Hilda is like watching Steven Universe if it was a European urban fantasy with the sensibilities of Hayao Miyazaki films. It presents the supernatural as whimsical and inexplicable, humans as wary and unassuming (though no less sympathetic), and places a complex, likable girl protagonist in-between the two. It takes the best elements of its genre to create a show that is at once atmospheric, tranquil, and at times, haunting.
Hilda has spent her entire life in the wilderness, a vast forest with no humans aside from her mother, Johanna, but plenty of magical creatures for her to interact with. A mishap eventually forces Hilda and her mother to move to Trolberg, a city that induces major culture clash on the girl. Now she’s surrounded by man-made buildings and an overabundance of humans leery of the unexplained, best exhibited by a wall surrounding the city to protect it from trolls. Out of her element, Hilda must learn to deal with her new setting without compromising her old life.
What I like about the show are the constant challenges both the supernatural and humankind throw at Hilda. Contemporary living among people is equally strange to her as the magical beings who play by their own oddball rules. Because of her unique lifestyle, Hilda can’t understand why her friends aren’t easily receptive to the thunderbirds and elves that she so readily shrugs off, but she’s just as baffled whenever figures of authority punish her for walking out of class even if her intentions were noble. At the same time, magical creatures don’t compromise their habits for the sake of one human, no matter how friendly she is. Wood Man, for example, is a literal wood-skinned man who regularly crashes Hilda’s house even though it’s customary to knock first. Elves live, breathe, and function through extensive and unnecessarily time-consuming paperwork. And a Lindworm is likely to eat you as it is willing to spare you in exchange for common flowers for her garden. Hilda often has to rely on her resourcefulness and wit to get anywhere with these folks, but they’re never malicious about their actions. It’s just the way they are.
This is presented effortlessly by blending the two worlds together in interesting ways. Humans acknowledge the existence of the supernatural - even interacting with them at times – but they don’t make much effort beyond putting one foot out the door. On the other side, magical beings hide and adapt between the cracks of Trolberg’s walls, only subtly engaging with humans from afar. Hilda functions as a middle ground between the two. Having lived so close to the unexplained means she’s often the bridge that normalizes these creatures to other humans. This is often hand-in-hand with several intense moments that emphasize why both sides can be dangerous. Hilda constantly treats the supernatural as a force of nature that should be approached with kindness and respect, admonishing ignorant humans who refuse to comply, but these rules are established without demonizing either parties.
Another element I love is Hilda’s relationship with her mother, Johanna. I was worried about the latter at the start of the show because she regularly pushes Hilda to make friends with her classmates and not-so-subtly enrolls Hilda into the same girl scouts she joined in her youth. I feared we’d get a reoccurring subplot where the parent attempt to normalize their child from their “weird” interests, but the show never falls into that trap. Johanna actively encourages her daughter’s curiosity, even helping her out at one point. It’s through her methods that Hilda can adjust to a new world without losing touch with her old one.
Hilda’s animation is fantastic. The show devotes plenty of shots to the sprawling environment that creates a sense of wonderment. I’m dazzled by the limited palette they chose for each location, centering largely on autumn colors with occasion splashes of blue. This gives Hilda a visually distinct and memorable look. Bonus points for the soothing electronica score. I would love an official soundtrack.
Hilda feels like the days of youth exploring the woods behind your neighborhood: underneath every rock and behind every tree lies a mystery waiting to be solved by a caring hand. Hilda captures the childhood wonders of exploration and curiosity, and it’s all the more extraordinary for it.
Hilda is available for streaming now on Netflix.