Non Non Biyori

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, April 24, 2014

Slice of life continues to be one of my favorite anime genres, but not every series is able to reach the same level. Often it depends on how well the characters have been written, as this is what takes a storyline about an ordinary cast of people and makes it interesting rather than downright boring. Quite often I’ll know whether a slice of life show is one I’m going to love from the first episode, and that’s exactly what happened with Non Non Biyori. The series takes place in the countryside village of Asahigaoka, which is so small that the only school only has five students who are all in different grades. Each episode focuses on different aspects of growing up in the countryside and thanks to the endearing personalities of the main cast, Non Non Biyori is sure to make you smile all the way through.

The story begins with fifth grader Hotaru Ichijo moving from Tokyo to Asahigaoka and adjusting to the drastic change of living in the countryside. Not only does the school only have five students total (including her), the only major store in town is a candy store and the residents can buy fruits and vegetables by just leaving money at an unmanned stand. While some of the earlier episodes play up the sudden adjustment for some jokes, thankfully Non Non Biyori doesn’t use this “person transplanted into a new environment” plotline to drive the show forward. Instead, it goes in-depth into the daily life of the students while also shining light on some of the adults that make their living in this tight knit community.

What makes the series so fun to watch is the main cast, which consists of four girls. Aside from Hotaru, there are sisters Komari and Natsumi and Renge. Aside from the episodes that expand out to some of the older characters in town, the majority of the storyline focuses on these four both as a single group and separately. Komari is the older sister but she’s fairly short and sometimes confused for an elementary schooler, while Natsumi is the one that tends to get in trouble and doesn’t do that well in school. Along with Hotaru, these three characters are quite relatable and I like how in depth they were explored over the course of the series. But at the same time, they’re not necessarily that far removed from the typical characters depicted in other slice of life anime. This is where Renge comes in, as I think she really gives the series a feeling of its own. Renge’s a first year elementary school student with a quirky sense of humor and a very outgoing personality. She’s also quite smart, and the addition of a much younger member into the late elementary school/middle school cast works quite well.

Part of Non Non Biyori’s charm is becoming familiar with these four girls and their individual quirks, so I won’t go into too much detail beyond that. But the writing is great, and although this series moves at a slower pace than some of the others in the genre (which seems appropriate considering the countryside setting) the charm of the characters and relatable situations are sure to make you smile. There is also a good deal of humor thrown into the mix, although the characters remain the focus and the humor comes as a side effect of their personalities rather than driving the episodes. I got the impression that even though part of the goal was to showcase what life in the Japanese country is like, there is also a clear theme of what it means to be young and start to grow up. It’s genuinely relaxing to watch and even the episodes where the supporting characters are given the chance to take the spotlight ended up being more entertaining than I was expecting.

Silver Link handled the production of Non Non Biyori, and they’re a studio that I’ve always been fairly hit or miss on. Some of their series have had better animation than others, but they did a great job with this one and were really able to bring the scenery to life. One of the most important elements of a slice of life anime is its ability to draw you into its environment and make you feel like you’re looking at a real location, and this is an area where this show really excelled. There are plenty of beautiful backdrops to take in as you watch, and a lot of effort has been put into making Asahigaoka feel like a quaint, isolated town. Character animations range from realistic to exaggerated, as rather than going for the completely realistic route a la Hanasaku Iroha there are some of the silly expressions and over the top reactions that you might find in a more comedy focused anime. I also really liked the way that each of the segments was tied together by what I believe are wind chimes with the series title on them. At the end of each episode, they fall to the ground and two of the characters appear in chibi form and take a bow to signal that’s it for that particular one. It may be a small touch, but little details like this helped to make an impression that Silver Link and the rest of the team animating this series really wanted to give it a style of its own.

Non Non Biyori’s opening theme is performed by Nano Ripe, a band you’ve likely come across quite a bit recently. They’ve also contributed music to series like Hanasaku Iroha, The Devil is a Part-Timer! and Humanity Has Declined, and as I’ve watched all of these it has become easy to identify when a Nano Ripe song is featured in the opening or ending of an anime. Their song for Non Non Biyori is another catchy tune and the band’s sound continues to fit series of this type perfectly. The ending is sung by the four main voice actresses, and it seems like the trend in anime right now is to have the actors and actresses perform some of the musical numbers featured in the series they star in. Speaking of the voice actresses, the main cast has good chemistry together and there is a nice mix of established and relatively newer names. Overall, there’s definitely a lot to like about this series when it comes to presentation and it’s what helped initially draw me in.

Over the course of 12 episodes, viewers watch Hotaru’s first full year of school in Asahigaoka and become familiar with Komari, Natsumi, and Renge as well as some of the other people living in the village. On paper it may not sound that exciting, but the character personalities really help to make Non Non Biyori so enjoyable and I think quite a few viewers will be able to relate to some of the experiences these girls have even if the environment they’re in may not be so familiar. The series has already confirmed to be getting a second season sometime in the near future, and I’m excited that it shouldn’t be long before I get to see these characters again. If you enjoy slice of life anime and are looking for another series that’s bright and cheerful from start to finish, don’t miss this one.

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