First look UK TV review: Ronja the Robber’s Daughter
Nathanael Smith | On 25, Jan 2017Reading time: 3 mins
If Studio Ghibli have one recurring flaw, it would be their insistence on playing ballad-y pop songs over the credits of their films, often with really terrible English translations. This creates two immediate problems for Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, a TV series directed by Goro Miyazaki (From Up on Poppy Hill) and co-produced by the studio. Firstly, as this is a TV series, it has an opening titles sequence, which means you are treated to a grating tune before you’ve even seen a frame of the story. Secondly, the format means that you get this song before every episode – and after the first three times, it hasn’t got any better.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there for Ghibli’s foray into television, imported to our side of the world by Amazon Prime. These first few 25-minute episodes make for a shaky start that may test the devotion of the studio’s fans. For instance, while the character design looks familiarly Ghibli, they are animated in 3D CGI, a medium that immediately feels uncomfortable and out of place under Miyazaki Junior’s paintbrush. The movements are jerky and the voice acting is poorly paced and delivered, giving the overall impression of a cutscene from a PS2-era videogame. Every movement, every sentence feels stiff, a sensation not aided by the pauses between lines.
The first two episodes are almost entirely Ronja-free, spending more time with her parents and the band of robbers, but even with the generous runtime (which might cause younger viewers to switch off), none of them emerge with particularly memorable characters. After the first two episodes of this awkward, uninvolving storytelling, you might start wondering if this is the worst thing that Ghibli have put their name to. The studio make such graceful, elegant entertainment for children, yet this feels so strained and a far cry from Laputa, the film it most resembles.
Then, the third episode comes along and, thank Totoro, the show finds its groove. Ronja goes exploring in the forest for the first time and we start to see more of Ghibli’s personality breaking through the format. Once she’s out in the forest, we are greeted with the rich tapestry of green that so often characterises the studio’s landscape animation and the episode spends over 10 minutes simply exploring. Here, we get to know Ronja a bit, a classic Ghibli heroine, who combines emotional intelligence with an intrepid spirit and a strong sense of joy and wonder. The second half of the episode involves her dealing from some “grey dwarves” – strange, owl-like creatures who wouldn’t look out of place in Nausicaa or Princess Mononoke – and provides an entertaining, and slightly unsettling, bit of mild peril.
It’s heartening to watch this third episode, as it suggests that Ronja the Robber’s Daughter would only ever work when Ronja was front and centre. With any luck, the poor first two episodes are just teething problems, as Goro Miyazaki sets up the premise. With harpies, romance and a rival robber band on the horizon, this has the potential to be an exhilarating show for younger viewers, even if it is yet to truly settle into a comfortable rhythm.
All episodes of Ronja the Robber’s Daughter are available to watch online exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 27th January.