Let’s face it. Anime is thought of by many in the States as cartoons, and cartoons in the U.S. are synonymous with kids, but most anime really isn’t appropriate for a child audience. However, once in a while, I come across a series that I CAN recommend to younger viewers, and the slice of life comedy Non Non Biyori is one of them.
When Hotaru Ichijo transfers from a school in bustling Tokyo to a tiny school in a quiet countryside village, she should be experiencing major culture shock. After all, there are only three other girls in the school, and none of them are even in the same grade as her. But adjusting isn’t too hard for Hotaru thanks to first grader Renge and the Koshigaya sisters, Natsumi and Komari, who are in the seventh and eighth grade respectively.
Even though it takes 20 minutes by bicycle to get to the only place that sells comics and the video store is 10 train stations away, there’s something about the laid-back lifestyle that makes her feel right at ease. It’s a big change from the big city, but there are still plenty of new adventures to look forward to as Hotaru learns that home really is where the heart is.
Many anime titles categorized under “Slice of Life” are a bit of a stretch. Crunchyroll’s Slice of Life listings include Polar Bear Café and Moyashimon, neither of which falls remotely close to my definition of the genre. But even if your Slice of Life universe includes talking bears, I think we can all agree that Non Non Biyori lies safely within that category.
The series, comprised of twelve 25-minute episodes, follows four girls in a countryside village over the course of a year. The story opens with fifth-grader Hotaru Ichijo’s first day at school. She recently moved from Tokyo because of her father’s job, and she’s instantly in for a culture shock. The population’s so small that the entire school body, including her, is a mere five students.
This school definitely doesn’t suffer clique struggles, not with everyone in a different grade, ranging from 1st to 9th. It’s a given that they all have to be friends, and although their temperaments vary widely, they are a close-knit group. At least the girls are. Ninth grader Suguru is the only boy and his lack of spoken lines is a running joke. He’s also brother to the two girls old enough to date so romance doesn’t really factor into this anime. As such, Non Non Biyori focuses mainly on how the girls entertain themselves out in the sticks.
So no superpowers, aliens, espionage, or fate-of-the-world-depends-on-it elements. The anime moves slowly, like My Neighbor Totoro slow. The opening segment for Episode 1 is a couple minutes of the village’s fields, mountains, flowers, and waterways sans dialogue. The depiction of this scenery is gorgeous but not much is happening. If you need explosions or magical transformation sequences to hold your attention, Non Non Biyori will likely put you to sleep. Even so, the anime holds its own charm. Most contemporary anime take place in urban or suburban settings so it offers a different aspect of Japan. Watching characters dry persimmons for eight minutes might be boring for some, but my husband and I, who have a great interest in the lives of ordinary Japanese folk, found it fascinating.
Fortunately for us foreigners (and probably many Japanese urbanites), Hotaru provides a natural way for the characters to highlight things mundane to rural folk but unusual to city dwellers. It also works the other way around. In one scene, Hotaru unintentionally outclasses her seventh grade sempai Komari on the topics of music and fashion.
Although the series starts with Hotaru’s perspective, it shifts such that all girls get a turn. The eccentric first grader Renge gives a sense of what it’s like to grow up without peers when another first grader visits for the summer and abruptly leaves. Rowdy Natsumi and diminutive Komari are sisters, and their episodes center around how members of a large country family annoy one another. The rural setting also has a definite presence as characters respond to the seasons, from partaking in spring planting to getting snowed in overnight at school.
For the most part, it’s goofy kiddie antics at a laid-back pace, which is why I’m surprised at its PG rating. There’s no swearing or violence. The closing credits show the girls in the tub together, but there’s no actual nudity. Animals don’t get carted off to the slaughterhouse like in Silver Spoon. Hotaru does have a kind of crush on Komari, which manifests as a massive Komari-plushy collection, but I’d label it more innocent adoration than yuri.
Non Non Biyori is a slice of life comedy that provides a real taste of the country. With an entire half episode devoted to a walk to the candy store and lengthy segments devoted to mountain valley scenery, it certainly moves at a country pace. Watching five kids throw Japan’s most underwhelming cultural festival might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Non Non Biyori does possess its own flavor of simple, innocent fun.
Japanese 2.0, English subtitles, clean opening and closing animation, and promos for other Sentai Filmworks anime
First published at The Fandom Post.