Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter Blu-ray Review


Studio Ghibli’s Goro Miyazaki’s Attempt At Television

What happens when Studio Ghibli and director Goro Miyazaki (From Up on Poppy Hill) venture outside the comfortable confines of hand-drawn animation for the first time on an ambitious television project? Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter marries Studio Ghibli’s refined animation, known the world over by anime fans, with three-dimensional CG characters in a bold step for the venerable studio. The series became a hit on Amazon Prime’s digital streaming service with its engaging characters and well-intentioned themes.

A warm adventure tale with a happy family vibe, the all-ages series is fun for younger audiences. Studio Ghibli’s older fan-base may not be as impressed with the show, accustomed to such theatrical masterworks from the revered animation house as Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro.

Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter has won an international Emmy Award and is based on the beloved novel by author Astrid Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking. Actress Gillian Anderson with her new British accent has been brought in to narrate the series for the English dub.

A band of foolish robbers, led by the mercurial Mattis, live inside a mountain fort. Life changes for the clan of thieves when the first child is born in their group and begins growing up. Mattis and his rock-steady wife Lovis have a daughter, Ronja. Now ten years old, Ronja is an active girl that loves exploring the world around her, including the nearby forest inhabited by many strange creatures.

…a simple, effective anime from Japan about a young girl finding her way in the world and overcoming obstacles

Ronja becomes a beloved child in the tight-knit group of robbers that serve as her extended family. The girl’s cute misadventures, and a blossoming friendship with the son of her father’s primary rival, serve as the driving narrative over the series.

Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter is serialized in heavily decompressed storytelling, spread over 26 episodes. Expect a slow and drawn-out plot loaded with many slice-of-life elements.

Set in a vaguely medieval time period that could pass for England in the Dark Ages, magical creatures like flying harpies roam the land. Ronja’s biggest recurring adversary is a fearsome harpy that places her in danger.

Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter doesn’t feel like a typical anime television series. Beyond the sometimes questionable blend of hand-drawn backgrounds with stilted CG elements, the gentle storytelling develops slowly. Its message is sweet and warm, with themes of family and growing up being its primary focus. Ronja is a likable protagonist, even if her childish dialogue and mannerisms get dull and repetitive after 26 episodes. The good-natured tomboy is a fine role model for children and there’s nothing too dark in the story that would upset them.

Clearly aimed at a younger set, the series is well-crafted animation that should please your young ones. Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter isn’t a masterpiece but a simple, effective anime from Japan about a young girl finding her way in the world and overcoming obstacles.

Video

How you feel about Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter’s video comes down to how you feel about CG animation being married to Studio Ghibli’s traditional animation. Director Goro Miyazaki (Up On Poppy Hill) has a slew of Studio Ghibli feature films on his resume and is the son of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, so he’s no stranger to high-level theatrical animation. The 2014 television series, funded in part by Amazon, takes gorgeously animated hand-drawn backgrounds and uses 3D CG animation by Polygon Pictures for all its characters.

An animation experiment of sorts, Ronja’s blend of 3D CG characters and hand-drawn backgrounds has created polarizing feelings in the anime community. For fans steeped in the expressively beautiful and expressive theatrical animation from Studio Ghibli, Ronja’s overall animation is a let-down. The hand-drawn backgrounds are fantastic, worthy of Goro Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Lush and intricately rendered, they provide a delightful environment for Ronja’s adventures.

However, the cel-shaded and 3D-modeled characters in Ronja show Japanese animators still learning how to work with CG animation. Something is off in how characters move through space and their facial movements. Studio Ghibli was known for their fluid, expressive characters. Ronja’s humans move awkwardly with stiff CG animation. The character designs also feel off – there is no way they would have turned out looking this unpolished and sloppy if they had been animated with classic cel animation.

The Blu-ray set from GKIDS and Shout Factory delivers satisfying picture quality that really pops with outstanding color and dynamic artwork. Greens bloom with a subtle intensity and the perfect contrast helps create an engaging tonal range. Backgrounds are literal pieces of hand-drawn art that provide theatrical animation quality. The forest setting has some of the most stunning animation to ever grace television.

All 26 episodes of Ronja are spread over four BD-50s. The native 1.77:1 aspect ratio is preserved in the nigh perfect 1080P presentation. The fine AVC encode is up to the task despite minor instances of banding. A few gradients of lighter colors have negligible compression issues. Sharp-eyed viewers may notice a little aliasing around the line art, likely the result of the CG characters composited at differing resolutions.

Audio

The original Japanese audio and a British English dub are included in excellent 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtracks. Decent bass, clean dialogue reproduction, fine stereo separation, and strong audio design mark Ronja’s audio in both languages.

The English dub with its cast of British accents is headlined by actress Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) as narrator. She lends a certain gravitas to the strong English dub production. Both audio tracks feature expansive, open stereo mixes in sparkling fidelity. While the English dub takes minor liberties with the Japanese dialogue’s intent, it’s a high-quality presentation that probably fits Ronja’s European characters better. Push come to shove, Westerners should probably hear the dub first. Ronja’s instrumental score by Satoshi Takebe isn’t a masterpiece but works well enough for the all-ages adventure.

Subtitles and their translation aren’t an issue. Two sets of optional English subs are offered, both playing in a white font. English SDH subs are included for the English dub, while a second set of English subtitles more properly translate the actual Japanese audio.

Extras

GKIDS and Shout Factory include a slipcover for this four-disc Blu-ray set collecting the entire series. A smattering of special features are found on the fourth BD. The backcover lists the discs as being coded for Region A but this hasn’t been properly tested on a Region B player.

All featurettes are in Japanese with forced English subtitles.

Interview With Goro Miyazaki (11:19 in HD) – A fascinating glimpse into director Goro Miyazaki’s work office. The former Studio Ghibli director, looking haggard and overworked, discusses the intense production schedule for Ronja and the challenges of making a television series as opposed to a feature film. An unseen interviewer asks him questions on a variety of topics, from working on CG animation with Polygon Pictures, to the role women play behind the scenes making Ronja.

Press Conference (06:14 in HD) – Goro Miyazaki, a producer, and the two Japanese voice actresses that voiced Ronja and Birk discuss the series before a small crowd.

The Making Of Ronja (38:15 in HD) – An exhaustive five-part documentary that goes behind the scenes at Polygon Pictures, the CG animators that brought the series to life. Everything from the character’s movements to facial expressions is covered in some detail. This is an excellent piece for burgeoning animators, as you see the concrete production process that created Ronja’s blend of stunning hand-drawn backgrounds and cel-shaded 3-D characters.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Ronja, The Robber's Daughter
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Studio Ghibli’s Goro Miyazaki’s crack at anime television with CG elements in the animation will surely please younger fans but leave older fans wanting.

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