My episodic notes, reactions, and commentary from Non Non Biyori, which aired during the Autumn 2013 anime season.
Everything is by and large as it was when I originally wrote them in the Hangers category when the show was airing. They have been sewn together and provided for the convenience of readers to look back on my feelings on this series specifically, without needing to click through numerous pages.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 1 and 2)
I have seen it described by some that this is the kind of slice of life Girls Doing Things show maybe one would enjoy if they were an elderly retired lady.
Well slap me upside the head and call me grandma, because I am enjoying the pace of this and it works especially great when played next to Gingitsune. The scenery is lovely, deliberately timed jokes like Renge calling out the tanuki and trying to make it do a trick are endearing, and it is an all around nice break in my week. This is the kind of show that can get mileage out of just making an entire episode about the one lone rural community candy store and it doesn’t feel out of place or stretched. It’s rural in a very keen going nowhere fast style, and for now that’s all it needs to do.
I appreciate how Suguru, the one lone male in the five student school, was completely obstructed in the first episode before giving him a proper name and face in the second. Hotaru’s “Sempai noticed me!” feelings towards Komari are endearing enough, and that the second episode ends with her making a full blown Komari plushie is… interesting. Maybe it wants to go somewhere with those ideas, or maybe it just wants the sight gag. I dunno. It could go either way. I can’t imagine actual romance (this is a Girls Doing Things show, the figurine buyers wouldn’t stand for it), but I imagine there’s room for a thunderstorm night where Hotaru can’t get to sleep and chats with the plushie, or a sleepover where it turns up somehow.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 3)
This is slowly developing into a surprisingly pleasant little series. We had our “meet the cast” episode, we had our trip to the candy store and focused on Hotaru’s “Sempai noticed me!” feelings, and now we mostly follow the Koshigaya sisters around and their relationship.
In concept, the plotting is all simple enough. Having to watch a bunch of rented films before you return them to the store miles away, wanting to head into the room of a family member for the night after a scary movie, breaking things and having to explain how it happened to parents, and “running away” from home where you still come back in time for dinner. So everything is execution, which it is fanning out like a well practiced hand of cards. It appreciates long pauses and scenery shots, keenly timing between lines of dialogue, heading down the way to climb through an irrigation ditch while a light harmonica plays on.
For what is at its core a Girls Doing Things show, it is managing its reserved rural pace and what it wants to do very well. I could also make definite use of the soundtrack in my background music rotation I keep for when I’m writing, cooking, cleaning, and generally going about my own life.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 4)
I am increasingly thinking this is the kind of show an offshoot of Makoto Shinkai might make were they in the business of producing Girls Doing Things style situational comedies. The strength of natural backgrounds, quiet pacing of small youthful concerns, that sort of thing.
Except I don’t like Makoto Shinkai’s movies. But I do like Non Non Biyori.
We switch, understandably, to a Renge episode, the only member of the core cast who has not had dedicated stories featured yet. As the youngest and the bluntest of the group, this is also probably where the show was most likely to get derailed. I think the idea of her meeting another girl of her age who was visiting the area for Summer vacation was a good one, as having someone of ones own age around is good from a character perspective and personal identification with her situation. Those serendipitous friendships of circumstance that, in the end, have a distance issue come up as folks leave.
When Renge shows up to play and her friend is already gone, that was very much a critical moment in this show. It was going to show us how careful it was really being, because it could have gone all loud, blubbering, and dramatic. I would have been disappointed in what that would mean for us going forwards. That they were able to hold that shot of her processing the information for so long, and slowly, ever so much realizing her friend had left, having a little very low key cry as she slinked home, that leaves me far more engaged as a viewer because I can better identify with that reaction and trusting what the show wants to do with these characters going forwards.
The show isn’t treating me like an idiot who needs cheap “feels” served on an anime fast food tray, which for a Girls Doing Things show is actually rather impressive.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 5)
Now that each of the main cast have received a central episode, we can get back into the swing of having another whole group episode during the summer vacation period.
So in that way, it allowed everyone to come back together as a unit while at the same time being among the lowest stakes environment, prime for messing around before school gets back in session. So we gear up and head to the beach.
As a Girls Doing Things show, one pretty much should be well aware by episode five if they are on board with what it is up to or not. I’m honestly not very much a fan of the genre myself. But I think the attention it has paid to slowly giving everyone the spotlight and developing character relationships organically over just telling us what they are supposed to be has been making this show an enjoyable experience for me every week. The more rural pace of everything has complimented it well.
We’ve seen whole segments with the Koshigaya sisters acting as sisters together in their previously dedicated episode time for instance, so when Natsumi’s and Komari’s train station meal situation goes down, it is a more natural set of affairs then just “Well, we need to set up for the next punchline because I poured too much pepper on my food and that’s the joke next in the script.” The show allows its jokes to work at a slower pace than other ones of its genre, and goes for smaller and more achievable humor, seeming all the more natural than them for it.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 6)
Summer vacation is winding down, and with that comes the frustrations it can tend to generate in folks. Namely, increased tension from parents and children, such as in the Koshigaya household.
Though given the way it is portrayed, we are much more inclined to side with the mother than the child (in this case, Natsumi), given that her measured frustration stems from how her kid has been hiding her grades and report cards away and otherwise slacking off.
We also get a bit of a title drop, and the Koma plushie situation also hits critical mass.
Something I’ve noticed, this week was big on bringing stillframes back. Kill la Kill certainly continued to have them, Miss Monochrome stepped up this go around and also displayed their use, and we see them used several times in Non Non Biyori this week. Just an interesting little thing that crossed my mind.
In either event: Hotaru’s personal obsession with Komari manages to get parlayed into something summer homework constructive for the whole group after the initial awkwardness of the situation went over, which was a nice thing to see done with it. I figured the plushie mechanic from several episodes was going to come back around again, and while it didn’t fit into what I had predicted it would do I was pleased that it wasn’t just cast aside either.
The Challenge of Courage bit pretty much went as would be expected with Komari playing the scare maker (given her reaction to watching a scary movie a few episodes back), but the post-challenge fireworks were a pleasant sendoff for what should be the end of the vacation episodes.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 7)
Summer break is over and Kazuho overslept. Nobody is surprised.
You know that feeling when one is back in school after a holiday and everyone is just a little hazy, rusty, and not otherwise entirely on the ball? This episode felt kind of like a television entertainment version of that sensation, and for all I know that may have been wholly intentional.
Without a teacher, the class is left to do various kinds of quasi-constructive things in the room on their own. Some cat’s cradle, some clay art modeling, and so on. It doesn’t really go anywhere outside of generating the most emotion we have ever seen out of Suguru, but then again the characters themselves are really just stalling for time as well. The next sketch, the middle portion involving Renge and Hotaru caring for the rabbits, felt kind of off as well. A bunny prominently smirking at the characters with a full screen camera shot before leap jump kicking the door shut on them seemed at least a little out of place in a rural series that has not really been doing much in the way of straight up “cartoon” animals.
The third bit involving Kaede and her country candy shop brings us back in line at least. Wares nobody buys, television shows she feels out of touch with, justifying losses she’d rather not be making but things are worth it in small ways. I was hoping we would see her again, as she brings in both another adult voice and fills a more snark oriented humor vector.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 8)
We have reached the point where the in-show season has matched up with real life, so it’s autumn all around until we transition into winter.
Unless you live in the southern hemisphere, of course, but I suppose the front end of the series would have had a similar effect.
This was essentially a Komari episode, as she navigated between the different scenes and groups, and I think this is to the benefit of the production. It finds its strength in having a pacing that allows for a character to weave their way amongst the rest of the cast at an easygoing speed and have their small character moments and reflections or reactions. It often feels too “busy” when the whole gang is together for whole scenes at a time, but maybe that’s because that tends to not jive as well with light recorder background music and the lovely rural landscapes. Suguru still has not spoken an audible word, but the ways they keep that aspect going (such as visibly moving his lips but us hearing nothing due to his electric guitar) feels more natural than the anvil it otherwise could be contrived to be.
I could see it doing another round of character rotations like this, and we’d pretty much be done with the season. But there might be a sea monster next week given the preview, so who knows.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 9)
I really like festival episodes, generally speaking. I think they tend to visually stir things up with different costumes, provide some endearing sights, and perhaps even some nice sentimentality.
There’s a certain kind of chaos, magic, or oddness one can work into that little setting for a time, depending on the approach.
The student population of Asahigaoka Branch School is tiny. We even very barely were even able to acquire a café table of four side characters. A one room cultural festival. So the method of making it the more offbeat and disaster oriented style of these affairs was fitting. And I did get a silly smile with them finding a way to break out the classic animation “character head in a black hole that blips out” bit.
Clearly divided, the more sentimental stuff is then kicked to the second primary half involving old toys and other closet nonsense: Slinky’s, those pop up half circle things, what was originally a VHS recording of Pretty Cure from like 10 years ago, etc.
It was a nice and serviceable bit there isn’t really much to say more about, other than it got me to think about what must be lying around in my own old room closet by this point. Which, really, is probably the best reaction they could hope to generate with that piece anyway.
Non Non Biyori (episode 10)
Two episodes of autumn , and we’re straight into winter break.
It makes sense from where I am sitting due to the amount of snow outside my own residence at the moment, but, it would have been nice to see a little more of that season before transitioning on.
Given, the majority of this is not even so much a “winter” episode as it is more using the framing device of hiking off to see the New Year’s’ sunrise as a means of delivering a flashback episode for Kaede and her babysitting Renge. Candy Store is my favorite character in this production anyway, so I’m more than willing to enjoy watching her trying to take care of a crazy one year old who can be calmed by fur seal calls.
A larger point about this show I suppose I’d prefer to write about this week is that as far as Girls Doing Things series are concerned, I could see myself rewatching this in the future. I probably would not rewatch Lucky Star for instance, even though I liked the show well enough, got many of the jokes, and even laughed at them. But I feel I would probably pop on Non Non Biyori again at some point. It feels a lot like Polar Bear’s Café to me in some respects, in that it has slowly played warm character humor with small bursts of achievable mania and would likely hold up to time better than something like the more reference heavy Lucky Star.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 11)
Looks like we are back to a spring episode next week for the finale, so we need to cram in as much winter while we still can.
We need snow. Lots of snow. Snow everywhere, for every bit. And here we are.
Three full primary group sketches then, as we have kids snowed in at school without enough futons, countryside snow in the moonlight sky (and potential aliens), and daytime skiing and snow house building shenanigans. As is often the case to varying extents with the show on the whole and then the group episodes in particular, these tend to scale over the duration of the episode.
Different little contests for figuring out how to solve the futon crisis are kicked around until the Obvious Solution is reached. Not really remarkable, but it is not like it faceplanted either. The middle bit, with a nice and generally quiet nod to evening countryside winter serenity from Hotaru’s perspective is a comfortable transition while at the same time entertaining the more fanciful qualities of a youthful interpretation of the country regarding alien activity. Our snow day and by extension ski day event then comes by and large courtesy of various rentals from Kaede. Who certainly more than makes sure to market all the other ways that she can provide goods and services outside of just the candy store aspect of things. Be sure to tell your parents.
It is a bit strange though, as on the aggregate for the episodes fitting for the calendar winter season I find myself in at the moment, I enjoyed the episode last week far more, yet it also generally was not really about winter much at all since it was more flashback focused towards another time and season.
Non Non Biyori (Episode 12)
Ending as we started, we are back to springtime with lots of nature scenes prominently placed on display with light musical over the affair.
It does not want to go out with a big finale or a grand exit, but it was achievable and in keeping with the idea of bringing the whole thing full circle.
Hotaru and Komari get their little bento picnic exchange in the field, which was nice to see. As what tends to happen a lot in these incidences, sempai’s cooking remains as terrible as ever and it is up to their dedicated admirer to choke it down no matter what. The show itself seems pretty aware of how expected this all is, so it cuts several times to more thoughtful pictures of the countryside while the characters talk it over.
In a lot of other anime this would be a cheap production trick, but given the whole pace of the show and how much it has clearly liked showcasing its landscapes they can actually get away with it. It is hard to call something a “background” when the foliage shots are so frequently in the main focus and center of attention.
Otherwise we get back to the original considerations when we first met everyone for the differences between city and country life. Renge’s family owns a mountain. Doesn’t everyone own a mountain? City folks must surely own mountains. And so on and so forth, lets go pick some flowers so we can get more of those great plant shots in to be able to roll us out on.
I can appreciate that as a final episode, as even for a light situational comedy it knew it would be a stronger card to go out this way rather than reach beyond its means. Small goals and achievable moments has been its entire deck, right to the end, so well played by all.