Meanwhile, on Ronja…

ronja250

25 episodes of Sanzoku no Musume Ronja have rolled by and the show’s great arc has finally come to a close: Ronja and Birk are together as adopted siblings and, after a massive bear-fight style show down, so are their Fathers Mattis and Borka. The robber tribes are now one.

So… how was it?

ronja252

Ronja’s full CG style grew on me and, while I don’t particularly like the way it looks, the style was very effective at portraying a wide range of emotions and actions. Wider than most animes, actually. More importantly, the models allowed the shows lengthy mid season to stay fresh and avoid the ‘budget’ trap faced by most shows that save up for a big finale.

Speaking of the finale, Mattis and Borka’s show down was remarkably entertaining. It had all of the believable, down to earth trappings that have excited me so much with this season’s Junketsu no Maria — but it also had a great comedic range. Each landing blow brought about a wonderfully silly facial expression, yet stayed believably weighty.

ronja251

Over all, Ronja delivers an emotional tale that pushes the limits of children friendly programming. Sure, there are life lessons and I support exposing kids to a more realistic, nuanced reality, but Ronja’s multiple near deaths and seriously messed up family situation definitely gave my child nightmares.

If I didn’t have to wake up at 3 in the morning, maybe I’d call that a win win?

In any event, if you ever want a comfortable, youthful and optimistic show — with occasionally nightmare inducing moments where very young children must contemplate their own mortality — give Ronja a look.

8_ogk

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – 19

ronja18_0

In the ten or so episodes it’s been since I last reviewed Sanzoku no Musume Ronja, Ronja had a terrible Thanksgiving, nearly died in a skiing accident, and then a fever, single handedly kept her father’s enemies alive and then willingly became a hostage to put an end to Mattis’ war on Bourka.

She’s cried over wounded friends, screamed as her father merrily beats another child unconscious, and choked back the bile as he abuses her mother. This is one hard-core children’s program.

ronja18_2

Ronja is critically sincere with its subject matter, characters, and the youthfulness of its Romeo & Juliet. The children act like children, and legitimately make hard choices that children actually can, but are never shown doing in conventional television.

And in this, we come to the show’s central problem. Despite its dramatic world, Ronja really is a children’s show, and its child-perspective world view isn’t all that complex or deep from an adult perspective. However, because it is also harsh, Ronja became harder and harder to watch with my 3 year old…

ronja18_3

So who is this show meant for? Who’s actually watching it?

This week, after squabbling over a knife they’ve been foreshadowed to lose for a while, Ronja and Birk spend a short time apart. During this Birk, who is reasonably introspective, gathers his thoughts and realizes he cares more about Ronja than a thousand knives and that she loves him too…

ronja18_1

Meanwhile, Ronja witnesses a baby horse murdered by a bear and gives the foal’s mother first aide.

Kuma shock!

ronja18_4

Occasional CGI weirdness aside, and ignoring the meta-funniness about how terrible Ronja’s drunk holidays got, it’s a deeply quality show. But I really don’t know who this show is for?

Worse, I find it very difficult to unwrap as a reviewer. Outside of technical decisions and summaries, it’s a consistent but fairly surface level story. Maybe the consistency of the CGI helps that or maybe it makes it feel so same-same that I regularly run out of things to say?

8_ogkwatch_ogk

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – 08

ronja72

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja’s seventh eighth outing focused on the adults and their ongoing struggle to kick Bolke’s bandits out of the rear keep. It was harmless and played for laughs as usual.

However, to quote my toddler: “Where’s Ronja?”

ronja71

In short, Ronja isn’t really in this episode. Her role is largely to observe the adults, occasionally ask her father questions, and then spend a few of the final minutes in the woods wondering where all the animals have gone and being conflicted about not seeing Birk.

It’s an episode about the boredom of fall for people who don’t have television, I think.

ronja73

If it wasn’t already obvious, this was not one of Ronja’s strongest episodes. Pretty and approachable, still and always, but it was a weird choice for a kid-centric show to ignore it’s child actor. The result was a much more restless audience.

It still deserves an 8, as it in no way conforms to the dismissive structure of a 7 but, by our standards for an 8, Sanzoku no Musume Ronja episode 7 8 provides the absolute narrowest margin deserving of one.

8_ogk

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – 06

ronja63

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja’s sixth episode is all about the meaninglessness of conflict but its inescapability. This is an interesting premise to run for an episode, and doubly so for a young children’s show.

I’m honestly not sure what my three year old made of it? Unlike previous episodes, I didn’t read him the subtitles, which left his understanding of the events entirely up to his own interpretation.

ronja62

That meaninglessness of conflict is in almost every scene. The bandits and the robbers have a face off at hell’s gap, which results in nothing. How could it? Bolka doesn’t want Mattis’ side of the castle and Mattis cant well jump his mean across the game through Bolka’s men’s spears, can he?

The father’s have a stare down, and restate their dislike of each other, even though we also see them get along as children via a flashback. It seems that Mattis’ dad and Bolka’s father didn’t like each other either and went out of their way to separate the boys at the beginning. Probably because their dad’s did the same thing…

ronja64

Later, while Ronja is running through the woods to get away from the conflict of the castle, Birk invades her private time from his perch up in a tree. Ronja is mad, understandably, but even more so because she can’t get away from the fight.

And what’s the purpose of the fight anyway? Birk gains nothing by bothering her and it’s not like the forest isn’t big enough for both of them. (and probably a thousand children more) But they are both there, they are from both from families in conflict and they have no one else to engage with.

ronja61

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t read the subtitles to my child this episode. I didn’t do this intentionally, rather I was called away by work and only returned towards the end of the episode. (I rewatched it later, of course)

I found it interesting that he sat through the entire episode anyway, which is more than can be said for other children’s shows I turn on in French, German or Italian. He really is transfixed by Ronja and, to some degree, must enjoy imagining what they are saying as much as being told about it.

8_ogk

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – 05

ronja54

I’ve put off reviewing Sanzoku no Musume Ronja’s for a few episodes now. Difficulty in ‘scheduling’ a review time with my toddler aside, this show provides very few opportunities to write more than a summary or note that children really like it.

That isn’t an excuse for me to drop it. On the contrary, I enjoy watching this show. I just don’t have much to say about it.

ronja51

To summarize week 5: Ronja meets Birk, the son of the other bandit lord of the forest. Birk was born the same night as Ronja and,like Ronja, has come to emulate his father’s slightly smug, superior attitude. Like their father’s before them, these two immediately dislike each other.

ronja55

So, obviously, they have a leaping contest across hell’s gap and, eventually, Birk falls in. As this is a kid’s show, he doesn’t fall to his death but, instead, is saved by luck and Ronja’s rope.

This scene was especially concerning for my three year old, who was enthralled with the leaping back and forth and totally shocked when Birk fell out of view. There was real panic in his eyes and fear to mirror Ronja’s as she tried to pull Birk back up.

ronja53

No doubt the following scenes where Mattis shouts at Ronja for ‘making up a story’ touched my child too. We aren’t in a ‘lie to daddy’ phase yet, but he knows being yelled at for doing dangerous things and I’m confident he could project his feelings and assumptions onto Ronja.

By episode’s end, the second bandit tribe is known to have invaded the northern half of the castle and Ronja’s dad is going to have to deal with that. Easier said than done! That’s 10 foot gap’s defensive advantage cuts both ways!

ronja52

As always, Ronja’s strength is it’s central characters. Mom. Dad. Little Girl and now a human friend slash enemy. It’s charming to see Ronja’s expressions and body language ape Mattis’ and I’m starting to accept this would have been much more difficult to achieve without CGI.

8_ogk

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – 04

Picture 2

For my 100th review on Rabujoi, I sat down with my son and watched Sanzoku no Musume Ronja’s fourth episode.  Frankly, it leaves me a bit muddled, reviewer wise. In some ways, this week was even prettier than the previous 3. It’s fall colors are just wonderfully vibrant and little details like dead leaves floating in the lake sell it flawlessly.

The plot moves along too but, for some reason, we get two flashbacks as well and those feel entirely unnecessary. Believable? Maybe? I can understand adults would tell a child the same stories over and over again but it felt arbitrary. Like the episode needed to frame the ending scene as a cliff hanger instead of resolving it.

Picture 1

Ronja is now more familiar with her surroundings and comfortable doing all sorts of adventure — including a rock climb up her castle’s mountain base.

As with previous outings, Ronja’s sense of wonder and happiness is contagious. My toddler son was absolutely glued to the laptop screen, giving me updates on what Ronja was doing and what she was feeling.

Picture 4

Another interesting detail is how we see Ronja’s expressions emulating her father’s expressions. She yells at the harpies and squints defiantly just like him. It’s reasonably subtle but you get the sense that she’s daddy’s little girl, with very little of her mother’s common sense and community anchoring.

That isn’t to say Ronja doesn’t love her mother. There’s a lovely bed time song scene that, unfortunately, had dreadful lyrics that don’t culturally translate when you’re reading them to your own child. Still, it’s a lovely scene.

Picture 9

Then Ronja explores the castle’s guts and, eventually, encounters a boy. We’ve known this was coming since he’s shown in the ending credits, and we can assume he’s the other tribal chief’s son, but it will be interesting to see how these two get on.

Honestly, I’d assumed Ronja would meet him on her own terms BUT on his turf in the forrest. Nice contextual touch that ‘the forrest has gotten too dangerous in early fall due to the harpies (mating season?). Regardless, we can expect a battle of the ‘who’s better at making terrible decisions and jumping across a gorge’ next week.

Picture 7

As always, Ronja is lovely but you have to go into it knowing that you are watching a children’s story. It’s well produced and watchable by adults (more so than all children’s swill-shows I can think of, actually) but it is for them and not for us.

If you’ve got a little one, and are willing to let them watch age appropriate anime, this is worth a little sit down. It has none of the normal moralistic shove-a-message-down-your-throat of american/british children’s TV and that’s a good thing.

If you don’t have kids and want… well I don’t know what you would want from a meandering children’s tale about growing up and adventure with low stakes? It should be pretty obvious if this one isn’t for you.

Still, even though it’s not for me, Ronja is clearly a great show.

8_ogk

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – 03

r3_2

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja’s third episode improves upon its opening by focusing on Ronja and giving us a little excitement and just a little life-or-death tension. I wouldn’t call it gripping or high art, but Ronja’s day in the woods is satisfying and a little unusual for child-centric programming.

However, this week’s biggest difference was on my end: I watched it with my 3-year old-son.

r3_7
My son’s only question this week? “Where’d this squirrel go?”

My son is a big Studio Ghibli fan and regularly asks for Kiki or Totoro or Spirited Away before nap time. However, he experiences those movies dubbed in English, which made my reading Ronja’s subtitles novel and a bit more like watching an animated book than a cartoon.

No surprise, he was totally transfixed. Ronja’s emotions over-wrote his emotions. For the 15 minutes she was happily running through the woods, he was happy and laughing and for when she was scared by the Gray Dwarves, he was scared too.

r3_4
Like the harpies, the gray dwarves are hella creepy!

I must say Ronja is very effective for a young audience. In this episode at least, Ronja had enough action to keep my mind from going numb too. Still, almost half of its run time featured a girl running around laughing at the wonder of the world, without plot or greater purpose than that.

So is Ronja something for an adult to watch alone? No, not really. Ronja lacks that lovely spark at the soul of Ghibli’s other films. Ronja has none of their depth of world nor scenario. it’s just a child’s tale, thankfully missing the obnoxiously educational format of most western children’s programming.

But it is a children’s story first and only.

8_ogk

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – 01 & 02

rd55

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja is an adaptation of Swedish author Astrid Anna Emilia Lindgren’s tale of a bandit king’s daughter who grows up in a magical forest. The series was developed by Studio Ghibli, though that may not be totally obvious, because everything except the backgrounds is cel-shading style CGI.

Studio Ghibli has certainly dabbled with CGI elements in the past, and their expertise with detail, lovingly rendered animals and warm, childlike colors all shine through. I found their take on anime-style hair in 3D especially respectable. However, the over all result is jarring, simultaneously too fluid and too robotic.

It’s… kinda unpleasant to look at, if I’m honest.

RD_2

Where most anime is uniform and the people and their expressions are purely place holders for our own projection, Ronja’s overly-diverse looking characters with typical anime expressions cause a disconnect. I’m speculating here, but that’s my gut tells me.

At least the aesthetic is fairly consistent. There’s a handmade quality to everything and a blend of Viking and Princess Mononoke that all gels in a believable, medieval way. That said, this realistic approach also makes Ronja jarring when less believable things happen.

rd1
Ronja’s mom, Lovis, is by far the best character. Her deadpan timing and annoyance with the rest of the cast is spot on!

This double premiere takes us from little Ronja’s birth during a lightning storm to the day she leaves on her first unsupervised trip to the forest.

We start off in Mattis’ perspective, sorta. He’s the leader of a bandit tribe who live in a castle, deep in a forest. He and his many men are quirky but kind, and generally happy. Above all else, they are excited that a Mattis’ wife has a baby on the way.

rd_4

The bandits wear monster costumes to frighten their targets. This seems largely unnecessary, since the bandits are able to take out three armed knights via “rope attacks” before anyone has any idea what is going on.

In a clever twist, we learn the forest really is home to magical creatures. I say clever, because dressing in costumes put me in a non-fantasy mindset and so I just assumed that Lovis was annoyed at shrieking hawks outside her castle window.

I never expected a real Harpy to land and have a conversation with Mattis…

RD_6
The harpies are the best drawn element of the show and their scenes, while ultimately without purpose, have great angles.

Later, during the happy party that follows Ronja’s birth, lightning strikes the castle and apparently is able to blast through 80 feet of rock. In fact, the damage is so serious that we see the castle remain ‘split in two’ for the rest of the show.

Here’s where the show starts to lose me. Despite being rendered in a way that should make everything feel more real, the show’s totally un-grounded, happy-go-lucky weirdness makes it feel the opposite.

There’s just no weight to anything. No conflict. Ronja just feels so…insubstantial.

rd88
Baby in a burrito!

Cute, it has in spades, but Ronja seems to mistake weird for funny. For example…

During the next ambush, we see what appears to be two horse-drawn carts with no guards moving through the forest. Again, this is from Mattis’ point of view and everything about his expression and how it looks like guards could be hidden from view in the rear of the carts, made me expect a trap. Possibly even a sudden tragic loss of Mattis to shape Ronja’s childhood.

Nope. Mattis is distracted because he wants to feed Ronja rice pudding and his men want to watch. So they abandon the raid and rush back to the castle.

I can see how that should be funny, but it just misses and comes off weird.

rd3

Ronja eats her first porridge, unless she’s had it before and its not as special an event as Mattis is making it out to be.

Then, for the first time we see from Ronja’s perspective. She imagines the dancing men are frolicking lambs. She crawls around a bit then gets tossed into the air by a happy Mattis. Then she transitions into being an older child and is being tossed still.

Its a simple transition and it makes her childhood clear: it was full of song and dance and cheer. she has every right to be the happy dancing acrobat child she appears to have become.

rd9

The final act is dedicated to Ronja’s first day being allowed to leave the castle and enter the surrounding forest on her own. It’s really still about her dad and his coming to terms with it being time to let her grow up. It’s not really about the forest. She just sees it in the distance and runs toward it before then the credits roll.

rd87

I honestly have no idea what to rate this show. Ronja is the third show this season that’s definitely not intended for me as an audience. However, unlike World Trigger and Joker, Ronja has a lot more serious artistic thought put into it.

It feels like an 8 but a very weird one that I don’t have any interest in watching. Oh Well? We’ll see what Preston thinks, when she has a chance to start reviewing it next week. For now? 8 it is.

8_ogk