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The works of Studio Ghibli are almost universally loved and respected, but there is one interesting criticism detractors lob against Japan’s premier anime production house. Barring the occasional music video or video game art design project, Ghibli’s body of work consists of feature films, all of which have been financial successes (even the widely panned Tales from Earthsea earned more than triple its budget).

Ghibli obviously can’t be blamed for building on its success by putting in the time, money, and, of course, effort to produce movies of such high quality. At the same time, some have wondered how the studio would fare operating under the notoriously tight time and budget constraints of television anime.

Judging from the recently released preview for Ghibli’s first TV series, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, the transition, not to mention the lead character’s movements, might not be so smooth.

Pippi Longstocking may be Astrid Lindgren’s best known book among English speakers, but Ronia the Robber’s Daughter was also a sizeable hit for the Swedish author. After the children’s novel was published in 1981, it was adapted into a live-action film, musical, and stage production. Next comes an anime version, which is scheduled to premiere in October.

The TV series is a co-production between Studio Ghibli and CG specialist Polygon Pictures, whose work can be seen in anime such as Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, The Sky Crawlers, and the currently airing Knights of Sidonia.

Still, it’s the Ghibli name that has people outside anime circles in Japan interested in Ronia, including executives at public broadcaster NHK, the series’ home. To whet viewers’ appetites, NHK recently showed a 30-second clip of the show.

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In some ways, Ronia and Ghibli seem like a good fit for each other. With an active, plucky female lead and a bucolic setting, it has the makings of the sort of whimsical yet reverent story Ghibli fans love and expect from the studio.

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The art direction doesn’t look half-bad either, with inviting colors and some interesting camera angles.

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But while some of the stills give a feeling of that old Ghibli magic, Ronia doesn’t look quite so charming in motion. For starters, there’s an undeniable stiffness to many of her expressions, which is starkly at odds with the atmosphere of energy and freedom the scene is trying to create.

▼ Wheeee…?

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Her movements have a shaky, stuttering quality to them that might be acceptable for a real-time cut scene from the early PlayStation 3 era, but are far below what most have come to expect when watching CG movies or TV shows, even when one of the most exalted animation studios in the world isn’t involved.

▼ There’s even one sequence that looks like it’s straight out of a side-scrolling platform game.

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Internet commentators in Japan have been similarly unimpressed.

“It doesn’t move like a Ghibli anime.”
“What? Seriously, what?”
“Blocky, jaggy polygons! Ghibli, are you sure this is the sort of thing you want your name associated with? Do you need the cash that badly?”
“Why did they do this all in CG?”

The remark about full CG is telling, as Ghibli isn’t exactly known for its expertise or experience in the field. Presumably, this is why Ronia is being produced in conjunction with Polygon Pictures, but without knowing exactly how the two studios are dividing the workload, it’s hard to say if this is a case of Ghibli stumbling in an unfamiliar medium or Polygon not rising to the occasion of working with its storied partner.

Some might argue the buck stops with Ronia director Goro Miyazaki, son of Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. While the younger Miyazaki’s second directorial effort, 2011’s From Up on Poppy Hill, received generally positive reviews, some still haven’t forgiven Goro for the artistic debacle Tales from Earthsea is commonly held to be. “Goro should just hang it up,” spat one commentator. “He’s got no talent.”

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In Ronia’s defense, showing such an extensive preview three months before an anime premiers is sort of unusual. Consider, for example, that the first clip of Sailor Moon Crystal wasn’t released until just a month before its first episode.

It’s also worth noting that Ghibli has a new movie hitting theaters soon, two Tokyo museums are holding Ghibli exhibitions this summer, and the classic My Neighbor Totoro was recently shown on TV. It’s possible the timing of the Ronia release had more to do with the cross-promotional potential of flooding the media with Ghibli content and less to do with the people working on the show thinking it’s actually ready for the public’s eyes.

Whatever the reason, the anime’s questionable current quality gives a bitter twist to the clip’s ending sequence. We’re sure the shot of Ronia reaching for the stars is supposed to be representative of a child following her dreams, but it’s also a sober reminder of just how far Ghibli’s first TV anime has to go before it meets fans’ expectations.

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Source: Jin
Images: YouTube