The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Non Non Biyori Nonstop Review and Reflection After Three

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” –Lao Tzu

Renge, Hotaru, Komari, Natsumi and Suguru show up to help Kazuho plant tomatoes on a summer’s day. When a mid-day show appears, Natsumi suggests building a greenhouse to keep the seedlings warm after Renge worries about them, and after a day’s work, the greenhouses are fully set up, to Renge’s joy. Later, to help Akane relax around people she’s unfamiliar with, Konomi bring her over on a visit to Komari’s place. After initially worrying, Akane relaxes and helps the others to bake cookies. After a train ride back from the store, Hotaru is humiliated when she learns Konomi had seen her acting child-like with her parents, although Konomi assures her it’s fine to unwind every now and then. However, when Konomi tries to have Hotaru relax in front of her and Komari, Hotaru runs away. On a hot summer’s day, Hikage returns home and runs into Natsumi. However, while playing ball, Natsumi’s stray pitches knocks over and shatters a potted plant. While the girls consider apologising, upon learning that Yukiko isn’t home, Natsumi decides to cover up their misdeed, only for Yukiko to show up as they begin clearing away the mess. Hikage reminisces about how she and Natsumi were always at odds with one another, but in spite of this, would make up shortly after: as children, Hikage carried Natsumi home after the latter had slipped on a slope and scraped her knees. In the present day, Hikage decides to join Natsumi and Natsumi as they head off to play at a fort Natsumi had built years earlier. Here at the quarter-mark to Non Non Biyori Nonstop, the third season has swiftly hit its stride, bringing back memories of what had made the first two seasons so enjoyable: life lessons are presented in a humourous fashion, all the while set in a laid-back countryside setting where peaceful days go on endlessly.

Having now followed Non Non Biyori for upwards of seven years, the similarities between Non Non Biyori and Chibi Maruko-chan, become visible. Both series recount everyday tribulations and lessons that the protagonists might encounter; Chibi Maruko-chan is a manga that ran from 1986 to 2018, and followed a nine year old girl who was inspired by author Momoko Sakura’s own life. Sakura began writing the manga to convey life lessons in a visual format, and things quickly took off, with critics praising the series as being earnest, sincere and nostalgic. Comedy in Chibi Maruko-chan is derived from unfair or ironic situations Maruko and her friends find themselves in, but each episode has a moral that Maruko must learn in order to solve whatever trouble she’s caused, or overcome whatever problem had appeared. Non Non Biyori follows a similar format, and the series’ success is for the same reason Chibi Maruko-chan succeeded: there’s a timelessness about both works that leave their morals and lessons palatable and relatable to viewers. In Non Non Biyori, each episode is a self-contained experience where Hotaru and the others come out with something (e.g. it’s sometimes okay to be childish when one is still young, and friendships prevail even in the face of trouble). Non Non Biyori subtly includes more continuous events to give the sense that time is moving, and Akane’s introduction in Nonstop gives the sense that the flow of time does exist in Non Non Biyori, but this flow is very languid and relaxed, which allows the series to convey its lessons and morals with a hint of nostalgia, similarly to how Chibi Maruko-chan tells its stories.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Kazuho suggests that they’re to be growing green bell peppers (Capsicum annuum), Renge immediately rage quits. There’s actually a neat story behind why bell peppers are universally reviled among Japanese children, to the point of standing in for broccoli and spinach in fiction. Green peppers are a relatively new vegetable in Japan: they were introduced after World War Two and became commonplace by the 1960s. The reason why they’re disliked is for the same reason that North American children dislike broccoli: children’s taste receptors are more sensitive to bitterness as an evolutionary trait (bitterness suggests the presence of alkaloid compounds, some of which are poisonous).

  • Properly prepared broccoli and mature bell peppers are not bitter at all, so I would hazard a guess that a combination of parents not being aware of this and cooking vegetables for their liking, coupled with children’s increased sensitivity to bitterness, are why getting children to eat vegetables is a challenge.  Conversely, when Renge learns they are in fact, growing tomatoes, her excitement returns in full force. Back in my primary school days, one particularly memorable class involved growing bean plants (I believe Phaseolus vulgaris, the common bean), to see how long it would take for the plant to germinate and sprout.

  • After Komari asks Renge to be more mindful of where she should be throwing the dirt, she herself panics upon seeing an earthworm. The comedy in Nonstop is, like the rest of Non Non Biyori, driven by a combination of situational or dramatic irony timed for the moment. Good comedy is the result of creating a situation that is ridiculous or unfair, and then using timing to subvert the viewer’s expectations. In this case, the comedy comes from Komari failing to adhere to her own advice. Humour comes in many forms, and there is a science behind why people laugh at what does not make sense.

  • Once the tomato plants are in the ground and covered with plastic wrap to help them keep warm, Renge wonders if the plants will be alright after an afternoon shower appears and drops the thermometer. Tomatoes typically require temperatures between 13°C and 24°C to develop, and given that Asahigaoka is probably in a warmer part of Japan (as evidence by the blisteringly hot summers), I imagine that greenhouses won’t really be needed to keep the tomato plants happy during the middle of summer. Of course, farmers will construct greenhouses so they can protect their crops and extend the growing season, and doing so gives Renge peace of mind.

  • After a full afternoon’s effort, the greenhouses are finally ready, and Renge is ecstatic that the tomato plants will be protected from the elements. Coming from the Solanum lycopersicum plant, tomatoes originate from Central and South America. Spanish explorers eventually brought the plant back to Europe in the 16th century, and since then, has become widespread. The age old question of whether or not tomatoes count as a fruit or vegetable is easily answered: tomatoes are technically berries owing to the fact that they’re a fleshy body containing seeds (whereas vegetables refer to the leaves or stems, rather than the fleshy seed-bearing part of a plant).

  • Renge’s boundless curiosity and non sequitors makes her a popular character in Non Non Biyori: through her, viewers get to revisit a world defined by endless wonder and possibility. While Non Non Biyori‘s rural setting creates nostalgia and a longing for simpler times, the characters’ naïveté and innocence also brings back memories of simpler times one had as children. In retrospect, I am a very nostalgic person, and while thinkers of old count this as a bad thing, looking to and considering the past is helpful both for getting through tougher times, as well as looking to the past and understanding it to better deal with the future.

  • Especially evident in anime set in the inaka are the fact that houses have floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that oftentimes open directly outside. Where I’m from, these would be impractical, snice the winters are bitterly cold, and such doors would allow a lot of heat to escape our homes. Conversely, the warm climate of Asahigaoka means that such doors reduce the gap between man and nature. It is here that Konomi introduces Akane to Natsumi, Komari and Hotaru. After a rough start, Akane slowly becomes familiar in with this group of friends, although she mistakes Hotaru for a peer because of how mature-looking Hotaru is.

  • The girls eventually decide to bake some cookies to break the ice, and here, Akane really starts to settle in, giving the others instructions on how to prepare the dough. Suguru’s lack of presence makes a brief appearance here to drive comedy: when the girls run out of sugar, Suguru steps in and helps them locate the bag, but since his presence is probably at the same level as Yuru Yuri‘s Akane Akaza, the others begin to think their kitchen is haunted, with stuff moving around of its own accord. In spite of this, the cookies get done, and Akane comes away a little more comfortable with people she’d just met.

  • After coming home from a shopping trip, Hotaru implores her parents to allow her some sweets before dinner. Dropping her usually composed manner, she acts as one might expect someone of her age to. Non Non Biyori Repeat presented to viewers how Hotaru is at home, and it was absolutely heartwarming to behold. I’d always wondered what would happen should any one of Hotaru’s friends had witnessed this, and Nonstop gives viewers their answer. It appears that the Ichijōs are returning back from the Hiyori mall, which Hotaru had visited with the others during the events of Vacation.

  • There is an indescribable adorableness about Hotaru after she realises the jig is up, and that Konomi’s bore full witness to how she acts whilst with her parents. As this dawns upon her, Hotaru’s face turns beet red. Fortunately for Hotaru, Konomi happens to be very understanding of the situation (one imagines that Natsumi and Komari would be a little less mature about things), and introduces herself to Hotaru’s parents.

  • Non Non Biyori‘s setting was well-chosen: stills of the scenery around Asahigaoka are beautiful, and when the moment calls for it, can be cleverly applied to create a visual break. Timing is everything in comedy, and by pulling the camera back to frame the entire scene with the mountains, train station and railway line, viewers are given a moment to take in what’s happened. Non Non Biyori Repeat suggested that Hotaru would be embarrassed past words should this have gotten out, so giving some time and space for viewers to process this prepares them for the humour after.

  • After their meeting, Hotaru’s parents seem perfectly unconcerned with things and allows Hotaru to chill with Konomi, as long as the former is back home on time for dinner. To assuage Hotari’s worries, Konomi explains that Hotaru’s behaviour isn’t all that unusual, and indicates that Komari was also once like that. Even without having a dedicated flashback, Nonstop is able to paint a vivid picture of the characters: it is not difficult at all to imagine Komari as a crybaby of sorts, and even now, despite her efforts to be reliable, circumstance occasionally undermines her.

  • For Konomi, I believe that surprise at seeing a younger, more immature but adorable side to Hotaru also prompts her to wonder if she might be able to look out for Hotaru. Things get to be a little much when they arrive at Komari’s place, and Komari wonders if Hotaru would like a lap pillow. This is, of course, taking things a bit far: for viewers, dramatic irony arises since we know that Hotaru has a crush of sorts on Komari, and the resulting reaction was not outside the realm of what’s expected. The next day, Konomi decides to apologise to Hotaru for taking things too far, preferring to let Hotaru be herself around everyone.

  • I know for a fact that grown men and women both morph into babbling puddles in the presence of something kyute, so Hotaru’s pampering of her Shiba Inu does not seem unusual or embarrassing in any way at all (Konomi’s reaction notwithstanding). A positive reaction to cute things is a part of our evolution, and while Homo Sapiens might have found a way to characterise what we’re feeling, it appears that other mammals demonstrate similar traits, recognising baby animals of other species as someone to instinctively look after.

  • The last time Hikage showed up would’ve been Vacation; in the movie, I felt that Hikage got the short end of the stick after the flight to Okinawa left her with ear barotrauma. Throughout Non Non Biyori, Hikage oftentimes gets humiliated when she tries to act as though she’s knowledgeable in all things related to urban lifestyles, and over time, I began to pity her character. Nonstop gives the series a chance to show more to Hikage’s character, and in this third season, her story starts after she returns home for the summer.

  • Within the first few minutes of the third episode, Natsumi’s antics result in a potted plant being destroyed. While common sense dictates apologising, it takes some time for Natsumi to reach this conclusion despite Hikage’s insistence that this is the only thing to do. Hikage, however, has her doubts, fearing that she’ll suffer too if they’re too honest about what happens. In reality, being straight would probably be the best course of action, and initially, this is what the pair settle on doing.

  • However, with Yukiko nowhere in sight, Natsumi wonders if it would be better for her to conceal all evidence that anything had happened, taking the worst possible route for them (but better for the viewer, who will no doubt laugh at the ensuing chaos). Here, Natsumi and Hikage walk past the living room: a fan’s been placed out, and the sky is of a deep shade of blue, speaking to the heat. Anime typically convey hot days by rendering skies as having a very vivid colour, and pairing this with the sound of cicadas. Through sight and sound alone, the sense of warmth is immediately apparent in a scene within anime.

  • A glance at this still makes it apparent that it’s a hot, pleasant day; it’s a far cry from the -15°C that it’s been where I am. While January has been very mild insofar, yesterday, the cold began returning to my region, and with the wind-chill, it feels like -20°C. The skies are a moody grey, and today, it’s been the sort of day to remain inside. Of course, this hasn’t stopped us from warming up with a much-welcomed take-out dinner from are go-to Chinese restaurant. As the snow rolled in and the thermometer plummeted, we sat down to old favourites: sweet and sour pork chops with peaches and mayonnaise, stir-fried chicken, seafood and crispy egg tofu in a clay pot, stir-fried Chinese broccoli and seafood, and 小炒皇 (jyutping siu2 caau2 wong4, a kind of stir-fry made with various meats, seafood, vegetables and topped with peppers for extra flavour).

  • While Yukiko is presented as being very hard on Natsumi, this is actually a consequence of caring for Natsumi: while she’d set off to pick up some rice crackers at Kaede’s candy store, she ends up buying a bit more than expected. However, this isn’t really a problem – Suguru, Komari and Natsumi would have no trouble going through snacks. At their age, while I was okay with snacks, I typically didn’t really eat them often outside of afternoon tea, and eventually developed a preference for the foods one has during a proper sit-down meal: I’ve always been okay foregoing snacks or afternoon tea to save room for dinner.

  • Of course, the peace is shattered when Yukiko comes home and overhears Natsumi say that the evidence is now sufficiently buried. As an observer, Hikage could’ve probably done a better job of convincing Natsumi to simply be truthful, but this would diminish the humour and furthermore, it would prevent the next part of the episode from progressing. In the aftermath, both get a stern talking to, and Hikage recalls that for as long as she’s known Natsumi, she’s been getting in trouble with Natsumi. In a flashback, Hikage remember a hot summer’s day from long ago, when she’d run into Natsumi on a lonely dirt path.

  • After Natsumi gives Hikage the implements for a makeshift Sentai costume (made from a towel and laundry basket), the two briefly play pretend. Natsumi is a bit speedier than Natsumi at this point, and in frustration, Natsumi kicks her in the shins before taking off. Hikage is unable to catch up and ultimately gives up on chasing after her. It typifies the sort of play that children might get into, acting without much thought for the consequences.

  • Hikage later runs into Natsumi and Konomi, who’ve got popsicles. Natsumi offers Hikage half of hers, which is of the variety that can split, but it melts on account of the heat. Silence created by space and time can often speak volumes about how a character is feeling, and no words are needed to convey to us how Hikage is feeling in this instance: Hikage’s disappointment and dejection is tangible, and as writers are fond of saying, this is what’s consider a “loud silence”.

  • The next day, Hikage decides not to hang out with Natsumi after school, and decides to go browse around at a shop instead; she’s still a little sore about what happened the day before. Nonstop follows in Repeat‘s footsteps, interposing flashbacks in episodes to explore the characters’ experiences when they were younger. There are, of course, moments during one’s childhood or in the past that are relevant even in the present day, and this flashback was meant to show how despite clashing, when the chips are down, Hikage does care about Natsumi: these flashbacks serve to show how learnings from the characters’ past apply in the present.

  • While Hikage had gone to a shop elsewhere, Natsumi decides to take a shortcut to her fort, but slips down a slope and scrapes her knees. She winds up being stranded, unable to move on account of the pain and from being lost. When Hikage returns, she runs into Yukiko, who is worried about Natsumi, who hasn’t come home yet. Hikage agrees to help search for her, and quickly deduces that she’s probably near the fort. Even during such a moment, the artwork in Nonstop is top-tier: beams of sunlight stream through the forest canopy.

  • As it turns out, Hikage was right on the money. Natsumi tears up, but Natsumi decides to carry her back home. It was a nice touch to give Natsumi such a moment, reinforcing the idea that despite the trouble Natsumi causes, Hikage and the others will always be there for her. With experiences such as these, one might wonder why Natsumi isn’t more thoughtful or respectful towards Hikage, but I would imagine that at her present age, Natsumi is still very much driven by the moment, impulsive, and so, when she acts, she doesn’t really have a care for the consequences.

  • I would imagine that Hikage accompanies Natsumi partially out of a wish to keep her out of trouble, even if it means Natsumi’s antics continue dragging the pair of them into hot water periodically. This is what lends itself to the episode title, and I believe that this is the first time in Non Non Biyori that’s been focused on the dynamics between Natsumi and Hikage. Like all slice-of-life series, there isn’t really a limit to how much Non Non Biyori can do with its characters. Assuming a total of nine regular characters, using combinatorics finds that there could be a total of 511 possible stories.

  • Then, assuming a total of 2.5 stories per episode, one could potentially have around 204 episodes of Non Non Biyori, all featuring different combinations of characters. To show the work for readers, I use the expression, Σ(r, i=1) C(n, r), to evaluate this. We can quickly determine that for n = 9 (i.e. nine central characters) and 1 ≤ r ≤ 9 (minimum group size of 1, and maximum of 9), evaluating the expression yields 511. Like Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?, the large number of characters means that the number of stories that could be told, just through different character groups alone, is already large. When different stories are added on top of this, the possibilities are endless.

  • With this memory, Hikage recalls why she hangs out with Natsumi at all, and their earlier disagreement is quietly discarded. It’s another beautiful day, and the azure skies under Asahigaoka are most inviting of adventure. Lens flare from the sunlight further accentuates this, and while Hikage initially feels that it’s too hot to do anything, it turns out that Renge’s invited Natsumi over. Stills of the countryside are shown, indicating to viewers that Hikage is definitely open towards some adventure on this day.

  • With my quarterly Nonstop post in the books, I will be returning at the halfway point to further cover this series: as I’d previously remarked, Non Non Biyori is one of those series where episodic reviews could prove quite tricky to write for unless one were an uncommonly observant reviewer. This series has always offered something noteworthy to talk about (from things like tomatoes to combinatorics, but it’s really the sum of all these individual moments that really make Non Non Biyori something special. Nonstop has, insofar, lived up to its name of offering nonstop comedy, and I am looking forwards to seeing what’s covered in the upcoming episodes.

When I was younger, Chibi Maruko-chan was the première show to watch on Saturday evenings: I used to have a large number of VCDs with the show in Cantonese dub, and in retrospect, the Cantonese dub did a solid job of conveying what was happening in every episode: through situational and dramatic irony, Chibi Maruko-chan left viewers to form their own conclusions about what each episode entailed, and this level of engagement helps to accentuate a particular idea. It is therefore praise to compare Non Non Biyori with Chibi Maruko-chan : the countryside setting and beautiful visuals of Non Non Biyori seem far removed from the simpler art style and Shizuoka setting of Chibi Maruko-chan, but beyond these initial differences, both series excels with their respective stories. This is why I’ve found Non Non Biyori to be enjoyable, as each episode gives viewers plenty to laugh at. From the dialogue, to visual humour and use of timing to set up jokes, Nonstop continues in the manner of its predecessors to deliver a heart-warming and hilarious experience. Now that we are past the third episode, it is reasonable to suggest that Nonstop will be a consistently enjoyable experience as we move into later episodes, and moreover, even after something like a movie, Nonstop has had no trouble easing back into the languid, casual pacing that characterises life in Asahigaoka, rather similarly to how one reacquaints themselves with routine following a vacation of their own.

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