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Ronja, the Robber's Daughter (cel-shaded CGI), NHK BS Premium (Japan) / Amazon (USA)
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This series is a co-production of Polygon Pictures and Studio Ghibli (the first TV series Ghibli has made), and was directed by Goro Miyazaki. It's based on the book of the same name (which I haven't read) by Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren, best known for her "Pippi Longstocking" books (which I also haven't read). The theme song is "Haru no Sakebi," in the original Japanese, though I'm not familiar with that version, because I've only seen the English dub of the show. In English, the theme song is called "The Call of Spring" (which is essentially how the Japanese title translates, though it might be more apt to translate it as "shout of spring," particularly as that phrase also refers to something the title character does at the start of every spring). The English version is sung by Lola Moxom, and I absolutely love it. Also, the English version of the show is narrated by Gillian Anderson.

The story is set in medieval Scandinavia, though it's also somewhat fairy tale-ish, because there are creatures like harpies and... other things that were unfamiliar to me. (I'm not sure if the other fantasy creatures were made up by Lindgren, or are part of Swedish folklore, or what.) Anyway, such creatures play a relatively minor part in the story. Mostly it's about ordinary humans. There are two rival bands of robbers who share a forest. One group is led by a man named Mattis, and the other by a man named Borka. In the first episode, Mattis's wife, Lovis, gives birth to a baby girl named Ronja, and all the Mattis robbers adore her. Her birth takes place during a huge storm, and a bolt of lightning splits the castle where the Mattis robbers live into two halves, separated by what comes to be called "Hell's Gap." The half of the castle where the Mattis robbers live is called "Mattis's Fort," though I'm not quite sure if they had always called the whole castle by that name, or if that started after it was split in two. (It's not important.)

Halfway through the second episode, the story flashes forward to when Ronja is ten years old, and she's allowed to go out into the forest on her own for the first time. She's very exuberant, and delights in all the natural wonders of the forest, and the lake, and the animals, and everything. Though there are also some frightful dangers. And then, at the end of the fourth episode, Ronja meets a boy who is on the other side of Hell's Gap. In the fifth episode, she learns that his name is Birk, and he is the son of Borka and his wife, Undis, born the same night Ronja was. Also, the Borka robbers have recently moved into the other half of the castle, calling it "Borka's Keep." This naturally upsets the Mattis robbers when they learn of it, but there's not much they can do about it. At first, Ronja doesn't like Birk, because of their clans' rivalry, but after a few episodes, they become friends. And soon they begin to consider themselves brother and sister, though they must keep their friendship a secret from their families. (So, it's basically like Romeo & Juliet, except totally platonic. And spoiler alert, the series has a happy ending.)

Well, I should mention that we never really get to know any of Borka's robbers, but Mattis's robbers are all named, and I quickly came to find them all recognizable, even if I never learned to place the familiar names with the familiar faces, for the most part. But the most important one of the group is a somewhat dotty old man who used to be one of the robbers that worked for Mattis's father, years ago, but he's now retired. Um... most of the websites I've checked spell his name "Noodle-Pete," but the way everyone on the show pronounces it is "Noddle-Pete." He mostly just sits around the castle playing dice or chuckling at everything that goes on around him, or talking with Ronja, or getting on Mattis's nerves. He's definitely an amusing character. Mattis himself, meanwhile, is quite a piece of work. He has a very quick temper, but he can also fall into excessive fits of hysterics. And he obviously loves Ronja. As for Lovis, she's far more sensible than her husband or any of the other robbers, and while most of the time she just quietly goes about her tasks, such as cooking, she's always ready to chide Mattis or anyone else when they're being ridiculous. (Which happens a lot.)

I should also say that seasons are important to the story. I don't quite remember if the first time Ronja went out into the forest was spring or summer, but the story soon segues into fall, then winter, then spring again, with episodes' plots being heavily influenced by each season. Then various things happen that turn the rivalry between the clans much more serious. Eventually, Birk and Ronja run away together, and spend the summer living on their own in a cave. (It's called the Bear's Cave, but I'm not sure if or when any bear ever lived there.) But they know when autumn comes that winter will soon make this situation untenable, and they'll have to return to their families, despite having left them on bad terms (or at least Ronja had left Mattis on bad terms, the nature of which I don't want to spoil). And... I also don't want to spoil how the series ends, but as I said before, it's a happy ending. Well... there is one very sad part in the finale, but mostly it's a happy ending.

Anyway, I just really like Ronja and Birk, and Noddle-Pete, and Lovis. And the Mattis robbers are amusing and fairly likable, even if I don't always remember all their names. And it's really just a very sweet and cute and charming show.


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