Hilda’s first season dropped on Netflix in 2018 without much fanfare or press, to the point where I hadn’t even heard of the show until a few weeks ago in the lead-up to its second season. When I finally sat down to check it out, I was immediately enamored by the series’ highly imaginative and mystical world, full of lovable characters, creatures, and locations for its protagonist to explore. The beautiful, often-breathtaking animation brings to life the soft, vibrant style of the graphic novels they’re based on. Upon watching its second season, I’m pleased to report that the return to Trolberg is even more delightful, quirky and deeply emotional than the first time around.
Hilda’s world, set in and around the city of Trolberg, has a highly specific, difficult vibe to explain: Its locations are mystical and often perilous, yet nearly every creature is adorable and has a sort of childlike attitude to the world. It’s usually the human adults who tend to cause serious problems for the series’ titular character, with the real dangers being the adults who try to stomp the magic out of Trolberg.
Such is the world Hilda (Bella Ramsey), the series’ titular blue-haired, 11-year-old protagonist, lives in. Raised by her single mother, Johanna (Daisy Haggard) in a small house in the wilderness, they move to the city of Trolberg early on in the first season, which comes as a shock to Hilda’s system as she yearns for her old life living among elves and giants instead of attending school and learning how to ride a bike—her one true fear.
In the series’ second season, we see a much more confident, comfortable Hilda, who has discovered the underlying magic and mystery of Trolberg, which she explores with reckless abandon while dragging along her two best friends. These include the klutzy, fearful David (Oliver Nelson) and the overachieving, rule-following Frida (Ameerah Falzon-Ojo) — think Harry Potter’s Ron and Hermione if they were both around 11 years old, a particularly apt description now that Frida has begun training to become a witch.
Based on Luke Pearson’s graphic novel series, which in turn takes strong influence from Scandanavian folklore, humans and the magical creatures surrounding them live a less-than-harmonious existence, although it’s usually less of an all-out war and more of both parties being an annoyance to the other. This is where Hilda usually steps in, as she has an uncommon ability to empathize and connect with these creatures, including a giant, talking raven, a dragon-like Lindworm, and even a gossip-loving rat king. Often, these creatures are a compelling combination of scary and cute, with even the multi-eyed, monstrous kraken having a soft side.
Nowhere is this as apparent than with the race after which Trolberg got its name, the trolls. Large, aggressive and unable to speak English (an ability most creatures of Trolberg possess), Hilda’s first season established a near-universal, xenophobic fear and hatred of these creatures of which, predictably, Hilda lacks. Although the trolls took a backseat to other adventures in the first season, this conflict is front and center this time around, with the introduction of the antagonistic Trolberg Safety Patrol, a stand-in for the police, led by the pompous, self-absorbed leader, Erik Ahlberg (John Hopkins) and his more mature assistant, Gerda (Lucy Montgomery). Hilda and Erik quickly form a feud over their differing views on trolls, creating a driving conflict and narrative that never overtakes Hilda’s episodic structure but gives the opportunity for a longer, more complex story that runs parallel to all of Hilda’s one-off adventures, coming to a head in the season’s double-length finale.
But just because Hilda lacks the sort of driving narrative that’s become commonplace in most TV shows, even cartoons such as Gravity Falls and Steven Universe, that doesn’t mean that one can watch them out of order and still fully appreciate them. Hilda, her friends, and especially her mother change and grow throughout the series, with many of their surface-level characteristics hiding underlying insecurities and complexities. Characters and races from the first season also make multiple reappearances here, often interacting with one another in more fun and interesting ways now that Hilda and the audience have already been introduced to the basics.
Relationships and conflicts from the former season also progress, though none as much as the growing tensions between the adventure and peril-driven Hilda and her worrying mother, Johanna. Although the series immediately establishes a strong bond between the mother and daughter, that bond begins to erode as Johanna becomes increasingly worried about Hilda’s wellbeing, and Hilda lashes out at her mother for what she views as being overly controlling. With so many children’s series killing off or otherwise ignoring the parents so the kids are free to go on as many adventures as they please, it’s refreshing to see such a real, emotional story of a mother and daughter in a way that doesn’t cast either as the villain, but rather presents both sides of the conflict as relatable. As the only child of a single mother in my early childhood, these scenes were some of the hardest-hitting, as the series subtly conveys Johanna’s struggles and sacrifices Hilda remains unaware of, while also empathetically casting Hilda’s frustrations as valid.
Hilda is about the joy and freedom of being a kid, and it captures the feeling of childhood passion and wonder better than most shows I’ve ever seen, bringing all these feelings rushing back regardless of the audience’s age. Underneath its gorgeous, silly surface is a layer of sadness and sentimentality that made me cry more than once, but that doesn’t mean its world is any less joyful. Just as the magical and mundane coexist in Trolberg, so does Hilda’s beauty and sadness.
It takes something special in order to make a show that can appear creepy, funny, cute and sad all at once, but whatever that something is, Hilda’s got it in spades.
Both seasons of Hilda are now streaming exclusively on Netflix. A 70-minute movie special is in production to follow the second season, but it is unknown if the series will continue beyond that.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and The Post. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.
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