For the first time in nearly half a dozen episodes, Ronja The Robber’s Daughter doesn’t open on a bright, sunny day. Instead, Episode 6: Taking Without Asking materializes out of a dense, dreary morning that drapes Mattis’ fort in cold, gray curtains of fog, portending events to come. Ronja awakens to Lovis patiently stirring stew at the hearth. Mattis is hunched at the breakfast table, absentmindedly staring off into the distance as he ladles spoonfuls of porridge in front of his mouth and onto the table. Mattis’ zombie-like trance shocks Ronja.
The smog has smothered our once happy habitat, intoxicating the listless and lethargic Mattis gang. It seems all the chirping wildlife has decamped with the defector sun, the land further hollowed by a whistling wind that chills our merry band to the marrow. Our normally watchful robbers are fast asleep at the helm when shadowy figures emerge from the mist. It’s the Borka Bandits. Mattis orders his clan to “eat up and gather your strength” and they proceed to chow down on porridge. Aside from sliced meat and stew, gruel is the only thing on Lovis’ menu. I am not surprised everyone is so sleepy.
The two gangs face off across Hell’s Gap. Ronja soliloquizes, “Borka’s robbers…don’t look like much to me at all.” Then she sees Borka, a burly, top-heavy bloke with bedraggled red hair and beard. The biggest difference between Mattises and Borkas is Borkas don’t have lowkey Dragonball Z hair, which is a black mark against them in my book. The two tribes snipe at one another, taking turns laughing at their bosses’ medieval disses (Mattis claims to have been late to the meeting because he was penning a poem called “Lament for a Dead Borka.” Pretty sick burn).
Mattis calls Borka a thief for squatting in the other half of his cracked fort without asking. Borka replies, “You, all your robber life, have taken everything you’ve ever wanted without asking.” The response throws Ronja, who looks to her father for an explanation. Mattis perspires and flounders at Ronja’s wide-eyed innocence (Quite literally. Girl’s got some high beams on her face.) and tells her he’ll explain later. When questioned as to how they broke in, Borka reveals his son, Birk, scaled the north side, a feat heretofor thought impossible. Mattis refutes the existence of such an entrance, and Borka accuses Mattis of never remembering anything—including their once close friendship. We’re treated to a flashback in which Mattis’ father catches the two boys together and beats Borka (off camera. Studio Ghibli never gets that dark.). The experience taught Borka “a very valuable lesson.” They would always be enemies. Despite Mattis’ orders to leave, Borka claims his side of the castle as Borka’s Keep. Both the wives, Lovis and Undis, advise against fighting, because the women in this series are inarguably and refreshingly more levelheaded than the men. The men acquiesce over the promise of a future fight.
Back inside, Ronja again questions her father about Borka’s malicious accusation. Mattis is despondent and unresponsive. She retreats to the forest, angrily cutting the air with a twig before flinging it into the brush. She takes a “ma” moment—Miyazaki’s signature respite of quiet reflection—sprinting off into the woods and diving into the lake, presumably to burn off some of the residual uncertainty around her father’s real job. Birk surprises her from up in a tree and she growls at him, her forest of solitude now as much disturbed as her home.