periods of inactivity that Ronja suffers from.
Even so, said periods of inactivity get to be an obvious problem. Deliberate pacing has never bothered me, and I’m willing to give Ronja a certain amount of leeway given that it’s a young children’s show; I can’t judge it in the same way that I’d judge an adventure show targeted towards an older target audience like, say, Magi or Hunter x Hunter. That said, there are whole episodes where literally nothing happens beyond Ronja running around and pointing out how beautiful the trees are or telling everyone how happy she is that spring is on the way. It’s heartfelt, sure, but for a slice-of-life adventure title, there’s just too much of the former and not enough of the latter.
Compounding this issue is the scripting, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but again doesn’t usually make for a particularly gripping watch. On the positive side, Ronja feels quite realistic in terms of how our heroine comes across, and she’s far from a stupid child. However, Ronja looks to be around eight years old, and as she does act her age, there’s not a great deal of extremely clever or deeply profound dialogue to be had here. The adult members of the cast – Ronja’s mother and father and the rest of Ronja’s robber ‘family’ – are a fun and lively group to witness, but unfortunately the show doesn’t seem too concerned with giving them anything much in the way of character development. Ronja, and in later episodes Birk, are perfectly fine and even refreshing as main protagonists, but it would have been nice to spend more time with someone like Lovis, who’s a pretty awesome character in her own right.
Switching over to the technical aspects of Ronja, there are once more some fairly obvious cons as well as pros. I suppose the most noticeable aspect of the visuals, and no doubt the one aspect that stopped plenty of people from even giving the show a chance, is the CG. This is an entirely 3D-animated, CGI series, and it looks… well, not terrible, but not fantastic either. This visual style will never be to everyone’s taste of course, no matter how good it is, but even though I eventually got used to it, the character movements aren’t anywhere near as smooth as I would have liked. Thankfully, the lovely background artwork helps to deflect this, and that’s an extra big relief given how integral the natural scenery is to the story.
Meanwhile, I could take or leave both the music and the voice acting. Some of the background music is some nice enough and the ED theme isn’t bad, but the OP feels insipid and doesn’t really do anything for either me or the show. The voice acting is serviceable but nothing to write home about, and if for some reason you’re married to the idea of only having famous voice actors in your anime, then you’re going to be very disappointed – in fact, of the entire vocal cast, I only recognise two of the names, both of whom play extremely minor roles. This particular point isn’t actually a negative as far as I’m concerned, but overall I’d say that Ronja isn’t especially inspiring in terms of either its visuals or its sound.
It’s hard to say exactly what grade I’d give this one. I daresay that the lack of action will put many people off, and in all fairness, I do think the show could stand to have a little more action while still remaining in keeping with its demographic. Still, there’s some genuinely good storytelling to be had here, as well as a kind of timeless charm. My advice to anyone still reading this far – especially if you’re in the habit of complaining about how cliché or moe or whatever else anime is these days – is to at least give Ronja a go.
Question of the post: For those who have seen Ronja, what did you think of it? For those who haven’t, is there any specific aspect of the show that puts you off, such as the visuals?