Review: Non Non Biyori

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Because if there’s one thing the anime industry needs, it’s more moe.

Okay, okay, I’ll try not to be too hard on Non Non Biyori just for that. I watched it of my own volition after all, and it’s not as though I instinctively hate all moe titles – I enjoyed a lot of the first season of K-On!, for instance, and Azumanga Daioh is still one of my all-time favourite anime. Even so, I’m left with the distinct feeling that certain types of shows have more than reached oversaturation point, and so I didn’t go into Non Non Biyori expecting anything much out of the ordinary; a few ostensibly adorable schoolgirls here, a few swimsuits there, etc. etc. I guess I was both right and wrong about that assumption.

I think it’s safe to say that most anime set in modern-day Japan take place in the city, or at least in nameless suburbia. Be it slice-of-life or romance, drama or comedy, the majority of shows taking place in current and ‘real’ Japan tend to do so in the likes of Tokyo, Kyoto, or some other unspecified city. Those titles that are set in more rural areas of Japan – Hanasaku Iroha, Gin no Saji, Tsuritama, Barakamon – stand out in the crowd for this fact alone, but Non Non Biyori really takes the cake, and I must admit it’s refreshing to see a series that derives a lot of its comedy and general appeal from its location rather than its cutesy cast. Watching a 7-year old with purple hair wander around playing the recorder is all well and good, but between that and having Renge reveal that she has a trained tanuki for a pet, it’s pretty easy for me to say which scenario I find more entertaining. Likewise, Hotaru’s obsession with Komari is hardly offensive material, but her speechless shock at having to wait three hours for the next bus is what provides the laughs.

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To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched Non Non Biyori all the way through were it not for its extreme countryside surroundings. If you’ve seen Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh, K-On!, or Minami-ke then you’ve basically already seen Non Non Biyori. This is slice-of-life anime at its most idyllic, and brings nothing new to the genre beyond its rural setting. As I’ve come to expect from a classic moe show (i.e. one aimed squarely at Japan’s adult male crowd), its cuteness also involves specific types of fanservicey scenes, from Hotaru’s overly obvious crush on Komari (so intense I actually find it borderline creepy), to witnessing the 14-year old Komari in her elementary school swimsuit. These are aspects of the show that I really could do without, and which the series easily could as well; at any rate, I don’t see how taking them away would detract from or even change the core story in any way.

That said, things could be far worse, and I’m deeply appreciative of the fact that the obligatory beach episode didn’t focus too much on the bikinis or even (gasp!) on breast size comparison, and instead went for a more innocuous angle. There are also glimmers of comedy that don’t originate from either the moe-rrific cast or the hardcore pastoral backdrop, such as Komari and Natsumi’s older brother Suguru, who has not a single audible line even on the few occasions where he’s actually about to speak. Major points to the OVA for playing this up even more, and in a way that strikes me as actually pretty clever as well as genuinely amusing. On an unrelated note, it’s also nice to see some adult characters getting a decent amount of screen-time – particularly Kazuho (Renge’s older sister and the only teacher at the local school) and Kaede (a graduate of the school who now runs the village candy store).

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The production values are another huge positive. Not only are the colours bright and crisp, but the background art is flat-out gorgeous – lush, vibrant, and extremely detailed, they’re truly a pleasure just to soak up. It’s wonderful to see a show putting so much effort into an aspect of the visuals that’s often skimped on in other titles, especially when such a large chunk of its charm is dependent on how well it showcases its setting. I can’t really say the same for the soundtrack – it’s your typical cutesy stuff that I now can’t even remember – but the sound effects at least are top-notch, and add another layer of richness to the series without overdoing it.

Non Non Biyori isn’t the kind of comedy that’s intended to have its viewers rolling around on the floor in hysterics, and neither is it a series that screams originality or innovation. However, it succeeds in being an easily digestible title that looks great and mostly manages to steer clear of some of the more nauseating characteristics of moe anime in general. For viewers after something light and sweet – perhaps something to relax to after a long day – I have no problems recommending this.

Question of the post: To those who have watched this, what aspect did you find the most enjoyable or entertaining? To those who haven’t, is the moe-ness (if that’s not already a word, I’m making it one) a factor that puts you off titles like this one?

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19 thoughts on “Review: Non Non Biyori

  1. The most enjoyable part of this series was the atmosphere. I grew up in a rural area and currently live in an urban one, and they did an excellent job with the sights and sounds of the countryside. It was all kind of soothing in a way. I don’t dislike moe but I wouldn’t call moe this series’ main draw. I can’t speak for everyone though of course. I’m looking forward to the second season quite a bit.

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    • Yeah, I really enjoyed the way in which the setting was portrayed here as well. It’s certainly exaggerated in parts, as most anime titles tend to be regardless of setting, but I really appreciated the effort put into recreating some of the sights and sounds of the Japanese countryside which are actually very common to real life. And likewise, I’ll also probably be watching the second season whenever that comes out.

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  2. I saw a little of the show an thought it was harmless enough. My 11 year old son watched and enjoyed it quite a bit. I thought the rural setting was nice. I wasn’t into the show enough to be motivated to finish watching it.

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    • Yeah, it strikes me as a fairly harmless show. Likewise, the rural setting is what I enjoyed the most about the series, but I can see why plenty of people wouldn’t be able to really get into it – it’s nice enough, but hardly the most exciting or innovative of anime titles.

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  3. I almost forgot the yuri subtext in this show. Back when I watched it when it was airing, I was never really into yuri and so I automatically, albeit almost subconsciously, discarded that aspect of the show. Nonetheless, I found those moe moments cute enough to make me smile (I like moe).

    But despite its appeal as a moe show, in hindsight I think it did a good job at staying away from the moe saturation danger zone. I do agree that the rural setting is the big factor for that. I found the backgrounds really soothing. Overall, the show provided me a nice, little escape from the more strongly story-driven anime, like Kill la Kill and Valvrave.

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    • Yeah, it’s a nice little show that looks good and doesn’t require great amounts of concentration to watch. I personally didn’t care for the yuri subtext though – not because I dislike yuri in general, but because the way it comes across feels more creepy and stalker-ish than cute or endearing to me.

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  4. The show bugged me the most when it tried to do regular comedy bits like you’d see in other shows, like when that one girl tried to hide all the dolls she made. Why do the regular things when you have such a great rural setting to play with? To be fair, the show used the setting well when it got to it.

    As for the girls, none of them interested me very much except for Renge, not only for her calm, intense face, deadpan delivery and cosmic thinking, though those are reasons enough right there, but for her fundamental relationship with the wonderful place she lived in, summed up best before she went to Okinawa, going from one obscure place to another, loudly announcing to no one we could see that she’d be gone for a few days, but she’d be back.

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    • I feel much the same way. And likewise, I neither greatly liked nor disliked any of the characters, but that’s a really good point about Renge and the way in which she interacts with the setting.

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  5. So true… I was drawn into Non Non Biyori mainly by its rural settings. Slice-of-life with a bit of nostalgic feeling is the best, and it was what I felt when watching Non Non Biyori.

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    • I can’t say I felt much nostalgia when watching Non Non Biyori, but I did appreciate the rural setting a lot. Definitely the main strength of the series for me.

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  6. Pingback: Anime Taste Testing: Summer 2015 | OTAKU LOUNGE

  7. I loved Non Non Biyori. I didn’t even realize it was considered a moe anime. I just liked the serenity of the show. It was very soothing. The long scenes of slow action and no dialogue. It invites the viewer to settle in and stay awhile. I don’t think the show would have come off with the same vibe if the cast were boys. Renge wouldn’t be Renge if a boy. I absolutely loved Renge with her serious, intense expression and the way she’d stand up and salute when her name called at school. It just wouldn’t be the same if the character was a boy. I guess I didn’t notice the moe since it wasn’t blatantly saturated with moe- nor was the color palette a bunch of girly pastels. Scenes like Renge crying because flatty-san died just doesn’t say moe to me but it was very heartwarming. Now that I look at it, I can see how people would describe this anime as moe. I just didn’t see it that way.

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    • When I say moe I’m in this case mostly just referring to what I see as the primary genre rather than how moe-filled the anime actually is. Because of its cast, where the story was originally published, its demographic in Japan, etc. it’s basically ‘officially’ a moe anime, although individuals are of course free to view it however they like. I agree with you though – I also think Non Nom Biyori is an incredibly calming and soothing work, particularly the second season for me (this review was written before that came out, and so deals with only the first season).

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  8. Well, I was wrong. I thought I had seen Non Non Biyori but it must have been Non Non Biyori Repeat that I saw. Sorry about the confusion. I still haven’t figured it out. Long story shortened, I enjoyed what I thought was Non Non Biyori and so bought the dvds. Only to find that I had only previously seen two of the episodes. The other 10 were completely unfamiliar to me. It must have been Repeat that I saw. I understand the criticisms now. Hotaru’s infatuations with Komori was totally abrasive and out of place. I felt it ruined an otherwise excellent opportunity to produce a charming anime.
    Durn… I feel I’ve been had….Again….

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    • No matter, happens to the best of us from time to time. Honestly, I did still enjoy that first season of Non Non Biyori despite the issues I had with it – but I enjoyed Repeat quite a bit more.

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