Whether it’s because of my affinity with Scandinavian crime fiction, or my new found appreciation of the Japanese artform of manga and anime, I find myself inexplicably drawn towards Silvergate Media’s newest animated series.
Of course, it should go without saying that the Netflix children’s animation that launched in September 2018 to much critical acclaim, touches upon neither the Scandi underworld of murderous criminals – fictional or otherwise – or the often genre-bending topics of your modern day anime; yet it is a series that manages to strike a note of familiarity all the same.
Perhaps it is because it’s the latest in a line of properties to have made the leap from the pages of a graphic novel or comic book series (joining the likes of the currently popular Umbrella Academy) and onto the streaming giant’s global platform, rendering Luke Pearson’s fantastically illustrated work in moving picture, and thus sitting perfectly within the current pop culture zeitgeist of today?
Or perhaps it’s because Hilda, moreover, is representative of a trope that has followed us all throughout the centuries; offering a look at a fantastical world deep in the heart of Scandinavian folklore that set the scene for this IP some 800 years ago? It is a property, after all, that takes its heritage seriously, from its mountainous giants hiding in plain sight, to its stone trolls and wood folk, and even its titular female character Hilda – who, unlike her etymological descendent Hylda or Hurlda is not the image of the dangerous seductress of the forest to have first emerged around 1220 AD – but the free-thinking and independent hero of our story, more akin to the heroic women of Scandinavian folklore – or Shieldmaidens – of the 13th Century.
And then, it is on top of all of this that Hilda (the series) most simply presents a cast of fantastical characters that lends itself immediately to the toy aisles. In fact, less than one year since its first launch to the Netflix platform, and that’s precisely what Hilda and the team at Silvergate Media have done.
It’s through Spin Master’s plush specialist arm, Gund, that Hilda will make its toy aisle debut, marking the first big announcement of the year for Silvergate who sees Hilda “as a natural fit for the specialty channels at retail.”
Talking with ToyNews about the latest developments for Hilda, Lisa MacDonald, SVP of consumer products at Silvergate Media, says: “We are super excited about working with Gund on the Hilda property. They love the show just as much as we do, and in those instances – when you get that level of collaboration immediately – you just know that it is a good fit.
“There are a wealth of characters alongside Hilda in the show that will translate really well into the plush toy category, so we are expecting to see more than one stand out hero at this point.”
Hilda’s universe is indeed a rich one, and one that – as it follows Hilda on her adventures as she moves from her home in the fantastical Scandi-influenced wilderness to the city of Trolberg – introduces a cast of standout characters just ripe for toys.
“It’s so rich, that collectables are a must for us at some stage,” continues MacDonald, who, while ready to admit it is still somewhat early days for the property, is already very keen to line up further deals within the toy space.
“Hilda lends itself really well to that, and certainly things like blind boxes, what with all the characters involved in the series.”
This is even before we’ve mentioned that already Hilda has been commissioned for a second series on Netflix, which is now gearing up for launch in 2020, as well as the broadcast launch for season one in the coming months, a move that is sure to introduce further characters down the line.
One year into it, and the animated series appears to be resonating well with its intended audience – one made up not only of the girls’ aged six to 11 market, but also the older, comic book and graphic novel reading audiences who has ultimately helped propel the pop culture genre to the success it currently enjoys among mainstream media and retailers today.
But its pop culture ties, nod to the West’s growing anime movement, and intrinsic folklore trope aside, what is it about the series that helps Hilda carry such a strong appeal to a cross-generational audience?
“When I think about it, I keep coming back to empathy,” suggests MacDonald. “I think Hilda is a hugely empathetic character both of herself and to others, and that makes her a little bit stand out.
“She is smart, inspiring and an alternative heroine, which is hugely relevant in an age where there is an increasing focus on positive role models for girls; and in a current climate where we are calling out for greater empathy and greater care of the natural world around us, I think we can all learn a little bit from Hilda.”
Of the global socio-political developments that MacDonald may well or well not be referencing, the comic book adaptation is certainly more on the nose, and in fact it takes little time to throw Hilda into the centre of a political spat in which an Elf Mayor attempts to evict Hilda from her home, thus following up on a promise he made to his electorates in order to get voted into power in the first place.
As a show that deals with modern empathy, this isn’t one to water down its real world references. And just as the show treats its audience with respect and mutual intelligence, so too is it MacDonald’s ambition to provide a licensing programme of equal measure.
“The consumer is a lot more canny than what they used to be,” she continues. “They are a lot more demanding of what they get, in a world that is more expensive. They want a bang for their buck and are more demanding about what that product stands for, where it comes from, how it is made, and be it something that does justice to the brand that they love.
“This is what we’ll be delivering on. We intend to create product that is as true to the show as possible; in terms of aesthetics and doing justice to its characters. There we see the appeal as not just Hilda, but wider than Hilda. Attention to detail is crucial, and that could be in the appearance of additional characters, little notes on handbags, secret tid bits of information that have appeared in the show and we are building into the Hilda-verse.”
This is a direct influence of the growth of the pop culture fandom that is permeating the design process of so much of the consumer products in the space today. More and more, subtle nods to the smaller details of an IP’s universe is worn as a badge of honour by fans, that it is working its way up the list of key points to hit with each licensing programme.
“To that end, Hilda will be very much the same,” explains MacDonald. Interestingly, this in itself is part of an overarching influencing factor that is in the way in which content itself is being consumed.
The fragmentation of this process has led to a multitude of platforms through with to reach an audience, which in turn fosters a strength in fandom. What this means, is that content developers like Silvergate Media, have to be at the top of their game on a regular basis.
MacDonald explains: “Consumption of content is much more fragmented today, and retailers are much more cautious, with a greater expectation from the consumer about what a licensed product should offer. On Hilda, we will be talking to our fanbase directly and driving engagement.
“We know there’s a good, strong fanbase that we have seen through our social channels, and there is already the engagement to give them input onto the collectable lines we might be putting out, the characters they’d like to see.
“Meanwhile, we are investing in events, having exhibited at Comic Con last year with Netflix, and again this year with a booth decked out like the Woodman’s Cabin. At these events we get to engage with fans directly and see all the cosplay we see on social media. It’s how we maintain dialogue with our audience.”
It’s also in the domain of the live and experiential space, as well as the digital, that Silvergate spies great potential for Hilda in the coming years.
“It’s an overwhelming yes to that question,” smiles MacDonald. “There is huge potential both for live and experiential licensing with Hilda, and also tech. The Hilda-verse is so rich and diverse, with so many layers for the storytelling, discovery and characters, and as Silvergate we have a big presence in the experiential space in China with the likes of Octonauts, that we are well-versed, and can use that expertise to answer calls for it with the Hilda IP.”
Further to this, the Hilda app, in which players must nurture a world of mythical creatures, is already a top ten downloaded app on iTunes; proving that more than a modern take on the 13th century folktale, Hilda has struck a firm tone with contemporary audience of not just children, but adults looking for adventure, too.