Ani-NO Deux: Defending Ronia the Robber's Daughter

I guess some problems can’t be left alone, huh?

So Goro Miyazaki, aka the guy I dedicated an entire article to, has spent the last while directing/writing an anime series based on beloved children’s novel Ronja the Robber’s Daughter. The show, which is being animated by both Studio Ghibli and Polygon Pictures, is notable for CGI-animation, garnering it criticism for looking “awful”. That having been said, the show has found its audience in Japan, and even its biggest detractors there have regarded it as “okay”. All considered, especially given Goro’s shaky track record, that seems worthy of recognition by naysayers in the West, right? Right?!

Well, people don’t think that way, as I’ve discovered through Twitter, YouTube and several other sources.

On a basic level, I get it. It’s Goro Miyazaki, the man who directed Tales from Earthsea. That movie was awful, I won’t defend it. Considering it was his first film, it’s normal to be skeptical. And besides, his repertoire isn’t screaming “must-watch”, unlike his father.

But even so, really? We’re making an assumption about a show most of us haven’t even seen yet?

Admittedly, preemptive judgements are normal. I make them all the time. I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was gonna suck because of James Gunn’s backlog, and it turned out fine. Conversely, I thought Cars 2 stood a chance of being okay, and it ended up mediocre. In both cases, I went against the norm. So I get the concern.

However, there are two roadblocks that get in the way of me being concerned myself. For one, Goro isn’t the talentless loser everyone makes him out to be. Despite the many problems of Tales from Earthsea, it was still beautifully, if not aimlessly, directed. And besides, remember From Up On Poppy Hill? Remember how we had little-to-no hope for it? Remember how the trailer reconfirmed it as a generic piece of blehness? Remember how not awful it was in the end? Okay, so it wasn’t great either, and it skimped out on its main conflict, but that it was okay is sign that he’s gotta have some talent, right?

And secondly, and this could be perceived as a cop-out, it’s Studio Ghibli. This isn’t some generic, run-of-the-mill studio. No, this is a studio responsible for some of the greatest animated films, or films in general, ever made. Not everything they’ve made is great, or even good, but their worst still usually has some merit to it!

Basically, if any show deserves some sort of benefit of the doubt, it’s one from Studio Ghibli. Yes, I have no clue what it’s like. Yes, it could end up being awful. Yes, I won’t hold a grudge against anyone for disliking it if it does end up being awful. But, for the time being, 
I’ll reserve my judgement and trust the studio. Because if any studio has earned my trust, it’s Studio Ghibli.

Besides, I’ve put up with plenty of bad-looking anime shows before because they weren’t that bad. Remember Digimon? Trigun? Princess Tutu? Each of those shows looked pretty cheap or bad, and yet they’re still considered classics!

The same can be applied to American cartoons. Remember Spongebob Squarepants? It has a passionate fan base, despite being cheaply drawn. The Fairly Odd Parents? Same deal. Even the new iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, which looks like it was made with a PS1 engine, is considered by fans to be good! Clearly, animation quality isn’t all that matters.

But on the fluidity front, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter is as typical as any anime out there, perhaps less so because, with CGI being cheaper than traditional animation, there’s more movement. A lot more, actually! Right from the trailer, I can already see that, despite the awkwardness of the character designs, the show feels right out of a video game cutscene. Plus, this being Studio Ghibli, the background textures are absolutely stunning. No really, look for yourself:

See? (Courtesy of YouTube user nihon nyusu.)

There’s more movement in this show than most anime series, particularly robotic moving ones like One Piece!, Dragon Ball Z, Fairy Tail and Sailor Moon. It may be a little jarring to see Ronia’s character model, but after a while you adjust. Especially if you think of it as a cel-shaded PS3 game, akin to Studio Ghibli’s art designs in Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, come to life, as opposed to jerky-looking, high-end CGI-

-Oh…I get it now! It’s the CGI aspect that’s holding people back, right? I’ll admit it could’ve been traditional animation and worked fine, but that’s a little unfair to the show, right? CGI anime is young, and while it’s not quite there yet, i.e. the point of looking convincing, once upon a time Western CGI was the same. Remember Toy Story, the first exclusively-CGI animated feature? Remember how groundbreaking it was? Yeah, watch it again and tell me it holds up visually. Technology updates rapidly, so yesterday’s treasures can easily become today’s garbage when contrasted with today’s treasures. In the case of anime, the CGI will always get better as more shows and movies tackle it, right?

I guess that’s beating around the bush with my initial argument: that the animation has no bearing on overall quality…at least, not a significant one. There’s still the writing, the characterizations, the use of sound, the energy, to name a few. If the show ends up being worth it, that’ll be nothing more than a footnote. And if the show ends up sucking? Well, c'est la vie!

Or, you can completely ignore me and pretend that it’s the end of the world. You’ll look more like an idiot that way, but it’s your choice!


  1. You didn't watch this show either?

    1. No. Because it's not in English yet. But, rest assured, I will when I get the chance...

  2. You can see my full thoughts on it back at the Fall review. Basically, it's not so much the people who have a problem with the CG that will be the loudest, though the CG does have it problems and they should NOT have put the hand-drawn full Ghibli style in the credits (If you can't give your audience what it wants, don't put glimpses of what they want up to suggest you could've done it and just chose not to). No, the biggest criticisms will be from the people who want Ghibli to be making Nausicaa Mononoke: Castle in the Sky all the time. It's a mix between Ponyo and Arrietty as far as tone and pacing. I think Goro wanted to make something like the fairy tale kids shows he liked as a child and he does well enough, though many won't have the patience for it. The big saving grace: Mattis. Mattis is easily the best character Goro has ever had to work with. I'll leave it at that.

    1. As someone who enjoyed both of those movies, I can assure you that I'll most-likely have no issues with this show. I can't guarantee it, but I'm pretty certain...

  3. Just because I'd prefer to see Ghibli stick to 2D doesn't mean I'd give "Ronia" a pass purely because of its visual style. I've seen the preview; it can look a little rough at points, but when it works, it definitely works. When the show arrives in the Western Hemisphere, the visuals aren't going to be an obstacle to my watching it if at all possible.

    Regarding Goro Miyazaki- I'd like nothing better than to see him succeed. "Tales from Earthsea" doesn't make me want to vomit, as it does many Ghibli fans, but I'll readily concede its mediocrity. I quite enjoyed "From Up on Poppy Hill", however- maybe a little more than most. True, it isn't Ghibli's best [though its also far from their worst], but it was good enough to convince me that, as long as he's given a decent enough script to work with, the younger Miyazaki can make something worth watching. If, as descriptions of the source novel lead me to believe, the plot of "Ronia" will allow Goro to combine the visual majesty of the better moments in "Earthsea" with the more intimate, character-centric aspects of "Poppy Hill", he might just have a pretty decent show on his hands.

    1. You've kinda restated a lot of my thoughts in a smaller package.

      To be honest, however, I don't know if Goro has much of a future left at his father's studio anyway. I might write a future article on this, but if sources are any indication, then there's a reason the studio is in trouble that revolves around the environment there not being particularly user-friendly when it comes to nurturing new talent...


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