Non Non Biyori- First Impressions
October 30, 2013
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In the countryside village of Asahigaoka, a fifth grade elementary school girl named Hotaru Ichijou moves in from the city and transfers into the village’s branch school, which consists of only four other students; a first grader named Renge Miyauchi and three middle school siblings, Natsumi, Komari and Suguru Koshigaya. After school, Renge invites Hotaru and the others to her house, where she shows off her pet tanuki. The next day, the girls take Hotaru to a blooming cherry blossom tree to eat their sakura mochi, though they end up missing the bus home on the way back.
- The Japanese countryside has always held a certain amount of mystique in my eyes. It feels like something magical could happen in the verdant fields under the mountain. The opening scenes of Non Non Biyori depict the local settings in their full glory, and in a three minute span, my heart was won over. These landscapes are accompanied by a peaceful background song, and Renge’s recorder playing.
- I’ll introduce a handful of the characters now for the reader’s benefit and so I get used to typing out their names. To the left is Natsumi Koshigaya, a student in grade 7, and to the right is Renge Miyauchi, who is in grade 1.
- Hotaru Ichijo is a new transfer student fresh from the city, and the instructor is Kazuha Miyauchi, Renge’s older sister and the instructor for their class. I’ve never seen the school house concept in anime before. The last time I saw such a concept in animation, it was from Kevin Gillis’ The Raccoons: there’s a school house that the main cast tries to save in one episode. Set in the Evergreen Forest, just beyond the horizon, the series follows the adventures that Bert Raccoon and his friends go on in their forest.
- I’m guessing this connection with The Raccoons is what gives Non Non Biyori such an appeal: both shows are set in pristine, idyllic settings and feature a cast of interesting characters. The only difference is that one features Japanese voices and was released in 2013, while the other is English-speaking and was aired between 1985 and 1991.
- The short girl to the right is Komari Koshigaya, an eighth-grader who is sensitive about her short stature. The setup at their school means that the girls carry out their studies independently.
- Non Non Biyori is written entirely in Hiragana (のんのんびより). The title itself doesn’t appear to have much meaning on first glance, and although I’m sure there’s more to the title than the gentle curvature of hiragana, I can’t think of anything for the moment, so the title’s meaning will remain a mystery for the present.
- Renge gives off an Azu-nyan/Ushio vibe. In fact, the upper lines to her eyes are often depicted as being very level, mirroring Azusa’s reactions in the K-On! movie to Yui’s antics.
- Horatu and the others enjoy a mochi at the sakura tree on a hill after a short walk. It suddenly crosses my mind that I don’t really have much to say, except that I was very relaxed, and even feeling a little nostalgic when I saw this first episode.
- Around 15 minutes from my place, there’s a lone bench on a hillside. Beyond is a sweeping view of the north-eastern end of the city, and the airport can be seen. On a sunny day, the sky seems to go on forever up there, and I’m content to sit on that bench and take in the sights, watching cars run along on the freeway below or aircraft take off from the airport.
- I think I’ll stop complaining about City Transit now. My buses may come at 30-minute intervals, but buses in the Japanese countryside come once every two hours. Therefore, I’m a little more thankful about having a transit system, even though once the snow comes down, buses could potentially be delayed for two hours.
I see a beautiful setting and a calming, relaxing anime in the Fall 2013 season. I see the lives of a rural family and a new student presented as being peaceful, easy-going, heartwarming and happy. Non Non Biyori is something that was on my list of things that I might watch for the Fall 2013 season, and eventually, became something that I will follow with great interest. The underlying story is straightforward enough: Horaru Ichijou moves into a rural setting and becomes friends with her classmates in her village’s school. In practise, Non Non Biyori feels like Tamayura: it is a very laid-back anime about life in rural Japan with vivid, beautiful graphics. I live around four kilometres from the edge of my city, and a 90 minute drive south brings me into the heart of cattle country. Contrasting the large farms where I am, with their wide open expanses and nearly endless skies framed by the mountains, the Japanese countryside is a landscape of old wooden houses dotted in vast rice fields, rugged mountains, unspoiled rivers and secluded hot springs. This is a side of Japan that most foreigners never see: traditional lifestyles still alive in villages and the people are very friendly. Non Non Biyori captures the near-mythical, dream-like ambiance of rural Japan. It seems that time has stood still in the anime, and as it stands, Non Non Biyori will easily be this season’s go-to anime for relaxing, and I’ll probably do a mid-season impressions, in addition to final impressions, if only to show off some of the beautiful landscapes we are treated to.