Director: Goro Miyazaki
Written by: Hiroyuki Kawasaki
Studio Ghibli and Polygon Pictures 2017
Featuring: Gillian Anderson, Rufus Hound, Adrian Edmondson, Teresa Gallagher, Morwenna Banks, Bob Golding
Here’s a thoroughly pleasant culture clash/crossover. This is legendary Japanese studio Ghibli’s first ever TV series, based on a novel from the Swedish author of ‘Pippi Longstocking’, with an English voiceover from a cult American actress and sterling support from some Brit comedians and actors.
Ronja is born into an immediate family of loving parents, the father of which is a robber, the mother a strong-willed no-nonsense woman (Morwenna Banks) . The extended castle-based family of co-robbers fall for the baby too.
Gillian Anderson gives occasional voiceovers as Ronja grows up, constantly entranced by the world she is in, especially when set free to roam the forest by her parents. There is a lot about the difficulties of parental letting go. She learns about different levels of attention she needs to bring to the issues she faces. Although her parents direction seems scant to my western ears…
For example, on her first foray away from home, into the forest, she is accosted by a group of grey dwarfs – small creatures with red eyes, who appear as unpleasant, if undangerous, crosses between penguins and owls. She learns that all she needs is to be brave.
We see the world through Ronja’s eyes, and a beautifully animated Ghibli world at that. Her gasps of wonder can be a little tiresome, perhaps a churlish observation on such a warm production. Just when is appears it may become too cloying – and it is sweet – there is some humour, ranging from the sly to the broad to rein it in.
As the series goes on the themes of innocence in childhood, friendship, parenting and more are explored in typically generous style.
British viewers will be unsurprised that Adrian Edmondson’s character, essentially the robbers old avuncular butler, has a little breaking wind humour. Rufus Hound has a suitably fatherly voice, although he may be easier to swallow in the role of a clear-eyed, heroic yet emotional father if you are unfamiliar with his normal schtick.
One concern may be the pacing. Studio Ghibli films themselves are gentle and measured, so would that be a problem over a 26 episode run? It’s really a question of immersing oneself in it. It is slow. Ronja doesn’t hit ten years of age till episode three. But this is as much about mood and giving the viewer space to think as plot.
As TV shows have started to usurp film with their longer running time – and hence attendant concern for detail and character – a Ghibli production is much to be welcomed.