“Every time you find some humour in a difficult situation, you win.” –Charles M. Schulz
On a hot summer’s day, the tomatoes that Renge and the others had planted ripen, and she decides to give some to everyone as summer Santa of sorts. Along the way, Renge runs into a little girl who’s lost and offers her a tomato, before promising to take her to the nearest police kiosk. Renge learns that this little girl’s name is Shiori, and she happens to be the daughter of the local police officer. In thanks, Shori addresses Renge as onee-chan. Inspired, Renge later picks up a pair of toy handcuffs at Kaede’s candy store, but accidentally leaves Kaede locked up after they play around. Shiori joins Renge in helping to ‘arrest’ Natsumi and Hikage, but when Shiori becomes tired and falls asleep, Renge tries her best to be an older sister. As the summer wears on, Hotaru constructs a robot for her summer project, programming it to walk around and adding a Komari plushie covering. However, when the robot escapes and wanders around the village, Akane runs into it after a misunderstanding results in her coming over to Konomi’s house on the wrong day. Akane decides to cover her error by suggesting she’d come to hang out with Renge instead and ends up trying to elude Konomi and Natsumi. When Akane recounts her story to Hotaru and Komari, Komari becomes convinced that there’s a curse floating around, while Hotaru is too embarrassed to admit that Akane had run into her summer project. Kazuho invites everyone to go camping, and after a relaxing day, Kazuho’s knocked back a few too many. When Natsumi and Renge go hunting for rhinoceros beetle, a still-drunk Kazuho heads off after them, but in the dark of the forest, is mistaken for an onryō. Komari faints from shock after Kazuho returns to their tent. With summer vacation drawing to a close soon after, Natsumi and Hikage attempt to put off their homework, but guilt-ridden, both decide it’s better to make one final push and get everything done ahead of the new term in September.
Halfway into Non Non Biyori Nonstop, it is evident that this third season is living up to its name, Nonstop: each episode has consistently featured nonstop humour resulting from a combination of comedy of errors, and dramatic irony. However, beyond amusement, Nonstop has also taken time to have the characters maturing over time, and present gentle lessons, as well: when Renge meets and helps Shiori return to her father, she discovers the joys of being called onee-chan, which signifies being looked up to and seen as someone who is reliable. Akane’s misadventures come from her being too anxious to be open about making a mistake, and what would’ve been something that would’ve otherwise seen a swift resolution transform into a chase through the forests near Asahigaoka. Similarly, Hotaru’s inability to be truthful about the mechanised Komari plushie leads Akane and Komari to speculate, with increasing fervour, what Akane might’ve seen. When Hikage and Natsumi lapse into their old ways surrounding the matter of homework, chaos results as the two try to reconcile with what they want to do, versus what they know is the right thing to do. Underlying all of the humour in Nonstop is a relevant moral, which mirrors the sorts of challenges that children may face. Viewers of the show are undoubtedly reminded of similar mishaps and misadventures in their childhood; these events, seemingly irreconcilable and world-ending back then, are now something that comes across as quite funny once our perspective’s shifted a little. This striking balance between telling a meaningful story and presenting comical situations that the characters find themselves in has something that Non Non Biyori has always done well, and by Nonstop, having established the main characters’ traits, has really been able to explore new scenarios.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Nonstop continually finds ways to impress and entertain: through the eyes of Renge, the world is an endless opportunity for adventure and discovery. This is where my fondness of slice-of-life series come from, and of the series I’ve seen, Non Non Biyori particularly excels with its ability to create humour through situational, dramatic and verbal irony. Here, Renge holds a tomato up to the sun to admire it, and it appears as though she’s offering the first ripe tomato back to the land as thanks for having made their harvest possible.
- With a solid crop of tomatoes ready for harvest, Renge decides to walk around town and give everyone a tomato as thanks for helping out setting things up earlier. Renge envisions herself as a summer Santa of sorts, and while the jolly fellow with the red suit and snow-white beard might seem as far removed from summer as imaginable, Renge’s vivid imagination means that for her, anything that can be considered is fair game. Her innocence and naïveté mirrors the boundless wonder in a child’s mind, and while as adults, our imaginations are blunted from years of considering things from more practical and pragmatic standpoints, I feel that people can still appreciate the train of thought that children take towards different things.
- On her walk, Renge runs into a child even younger than herself; it turns out this is Shiori, and she’s lost. While Renge is only slightly older than Shiori, she does demonstrate maturity beyond her years. Shiori only knows that she’s lost, but doesn’t know where her house is, and when she realises the situation she’s in, bursts into a fresh round of tears. This leaves Renge with little to work with, but Renge’s strength has always been creativity. She decides to give Shiori a tomato from her garden, feeling it to be the next best thing to sweets.
- The refreshing, juicy tomato helps Shiori to regroup, and Renge falls back on something that I’m sure Kazuho would’ve told her: if ever lost, the local police officer might be of assistance. With this in mind, Renge decides to take Shiori to the police kiosk, confident that the officer there will be able to help Shiori get in touch with her parents and get back home. Children can be surprisingly creative when it comes to solving problems, opting for simple but effective solutions even adults may occasionally overlook. Non Non Biyori has always excelled in this area, and for this reason, never fails to put a smile on my face.
- In a bit of irony, it turns out the police officer happens to be Shiori’s father, as well. This turn of events is probably meant to accentuate the fact that Asahigaoka is a very small village, to the extent where everyone knows everyone. Police kiosks are known as kōban (交番) in Japan – these are small offices that police officers work out of in areas where it is not necessary to have a full on police station, and as Non Non Biyori presents, officers are also responsible for providing directions, acting as a lost and found and connecting with emergency services on top of law enforcement. Many translations put kōban as a “police box”, but this has nothing to do with the dedicated call boxes for getting in touch with police that are commonly found in Britain.
- In Non Non Biyori‘s first season, Renge has a chance encounter with Honoka Ishikawa, and the two quickly became fast friends. However, when Honoka leaves at the end of summer, Renge was visibly saddened, at least until she received a letter from Honoka, who promises they’ll be able to hang out again next summer. This time around, since Shiori also is a resident of Asahigaoka, Renge won’t run into that particular hurdle, and one wonders if Honoka will return in the future to hang out with everyone.
- Excited by the sort of work that police officers do, Renge ends up purchasing a pair of plastic handcuffs from Kaede with her New Year’s money. While playing around with them, Renge accidentally locks Kaede up and is unable to find the keys to unlock them. While Kaede considers brute-forcing her way out, she also understands what the toy handcuffs mean to Renge, and the two attempt to find a solution, to no avail. Things get more complicated when Natsumi shows up, and Kaede’s initial inclination is to conceal the situation with a towel, which promptly fails.
- Despite being considerably older than Natsumi, Kaede is not immune to Natsumi’s antics and often resorts to physical force to express her displeasure. Kaede’s fears quickly come to pass as Natsumi decides to exploit the situation and tickle Kaede, supposedly in revenge for kicking her down a hill during their ski trip back in season one. Once things settle down a little, Natsumi reveals that there’s a switch on the handcuffs that cause them to release. In revenge for earlier, Kaede has Renge “arrest” Natsumi and then proceeds to tickle Natsumi silly. Because of this mention of season one’s ski trip, I am able to conclude that Nonstop is indeed a continuation of the events seen in season one: one of my readers suggested that Non Non Biyori employs a floating timeline in which characters never age and is therefore timeless.
- However, I would contend that events of Non Non Biyori are simply so slowly-paced that time appears to stand still. At the end of the day, this is a matter of semantics, and one that does not impact the series’ ability to deliver its themes. One aspect of Non Non Biyori I’m particularly fond of, and which makes a return in Nonstop, are the beautiful landscape shots of the satoyama (里山) in and around Asahigaoka. Careful inspection of these scenes often find the characters walking about the dense vegetation in Asahigaoka, speaking to Silver Link’s capabilities in animation.
- While inaka (田舎) is used to describe the rural parts of Japan outside of a major urban centre, satoyama specifically refers to the interface between the farmer’s fields and foothills of Japan. For centuries, farmers have cultivated this land in harmony with nature, creating a very unique (and highly sustainable) ecosystem that forms the backdrop for Non Non Biyori. When Renge next runs into Shiori, she invites Shiori over to hang out. They run into Hikage and Natsumi, and things escalate after Renge figures it’s time to soak the pair for their “crimes”. Although Hikage and Natsumi are able to talk their way out of a soaking, situational irony results when the two get soaked anyways.
- Nonstop can change gears at the drop of a hat: Shiori soon tires out from the excitement and becomes sleepy. Renge does her best to carry her upstairs into a futon where she may rest, while the others make to call her father for a pickup. Renge’s determination here shows that she appreciates being seen as reliable, and she wants to be there for Shiori, much as how her family and friends are always there for her. It’s a touching moment, and one hopes that Shiori will make at least a few more appearances before Nonstop concludes.
- Hotaru’s summer project entails using a do-it-yourself robotics kit to put together a bot that can walk, play pre-recorded messages and change directions in response to obstacles. A handful of viewers expressed surprise that Hotaru was able to put something like this together without too much effort, but in reality, things like programmable robotics and LEGO Mindstorms have made it possible to do some very impressive stuff without requiring too extensive a knowledge on electrical or software engineering. Mindstorms uses a very similar approach as MIT’s Scratch, presenting users with a visual programming language that can be used to create intricate routines without being demanding on the user. As such, the sky is the limit for these tools, and it’s not terribly surprising that Hotaru is able to get her robot set up in very little time.
- Pecchi is initially hostile towards the mechanised Komari plushie, but once it’s clear that the mechanised plushie is harmless, leaves it alone. Unfortunately for Hotaru, she’s accidentally left the power switch in the on position – the mechanised Komari plushie manages to slip through an open window and, without instructions or instruments to define a binding box that keeps it in a certain boundary, goes on a wild adventure through Asahigaoka. It is a shame that Hotaru didn’t hook a camera or GoPro to this plushie, as the resulting adventure is quite noteworthy.
- After leaving home, the mechanised Komari plushie wanders into the woods, fords a creek and is picked up by a bird that subsequently drops it. Despite sustaining impact damage and becoming waterlogged, the robot manages to keep running even after all of the abuse it’s taken. It typifies Non Non Biyori‘s ability to convey humour even without dialogue or characters, and the fifth episode’s segment with the plushie had me smiling the entire way. Of course, all jokes grow stale after a while, so Nonstop changes the pacing up by turning the viewer’s attention over to Akane’s misfortune.
- In any other scenario, it would’ve been simpler to have Akane be forwards with Konomi about having gotten the dates mixed up. However, doing that would prevent what was one of the best setups to a joke in recent memory. Akane’s anxiety means she’s unable to will herself to face Konomi, so instead, she’s left quivering in front of Konomi’s place. Renge soon finds her, and Akane decides to chill with Renge. However, playing with Renge can be an out-of-this-world experience, since she’s got such a unique outlook on things; even hopscotch becomes a high-energy activity.
- When Konomi and Natsumi appears, Akane’s put into a bit of a bind: she hides in the shrubs in the hopes that Konomi and Natsumi might move on. However, Akane leaves a visible impression in the bushes that lead Konomi and Natsumi to believe there’s an animal trail worth following. Feeling that she’s out of option, Akane cheeses it. The noise she makes prompts Konomi, Natsumi and Renge to take off into the bush.
- Akane ends up tripping, and after she explains things, it did turn out that there was no misunderstanding. Akane ends up practising with Konomi earlier than expected, but beyond this, no other trouble occurred. The use of time and spacing in Non Non Biyori is highly effective in creating humour, and numerous moments suggest to viewers that things become ludicrous the more we are given time to step back and think about it. When things are happening too quickly, the impact is diminished because there is no time to take everything in. Nonstop particularly excels with using visual breaks to really drive home to viewers what’s happened.
- In the excitement of Akane’s misadventures, thoughts of the mechanised Komari plushie would’ve been pushed to the back of viewers’ minds. After the day draws to a close, however, Akane finds herself face-to-face with Hotaru’s creation, which greets her with Hotaru’s pre-recorded message. The scene immediately cuts away, and Hotaru is later shown to have retrieved her mechanised plushie, hoping no one’s seen her. Use of timing her makes it clear to viewers that the opposite is true, but moreover, the mechanised Komari plushie is far more resilient than anyone could have expected. It isn’t until this point where the enormity of the moment sinks in, which, coupled with knowledge of what previously happened, make things additionally hilarious.
- The remainder of the fifth episode has Akane and Hotaru meeting up with Komari to chat, and while things start out normally enough, Akane’s story transforms the conversation into a fright-fest. Komari’s particularly afraid of all things supernatural, while Hotaru’s entire experience during these moments is one of abjact terror at being found out. Again, this is a moment where being forwards would’ve averted a great deal of trouble, but then, there’d be nothing to laugh at. In the end, Hotaru’s secret is safe for another day, and Komari gives her some salt to ward off evil spirits: like the Chinese, Japanese people believe that salt is a cleansing agent capable of absorbing misfortune.
- The sixth episode to Nonstop is a camping episode: summer vacation is rapidly drawing to a close, and Kazuho takes her students camping before term starts. Unlike Yuru Camp△, however, I’ve not bothered doing a location hunt for this series because its location is fictitious. Asahigaoka Branch School is based off a real school in Ogawa, Saitama, but the remainder of the series is set in an undisclosed location, much like how the place where Calvin and Hobbes takes place is never specified. Of course, there are guesses, and much as how some folks speculate Calvin and Hobbes is set in Ohio, it is possible that Asahigaoka is modelled after a town somewhere in Saitama prefecture.
- Renge is excited beyond words upon recalling that everyone’s set to go camping together, and a glance at the calendar that Kazuho is referencing finds that August 25, the date of their trip, falls on a Wednesday. The Japanese calendar somewhat resembles the Chinese ones, although the lunar equivalent dates underneath the date itself are replaced kanji underneath, which are supposed to indicate the luck for that day. These calendars are known as Rokuyō, and it appears that Kazuho’s planned a trip out for a day marked shakkō (赤口, or “good luck between 11 AM and 1 PM, with poor luck everywhere else). The best luck comes on days marked taian (大安), and butsumetsu (仏滅) days have the worst luck.
- A quick glance at my calendar shows that the year is either 2010 or 2021, with 2010 being more likely, given this is when Non Non Biyori began running. Shortly after arriving at the campsite, Kazuho and her students begin setting up their tent. Renge is particularly curious about the pegs, and Natsumi helps to show how to hammer them into the ground in a gentle fashion, the same way Rin handles the hammering of her pegs in Yuru Camp△. That Nonstop and Yuru Camp△ have been running together this season has made it a time to really kick back and relax: my peers have been engaged with shows that are rather more exciting and action-packed than both Nonstop and Yuru Camp△, but I continue to hold that my favourite shows of a given season involve a more ordinary experience.
- Speaking with my peers in the community, I’ve become somewhat known for my love for anime with the moé aesthetic, to the point where folks wonder if I’m actively following every show with cute girls in it, every season. My response to this is that I pick and choose shows to watch based not on the aesthetic, but rather, the premise. However, it so happens that many of the anime with premises up my alley also happen to have the moé aesthetic to it. Having said this, I do have a fondness for this style of art and presentation, and while I may not be watching each and every show in a given season for the aesthetic, I am always open to suggestions.
- With it being the Family Day long weekend, I’ve been able to kick back a little and relax today. The temperatures, while still frigid (today’s high was -15°C, with a wind-chill of -24°C), was considerably warmer than it had been all week, making it finally possible to take a short walk around the area. Traditionally, the Family Day long weekend sees me headed off to window-shop at a local mall, but with the current circumstances, it felt more prudent to sleep in and then take the day slowly. It’s a nice change of pace, allowing me to read books and write at a much slower pace.
- Long weekends also mean being able to sit down to fancier meals: I sat down to a homemade burger and bistro fries for lunch, and for dinner, we ended up making a tender and juicy sirloin roast with shrimp cocktail for dinner. Back in Nonstop, as evening sets in, Kazuho and the students break out the barbeque grill: on the menu are a variety of fresh vegetables, skewered fish, meat and rice. While the others dig in, Kazuho kicks back with the remainder of the beer: here, she’s still fine, but having solo’d a six pack on her own, Kazuho soon begins to feel the effects. Unlike Sayaka of Houkago Teibou Nisshi, who becomes a mean drunk, Kazuha simply becomes sleepy, similarly to Yuru Camp△‘s Minami. Once dinner draws to a close, Kazuho is so drunk that a slap to the face doesn’t faze her.
- As the night sets in, the students begin playing various card games, a classic standby. While game-makers have gotten very creative with playing cards (Exploding Kittens and Cards Against Humanity come to mind), the French-suited 52-card deck remains the world’s most widely used playing cards: creativity with the rules and combinations of cards have resulted in games from Old Maid and Blackjack to Bridge, Solitaire and Texas Hold ’em Poker. Their versatility makes for an excellent activity that can be set up, and unlike Rin and Nadeshiko, who camp to explore, Nonstop has Renge and the others camp for the outdoors experience.
- The day’s fortunes, based on what the calendar indicated, turned out to be spot-on, with trouble befalling the campers by nightfall: when Renge and Natsumi head off to try and fetch some Rhinoceros Beatles, Kazuho takes off after them, but because she’s still feeling the effects of having taken on so much beer, she’s having trouble standing. She ends up crawling the trail to follow Renge and Natsumi, and gets her hair caught in a branch, forcing her to undo her hair. By the time she reaches Natsumi and Renge, she resembles an onryō. Kazuho’s mere appearance terrifies the pair, who run back to the tent, all other thoughts abandoned, and while they make it back okay, Komari suffers the shock of the age when Kazuho returns, as well.
- What happens next is left to the viewers’ imagination: Nonstop doesn’t mention the incident again and switches things up to the days before summer vacation formally draws to a close. It seems that despite their rocky relationship, Hikage and Natsumi are more alike than they’d care to admit. Both have left their summer assignments to the last minute, and while it is Hikage who initially resists Natsumi’s suggestions of boycotting their homework, she winds up following along, and the pair procrastinate by playing games. I realise that earlier, I mentioned that 2010 is likely to be the year that Nonstop‘s events were set in, and the Miyauichis have a console with wireless controllers. However, the PlayStation 3 was released in 2006, featuring wireless controllers.
- In a surprising twist, it is Natsumi who gives in to guilt and begins looking after her assignments. After a brief tussle between the two results in their drinks spilling onto Natsumi’s work, the pair immediately turn around, clean up and change all of their focus. It was a bit of a tense second half to this episode, but it was also nice to see Natsumi and Hikage become aware of the situation they found themselves in and make an attempt to set things right. I never could procrastinate on important stuff, and preferred to get it done sooner rather than later to prevent it weighing on my mind. With my hobbies, I have the opposite problem; I always tell myself I’ll find time to watch that anime, play that game, etc., resulting in a years-long backlog.
- In the end, the pair fall asleep before finishing everything, and Renge decides to sketch the pair. However, I would imagine that their existing resolve would be preserved, and while the results might not be their best work, both Natsumi and Hikage will pull through. I’ll be returning at the three quarters mark for Non Non Biyori, and looking ahead, with the latest manhunt for The Division 2 finally in the books, it means I’ve finally got more time to spend on other things now: I finished Black Mesa‘s Xen missions last week on Superbowl Sunday, and I can begin looking at writing that post soon. As well, I’m beginning to make some headway into Left 4 Dead 2‘s classic campaigns and have resumed Halo co-op with my friend; after his computer’s power supply died, he’s been running a backup machine that took a little bit of configuring to get The Master Chief Collection working on. We’re nearly done with Halo 3: ODST now and will look at Halo 4 as able.
Six episodes are in the books, and Nonstop now enters the autumn season: traditionally, Non Non Biyori has always covered the flow of time and the passage of the different seasons during its run. Asahigaoka is blessed with four distinct seasons, and previously, the series has shown this sleepy rural village from the hottest day of the summer to the snowiest weather that winter offers. In a place where time seemingly stands still, the different seasons form a backdrop for each of Renge, Hotaru, Natsumi and Komari’s experiences: the different seasons and corresponding events that the characters experience form a central part of the theme in Non Non Biyori, indicating that in an urbanised world where hustle is the name of the game, people often forget to stop and smell the roses. In this case, each of the four seasons has something unique to offer, and fortunately, this can be as simple as taking one’s eyes off their smartphone to watch yellowed leaves flutter to the ground as the summer gives way to autumn. Non Non Biyori previously had a few episodes set during the autumn, so I’m excited to see what sort of autumn activities await the characters, especially now that Akane and Shiori have joined the cast in their everyday adventures: while things like pumpkin carving and turkey are unlikely to be a major part of autumn in Asahigaoka, Nonstop‘s track record mean that something fun will doubtlessly await viewers as we enter the series’ third quarter.