The Non Non Biyori franchise (like many others of its kind of content) on paper is based on humor and slice of life elements of students going to school, but there is something about this series that sets it apart from many of the others it often finds itself lumped together with, and that is the ability to give the viewers a peek into the mindset and disposition of a child. In manga this has been done in a few places over the decades, with the most famous being the near-inimitable Yotsubato (written by the same mangaka that wrote the justly famous Azumanga Daioh – a series which received an anime adaptation, but unfortunately one the mangaka was rather disappointed with and a medium that they apparently decided not to be involved with any more.) One of the characters in the Non Non Biyori franchise (Renge) is considered by some to be the closest anime similarity to the lead character in the Yotsubato manga – named Yotsuba.
But Non Non Biyori brings another seasoning to the dish, which is the portrayal of bits of pieces of the a more rural way of life still found in parts of Japan. There are other manga that do this well (and some have received anime adaptations as well, though for me I generally find I prefer the manga source material over the adaptations), such as Gin no Saji, Momo no Sora and Barakamon. Non Non Biyori is a series that, when at its best, is able to plant one foot both in the mindset and disposition of a child (mainly in the person of the character named Renge) and the rural manner of life and living, doing so in a way that puts one in mind of the Ghibli movies – as done in My Neighbor Totoro or even parts of Kiki’s Delivery Service. What is more, Non Non Biyori is able to convey this in the anime adaptations it has received as well.
Here is a summary of the series: “The slow-paced yet heartwarming life of the four girls in the tiny Asahioka Branch School continues as Natsumi, Komari, Renge, and Hotaru attend school in the one-room schoolhouse that holds only 5 students. Although the laid-back environment and atmosphere is a big change for Hotaru, who came from bustling Tokyo, there’s just something charming and calming about life in the Japanese countryside.” Of these characters Renge is the youngest (in the first grade), while Natsumi and Komari are sisters (Komari being the older) in the 7th and 8th grade respectively. Their older brother (often unmoving and silent when on screen) is in the 9th grade – he is the fifth student. The gentle and refined souled Hotaru is in the 5th grade, but is from a well-off family and totally used to an urban way of life. She is physically mature for her age as well, even sometimes being mistaken for an adult.
For me what makes this series shine first and foremost is the character of Renge (the VA voicing her does an excellent job, by the way). The mangaka (and the anime studio – Silver Link) is really able to bring across a bit of the simplicity, trustingness, wonder and spacey-yet-sharp mind of Renge … although she manifests the latter in weird ways, places and timing. It is not just the children interacting with one another that make the series what it is, it is both the “secondary characters” (in particular the interaction between Renge and “Candystore”) and the continually, lovingly and lavishly animated setting, which is almost strong enough to be a character itself. This is a series that can help to “slow one down”, yes – but it is also a series which can move the viewer if they are already “slowed down” to a degree, just as being in nature can do for many. Season two takes off where season one left off without missing a step – I found myself effortlessly drawn back into the slowly moving, quiet current of the story almost immediately. (As an interesting contrast to this the OP for this series, despite its unusual blend of banjo, electric guitar and nano.RIPE vocals, works really, really well!) Anyway, if you enjoy such material this series (which I am still unsure as to whether or no I will be blogging it) is definitely for you.
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