Non Non Biyori

Non Non Biyori

20140510-142508.jpg

In a quiet village deep in rural Japan is a place far away from hustle and bustle, traffic, and commercial stores. At first glance, you would think that there is nothing around for kids to do. You would be wrong.

Hotaru Ichijo has moved from Tokyo to attend the sleepy (or at least the teacher is) village school of Asahigaoka Branch School, which has so few pupils (merely four) that they all study in the same classroom. There’s young Renge and the three siblings Komari, Natsumi and Suguru. Non Non Biyori is the story of their everyday life living deep in the Japanese countryside.

As soon as it began, I knew that there was something special about Non Non Biyori. It was very stripped-back and carefree, set in the rural countryside. There’s no wild comedy moments or gratuitous fan-service, but is very honest in its approach and remains compelling and heartwarming until the end. It celebrates living ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and the everyday events of the main characters are very endearing.

20140510-142215.jpgSome ‘slice of life’ animes, because of their content, tend to not have much of anything interesting going on. Other ones realise that watching a ‘slice of life’ anime can be dull, and try to compensate with ridiculous story lines and stereotypically exaggerated characters. Non Non Biyori is very true to itself and walks the line between the two extremes very well – lively characters is a realistic setting that is almost reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film.

What really worked about Non Non Biyori, and what made such a realistic anime so interesting, was all the quirks of village life. They would be perfectly natural to anyone living in the countryside, but to so many they’d be unheard of – such as an unattended roadside stall for vegetables where you took what you wanted and just dropped the money in the box; a single bus that comes through the village once a day; and the only shop being a small sweet shop barely maintained by a shopkeeper.

20140510-142252.jpgThere is a sense of nostalgia about Non Non Biyori (even if you’ve never been to rural Japan). The scenery is beautiful, the pace is slow in the leisurely sense, not the boring sense, and there is a lot going on with the characters and their ideas – out exploring in a way that kids rarely have the chance to do and just celebrating life minus the slapstick comedy and pop-culture references. The fact that an episode can base itself around everyday mundane events and make them so watchable is a big testament to how great the writing is here. There is a particular scene where the youngest girl, Renge, plus her sisters (and the local shopkeeper, Kaede) walk up the hills to see the first sunrise of the New Year. This is spliced with flashback scenes that tell the story of Kaede babysitting Renge when she was younger and how they bonded. Everything is very well put together.

20140510-142237.jpgThe anime itself is only twelve episodes long, and this works well in the sense that it leaves us wanting more. Non Non Biyori is one of my favourite shows from last season and I hope to see more. Judging by its popularity in Japan, this is definitely a possibility.