A wonderful new anime from Academy Award-winning Studio Ghibli is now streaming on Amazon with 26 episodes. Ronja the Robber’s Daughter won an International Emmy Award for Best Kids Animation. This is the first television series to be produced by Studio Ghibli, famous for films such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro. It’s also the first time the studio has produced a computer-animated work. Technically, though, it’s a hybrid of CGI characters (with cel shading to give them a hand-drawn appearance) and traditional Ghibli-style 2-D hand-painted background art.
Ronja the Robber’s Daughter (Sanzoku No Musume Ronya) first premiered in Japan in 2014. The series was released to Western audiences on January 27, 2017, exclusively on Amazon Prime. This anime breathes new life into the classic tale by Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking (note one of the characters’ very Pippi-esque braids). The original book title in Swedish was Ronja Rövardotter. “RövarDottar” literally means robber’s daughter, just as the name “Ericson” means the son of Eric. So it’s a Swedish story, animated in Japan, and voiced in English!
Ronja, the only child of a bandit chief, grows up among a clan of robbers living in a stone castle in the forest of early medieval Scandinavia (i.e. Viking times). Like other works by Studio Ghibli, the settings and costumes of Ronja the Robber’s Daughter are gorgeous and accurately detailed. In this anime we get to enjoy all the quirks of castle life – like spiral staircases and secret underground passages!
The main living area is a Great Hall with a central hearth where meat can be spitted or stewed in a cauldron, then eaten off wood plates. Did you know that they played dice games in medieval times? Also, Scandinavians really did sleep on beds in wooden closets as these characters do. Another interesting thing I noticed is how they tie their belts in a knot. There is some period style music played inside the castle, but other than that it’s just a basic cartoony soundtrack. (The opening song “The Call of Spring” is nice though, about the changing seasons and how she changes with them. Also, the mom often sings a lullaby called “The Wolf Song.”)
Ronja’s mother is the only adult female in the castle, so all of the cooking and housework falls on her. It’s true to form of Norse women whose place in society was at home, and yet their domestic role was powerful and respected. At the time of the Vikings, the matriarch of the house had control of the keys (take notice of Lovis’s necklace), and she was the head of the house (or in this case, the castle) while the men went out on raiding parties. Life was simple then: women were in charge of everything indoors while everything outdoors was the responsibility of the men.
Nature Lovers Rejoice
Ronja the Robber’s Daughter was directed by Goro Miyazaki, the 50-year-old son of legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Goro started out as a landscape architect designing parks and gardens. His love for nature certainly comes through in the beautiful scenery and seasonal cycles of this series. If you watch closely, you can spot subtle differences that come with the changing seasons. When Ronja is old enough she is allowed to venture out into the world beyond the castle walls. This is where she feels truly at home exploring and discovering the many wonders of creation. Life is an adventure as she is filled with awe at all the sights and sounds of nature – the mountains and trees, wild animals and bees, and everything she sees. Grassy meadows, rocky cliffs, sparkling rivers, and moss-covered boulders are her natural playground. The picturesque Scandinavian landscape is truly a vision to behold.
Ronja The Robber’s Daughter is a delightful series for families with children of all ages, recommended for lovers of the original Swedish book as well as for new audiences. At first it might seem like the anime is specifically aimed for really young children, but the drinking and mature subject matter in some episodes may change your view. I was shocked that they even included one scene of violence toward a child. Not to mention there are some scary creatures such as Gray Dwarves, Harpies, and Unearthly Ones. Then there is the fact that the men are bandits, and theft is treated as a job. One of the central themes is Ronja coming to terms with that.
The robbers themselves are kind of quirky and comical. Despite being professional bandits, it seems like they don’t take their work seriously. Ronja’s mother (Lovis) actually scolds her husband (Mattis) for not working hard enough to put food on the table. But I must say, this anime is very pro-family in the way it depicts how attentive and loving Mattis is toward his pregnant wife. On the night Ronja was born, a thunderstorm raged over the mountain, while in Mattis’s castle among his band of robbers there was a joyful celebration – for they now had an adorable baby girl. Mattis, ecstatic about his daughter, calls Ronja the clan’s greatest treasure. And “lactivists” will be happy to know that Miyazaki wasn’t afraid to show Lovis nursing the baby!
The main focus of Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is the love of nature and family, appreciating the simple joys in life. The lessons it provides about living in the moment and stopping to smell the flowers are worthwhile, but it does make the anime very slow-paced. It’s so sweet to see the rough robber men doting on baby Ronja, and there is an endearing scene where Mattis is feeding his daughter porridge with a tiny wooden spoon. But the time goes fast, and to quote old Noddle Pete, “in the blink of an eye, she’s all grown up.” Now Ronja is a lively ten-year-old and is given permission to go outside of the castle and into the forest – all by herself!
One day Ronja meets and befriends a boy her own age named Birk, who turns out to be the son of the rival clan chief. The majority of Ronja and Birk’s time is spent in the forest, where they explore and learn naturally through observation and experience. Their actions and mannerisms are very realistically child-like. You’ll wish you were there with them running barefoot through the grass, climbing trees, swimming in the lake, and hopping across streams on rocks – these two are the ultimate free range kids! But they also have to beware of dangers, so they can’t let their curiosity get the better of them.
Like other female characters presented by Studio Ghibli, Ronja is strong-willed and independent, brave and confident. Her father is a tough man to work for, and yet gentle toward his loved ones. He clearly has anger management issues, though. One day he has a huge tantrum, throwing and smashing things, which can be quite a shock for a child to see. Ronja, however, takes it in stride and stands up to her dad’s idiosyncrasies.
Ronja doesn’t even realize what Mattis does for a living until after she meets Birk, the son of her father’s rival Bork (who looks like Sean Bean in Game of Thrones!). She struggles to balance this forbidden friendship with her family relationship and eventually realizes that differences can be overcome with the help of love and understanding.
Miyazaki stated, “Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is a story not just about a girl who grows into adulthood, but it is also a story about the love and growth between a parent and a child, and a story about the bonds between friends. My goal is to create a work that everyone, from children to adults, will be able to enjoy.”
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Read the book that inspired Studio Ghibli’s series, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter!
Ronia the Robber’s Daughter (Swedish: Ronja Rövardotter) is a children’s fantasy book by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, first published in 1981. This is an interesting book even for adults, because it describes how the relationship between parents and children change as the children grow. The anime series follows the original tale fairly faithfully.