“Voices cry out through the fear and the dark
As we wait for our lives to be better
The words are dying in the night
No winter lasts forever
The seasons pass and the sunlight will shine
On my life again”
Non Non Biyori is the most pleasant surprise of Fall 2013, acting as a fitting conclusion to a reasonably solid year. The entire anime is a gentle journey through the seasons in rural Japan with a group of friends who grow closer as they spend more time with one another. After the halfway point, summer gives way to autumn and winter, characterised by a colourful autumn foilage and a blizzard worthy of Canada, respectively. The girls make dried persimmons, host a cultural festival, watch the first sunrise of the year, build a snow fort and follow in Les Stroud’s Survivorman tradition of hunting down wild edibles. While these events don’t seem particularly noteworthy, that’s the point: how does the rural Japanese lifestyle feel? Non Non Biyori captures these feelings in a masterful fashion, and the end result is nothing short of impressive. The anime is capable of calming even the most turbulent of minds, and as such, I am inclined to consider it the fall season’s equivalent of Tamayura.
- I’ll kick off the first image in this final reflection with a nice, scenic shot of the Asahigaoka region, which looks gorgeous as always. As a final reflection, I’ll go back to my typical twenty-screenshots-per-post routine. Of course, there is actually much to talk about in the second half of the series.
- On a day when Kazuho doesn’t show up, the girls decide to goof off in a variety of ways, whether it’s by playing Cat’s Cradle, reading manga or making clay sculptures. Natsumi’s reaction to Suguru’s sculpture elicited much comedy from my end: she squashes it after deciding that, in spite of its quality, it is not age-appropriate for Renge.
- Hotaru throws one of the cutest shit fits of all time after she and Renge try to lure a rabbit back into the pen but get outwitted and are themselves trapped. I spent an hour laughing at this scene, and recall that I volunteered to help clean a friend’s rabbit pen during winter break while on vacation. Their previous rabbits loved to be petted, but their new one is far more shy and is content with chewing my boots while I clean the pens.
- I do this too: this is referred to as metonymy, where a concept or entity is referred to as something associated with said concept or entity. In Non Non Biyori, 20-year-old Kaede Kagayama is known as “Candy Store” because she runs a candy store, although her family also runs a ski rental business. Renge proves to be remarkably astute and isn’t one to be easily fooled in some cases, but she still succumbs to some tricks on occasion.
- Non Non Biyori is a journey through the seasons, and by autumn, Komari is seeking out the sort of sentimentalism associated with being an adult. I was reasonably entertained when they brought out CD players and VCRs: these days, even MP3 players and DVDs are outdated, as multi-function smart phones and media servers are the preferred means to listen to music and watch videos, respectively. Technology has changed dramatically in the last ten years, and is unlikely to slow down even though 2013 reports suggest that the giants have stopped innovating.
- Renge’s sketching skills match mine, which is highly impressive. I do pencil-sketches from time to time for personal amusement, although my tendency to procrastinate on my hobbies mean that I only finish drawings at yearly-intervals. In fact, I just finished a sketch today that I had started somewhere back last year.
- While anime tend to intensify the colours in a scene, I have seen skies this blue: last summer, a family trip to the Sinclair Canyon and Kootenay Highway saw mountain skies of most vivid azure.
- While on a hike to a mountain top to see the first sunrise of the year, Kaede recalls when she was asked to take care of a then one-year-old Renge, bringing to mind an instance where I was helping babysit a second cousin, who was, at the time, eight months old. Between helping watch said second cousin and playing Half Life 2, it was a memorable experience.
- Scientific studies have positively correlated cuteness to caregiving: a study conducted in 2009 by Melanie Glocker found that the features associated with babies and small children elicit increased activation in the nucleus accumben (a small section of the brain responsible for motivation and reward behaviours), in turn promoting care-giving behaviours. This is favourable for evolutionary reasons: those who are inclined to care for small children have the better fitness.
I may have a lighter courseload now as I prepare to embark on the next journey in higher education, but that doesn’t mean things are more relaxed. There are applications to complete, letters to sign and documents to acquire. In addition, I still have an obligation to pass my courses. As such, a lighter courseload means any time gained by taking fewer courses would be filled by work from the courses I am taking. On the night before my proteomics exam, I was feeling nervous, despite having studied to the best of my ability. Upon watching Non Non Biyori, said feelings were minimised, and I would later write a solid exam. This is what a good slice-of-life anime is capable of: it doesn’t need to motivate me to do battle or have any thought-provoking elements, but simply providing a universe to immerse myself in and relax is sufficient for an anime to be entertaining and therefore, worth watching.
- A blizzard shuts down rural transit, forcing Renge et al. to spend the night at school. When this episode aired, I was already done my exams, and my city was done digging out of a blizzard that threw transit schedules out of operation two days before my exam. To overcome these limitations, I woke up much earlier and arrived on time to write said exam.
- Renge enjoys a bowl of noodles at school while waiting out the storm. Prior to episode ten, I typically watched episodes on Thursdays, when I had no classes. I spent most Thursdays at home, working on various applications or projects: most of my coursework was done on other days of the week, leaving Thursdays open for tending to other things. As such, I would always save Non Non Biyori for Thursdays, watching it while eating noodles or calzones.
- Of all the anime in the Fall 2013 lineup, Non Non Biyori was the one I looked forward to the most. The other two anime I followed were Coppelion and Infinite Stratos², both of which were unique in their own right but could not be said to be as anticipated as Non Non Biyori.
- I am, by all definitions and semantics, a morning person. I like getting at sunup to start my day, and the latest I usually sleep in is usually nine. Conversely, most of my friends are night-owls. The night beckons to them, the same way it does to the Dark Knight, except the latter works and kicks ass all night. As such, if I am engaged in conversation with said friends, usually, I have to throw in the towel and sleep.
- I’ve only ever gone skiing once, back in January 2012 with my friends from the faculty. After an hours’ worth of crash course training from the experienced skiers, they left to take on the more challenging runs, and one of my friends hung with me while I attempted the “beginner” slopes. Things were going reasonably well, at least until I fell and slid some 200 metres down a hill, Komari-style.
- The plus side is that my friends are rather more qualified at teaching skiing (one of them’s an instructor) compared to Natsumi, so the basic training meant that falling down the hill wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I imagine that more than an hour of training is required before one is ready to take on even a beginner slope, and prior to that, I’d never skied before.
- The girls build a massive snow-house for Hotaru and stick a grill inside it to cook stuff. I was impressed at how well-crafted and ornate it is: one can even see a little snowman sculpture in the back.
- Komari accidentally ends up burning the whole of her bento, but out of courtesy and sheer willpower, Hotaru manages to finish it. There is conflicting research out there as to whether or not consuming burnt foods are carcinogenic; some studies find that the heat that chars food also causes the formation of acrylamide, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are implicated in cancer, while other studies found that these were inconclusive.
- The girls spend the remainder of the episode picking wild edibles in a manner that is reminiscent of Survivorman. While Komari and Natsumi can readily identify the plants that can be eaten, Hotaru is less familiar and is informed that the plants she found is a weed. The identification of edible plants is a skill: in Survivorman, Les Stroud notes that he scouts an area with the locals and learns some basic tips from them before attempting to film his show, so that when he’s filming the show, he can readily identify plants for consumption and fire-starting material.
- Natsumi identifies the Renge flowers, which taste good in tempura or when boiled with soy sauce. Renge’s reaction is immensely endearing: she replies that while she suddenly loves this meadow even more, she became hesitant to eat the flowers. Later, Natsumi creates a faerie costume for Renge from the flowers and leaves. All I can say is that this anime is heart-meltingly sweet and deserves a wide audience.
- At the end of each episode, two of the four main characters bow the viewers out and thank them for watching. In the finale, Natsumi, Renge, Hotaru and Komari bow the audience out, but I’m personally hoping that there will be a second season. I imagine it will be entertaining and as worthy as a sequel as Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ was to Tamayura ~Hitotose~.
When everything is said and done, Non Non Biyori presents its audience with a refreshing take on the slice-of-life genre, making the most of the rural setting to depict the everyday lives of school-aged children. Light-hearted, relaxing and entertaining, I’m positive that viewers can relate to some of the situations the girls find themselves in, whether it be trying to escape chores or meeting a new friend for the first time. Non Non Biyori places all of these events in a beautiful, life-like setting, complete with gorgeous close-ups and a soothing soundtrack. The end product is something that is a must-watch for all anime fans. As a final note, the soundtrack is set for release tomorrow. Naturally, I’ll keep readers posted as a thank-you of sorts for reading here.