There a lot of things that Henry and I want to do with the ARJ project. That said, there’s one theme that I feel should run through any podcasts or blogposts we may write, and it’s a concept that at times is bit hard to explain. But things unseen are usually the best things to try and grasp, so I decided to start with this particular show as an example of what I want to explain.Sanzoku No Musume Ronia (山賊の娘ローニャ, Ronja Rövardotter) is an anime based on a book by Astrid Lindren, a Swedish Author famous for creating the character Pippy Longstocking. It’s being produced by Studio Ghibli in association with Polygon Pictures and is directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of famed animator Hayao Miyazaki. It turns out that back in the Eighties the elder Miyazaki had attempted to gain the rights to produce an anime film based on Lindren’s Pippy Character, and had even paid the author a visit in an attempt to convince her. However, Lindren was very skeptical of the medium and refused to give permission for the project to go forward. The Elder Miyazaki had always held out hope that one day Studio Ghibli would be allowed to produce the film. Fast forward to 2014. While rumors circulated about an impending closure of Studio Ghibli after the retirement of the Elder Miyazaki, behind the scenes Goro Miyazaki had been given the task of finally producing an anime based on a Lindren Character, but instead of Pippy, Ghibli was moving forward to produce Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. The story, set in the forests of Sweden, follows the tale of a young girl born into a robber clan. Born on a storm night, Ronia is the only child of Mattis, the Robber Chieftain, and Ronia grows up to one day discover what it means when people refer to her as “The Robber’s Daughter”. Now, this show had two major hurdles it needed to overcome with audiences before it even made it’s debut. First was that it’s directed by Goro Miyazaki. Goro gets a lot of flack from Ghibli fans because he directed Tales from EarthSea, which many believe to be the worst film ever produced by Ghibli. In his defense, the movie is nowhere near that bad, and it was his first time at the helm of a major animated film. He’s since gone on to direct From up on Poppy Hill, which was much better received and in my opinion is one of the best films the studio produced that wasn’t directed by either the Elder Miyazaki or Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies). The second hurdle is an even bigger problem, and that is that Ronia is being animated by Polygon Pictures, known for their CGI animation for The Clone Wars animated series and the recent Knights of Sidonia. Many Ghibli fans are upset that the people in charge of the studio would choose to go the CG route, but the reason for the decision was clear. It’s been said that the studio’s animators produce about five minutes of animation per month, and at that rate it would take forever to produce a Twenty-six episode program and still have it stand up to the studio’s usual high standards.
So now that Ronia has been out for over Twelve episodes, how has it turned out? Is Goro Miyazaki up to the task? Is Polygon Pictures’ animation awesome or distracting?I must say that the Younger Miyazaki has stepped up to the challenge. He’s directing and storyboarding, and the artists at Ghibli are doing key frame animation as well as the backgrounds. Polygon Pictures is handling the full animation and after about the third episode everything really starts to come together. They have worked together to make Ronia herself into a joy to behold, ranking up there with all the other Ghibli protagonists who came before her. She’s strong willed (her mother says she’s reckless because she was born on a storm night), but also has the capacity to have a growing heart for truth and people less fortunate than herself. So how is this an example of that ungraspable something I was talking about? In Episode 7, for instance, there is a scene where Ronia and another young robber named Birk are lost in an unearthly fog in the forest. Ronia, connected to Birk in the fog only by the leather rope she carries, sees spirits in the fog that are beckoning her to go off with them. While under their spell Birk rushes in and grabs Ronia, trying to stop her before she’s lead away and lost forever. The two of them scuffle, and Ronia demands that Birk let her go to be with the spirits. She claws at him, scratching him, and then proceeds to bite him. But this only makes Birk hold her tighter. If that’s not an illustration of what Christ does for us I don’t know what is. Birk puts up with a lot from Ronia. She can’t stand him, even hates him at first. The trick here, though, isn’t to try and sandwich Jesus into these anime, or any story. The trick would be to learn to recognize the themes, the truths of the story. Like Birk, Jesus puts up with everything we can throw at him, but he doesn’t let go.
If we can get this one point across, that being able to learn to see the Gospel in everyday things, I think Henry and I will have done our jobs well.
Sanzoku No Musume Ronia would be rated PG with mild violence and sometimes confusing themes that young viewers may need explained.