The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Non Non Biyori Nonstop Review and Reflection at the ¾ mark

“No one is perfect – that’s why pencils have erasers.” –Wolfgang Riebe

Despite her best efforts, Natsumi fails to impress her mother during Asahigaoka Branch School’s Parents’ Day Event. When Renge runs into Shiori and the two play together, Shiori asks questions that stump Renge. Natsumi later runs into Renge, who’s trying to catch a freshwater crab. She decides to go retrieve an unused fish tank from home and helps Renge to set up a tank for her newly-caught freshwater crab. Impressed with Natsumi’s handiwork and happy that Natsumi looked after Renge that afternoon, Kazuho invites Natsumi over for dinner. With graduation and the transition to post secondary fast arriving for the third year students, Akane worries that Konomi will no longer be able to join her for club activities. She runs into Konomi after club ends for the day, and it turns out Konomi’s keen on checking out a summer festival before heading home, looking to pick up some souvenirs for Natsumi and the others. She and Akane end up having a great time, and before parting ways, Akane tells Konomi about how she feels, thanking her for their time together. It turns out that Konomi had already been admitted to her post-secondary of choice, allowing her to spend more time with Akane. Konomi later witnesses the sort of trouble Natsumi goes through to keep out of trouble despite her misdeeds during a sleepover with the Koshigayas, and later, while having Akane over, gives Natsumi, Komari, Renge and Hotaru a chance to hear Akane play the flute. On a quiet afternoon, Komari decides to stay home while Natsumi and Suguru hit the department store. She ends up hiding in the closet after she is unsuccessful in capturing a weasel that’s broken in, coincidentally timed with a series of mysterious calls to the land line. When Komari and Hotaru decide to exchange knitted gifts, she decides to ask Natsumi to help her present the failed creations to Hotaru. Natsumi is unable to creatively do so, and Komari admits she’d failed. Hotaru suggest they knit together. Later, Komari decides to make dinner to prove to Natsumi she can indeed cook, but when things begin going south, she accepts her mother’s help, ultimately creating a curry that Natsumi finds delicious. This is Nonstop nine episodes in, and with three quarters of the season now complete, Nonstop has taken the effort to continue engaging viewers.

Non Non Biyori‘s cast has grown since the series began running; Konomi is now a more regular character in the series, and the addition of Shiori and Akane means there is no shortage of adventure. With these additional characters, Nonstop nonetheless has taken the time to show viewers different sides to everyone. Shiori is a bright and inquisitive child with an endless curiosity for why things are. Akane is actually a capable flautist who’s kind to those around her in spite of her nerves. She’s become better with new people and become closer to Konomi, slowly taking those first steps towards being more sociable. Konomi is the ever-reliable senior who looks out for everyone around her, but also knows where to draw the line (she wants no part in Natsumi’s get out of trouble scheme during their sleepover). Despite new characters stepping into the spotlight, Nonstop has not abandoned its core characters, either: Natsumi is given a chance to shine when she expertly sets up a fish tank for Renge and her newly caught freshwater crab, after a humiliating showing during Parents’ Day, and Komari is shown as being more mature than her normal mannerisms suggest. Unlike Natsumi, Komari is not too proud to admit when she’s failed and accept help: despite her ineptitude with knitting and cooking, she is able to see where her limits are. Being able to swallow one’s pride is very much a part of growing up, and so, it was great to see Komari both express this, as well as actively learning to better herself, whether it’s accepting Hotaru’s invitation to knit together or asking her mother about how to properly create a tasty curry. As the characters are given a chance to shine in Nonstop, they become increasingly life-like, with their experiences continuing to act as relatable and relevant life lessons about the small things in life that are overlooked.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The comparisons with Chibi Maruko-chan are not without merit: when I was much younger, my parents picked up a Cantonese dub of the series, and one of the episodes had Maruko’s mother, attend a Parents’ Day event to see how she was doing. While doing fractional arithmetic kicked her rear, Maruko ended up winning an award for her essay composition. Of course, by then, Maruko’s mother had already left, disgusted at Maruko’s poor performance. Non Non Biyori is the first time I’ve seen this occur in an anime for quite some time, and how things unfolded for Natsumi was pretty much identical to what happened to Maruko.

  • Non Non Biyori had always made it known that Natsumi’s never been one for book smarts, and in the classroom, she struggles to pay attention and retain information. Kazuho had been quite worried and even suggested cheats at one point, but ended up giving Natsumi a crash course that ends up failing. The other students have no problem with demonstrating their knowledge. In a clever touch, Suguru is shown doing a problem at the chalkboard. Despite her worries, Kazuho is a competent enough teacher: Renge, Hotaru, Komari and Suguru are doing quite well. Natsumi’s learning style is probably more hands-on, as opposed to the more traditional classroom environment.

  • When Renge runs into Shiori, the two decide to play: Shiroi is out taking her soccer ball for a walk, treating the ball as a pet of sorts. The imagination of children is boundless, and there’s a very tranquil, heartwarming feel to listening to children interacting with one another. As the two continue, Shiori begins asking questions that push Renge’s knowledge to the limits: after the two begin rolling the ball on the ground, they wonder how the ball is able to stop on its own when living things can maintain their energy for seemingly longer periods of time. Renge is absolutely right that friction is the force that causes forward kinetic energy to dissipate, eventually bringing the ball to a stop.

  • However, friction flies over Shiori’s head: it is adorable that Shiroi mishears friction (摩擦, Herburn masatsu) as a sweet potato (薩摩芋, Hepburn satsuma-imo). Because she is younger, some words don’t come so easily for her, and Renge, being quite young herself, hasn’t quite grasped that Shiori’s language skills are still developing. This creates a bit of a hilarious disconnect where Renge is unable to follow Shirori’s train of thought, prompting Renge to suggest moving on. When she mentions that the Earth is similar to the ball in having a spherical shape, Shiori wonders what it means to be round.

  • This is a very simple question, but finding a proper explanation can be somewhat vexing: from a mathematical standpoint, roundness refers to how closely a shape approaches the properties of a perfect circle (i.e. a shape where every point on its plane are precisely the same distance from a center point, satisfying a set of properties). This becomes a little too much for Renge to handle, and the two stare into space until the shadows lengthen as the sun begins setting. As a child, I received a book called How Come?, which answered such questions. Communication of complex topics is a skill, and I’ve found that even adults can sometimes struggle to put into words things that we know in terms that children can grasp.

  • This was a fun moment between Renge and Shiori, but also a highly relevant one; being able to understand how children see the world allows adults and youth to walk them through some things more effectively. Natsumi, for instance, is particularly apt at following Renge’s often non-sequitur train of thought, understanding what Renge’s intentions are and doing her best to help her along. When Natsumi encounters Renge fishing for freshwater crabs along a local creek, she decides to lend Renge a tank for keeping the crab over the winter.

  • While Natsumi fetches the spare fish tank they have and makes to prepare filter media, Renge watches a koi in the Koshigaya’s pond. When Natsumi returns, she learns that Renge has named their koi and suggests that it approached her to have a staring contest. In reality, I imagine that the Koshigaya’s koi is accustomed to people and is expecting food: while koi do surface and open their mouths when their water is poorly-oxygenated in an effort to get more air, I imagine that Natsumi’s knowledgeable enough to keep their pond in proper order for the koi.

  • When it comes to animals and hands-on matters, Natsumi is unequalled: the episode was written in such a way as to give Natsumi a chance to shine after she’d been thoroughly trashed during Parents’ Day. This is one aspect of Non Non Biyori that I’ve always liked, and with the seventh episode ending on a very positive note, the message here was that different people have different skills. While perhaps lacking the mind for academics, Natsumi is highly capable of setting up things like fish tanks and identifying animals and their properties.

  • The way Non Non Biyori is set up is such that all of the characters can experience trouble in their own way, but they’re also given positive experiences, as well. I’ve never been fond of seris where one character is made to suffer exclusively; Non Non Biyori avoids this, instead, creating a wide range of scenarios, heartwarming and hilarious, for viewers. In no time at all, Natsumi finishes setting up the fish tank, providing a pleasant environment for the freshwater crab that Renge had caught. Renge intends to release the crab back into the rivers once the spring returns,

  • As thanks for having kept an eye on Renge and setting up a fish tank, Kazuho invites Natsumi over for dinner, bringing the seventh episode to a close. Natsumi’s character in Non Non Biyori has always been an interesting one: she’s voiced by Ayane Sakura (Cocoa Hoto of GochiUsa, Oregairu‘s Iroha Isshiki and The Quintessential Quintuplets‘ Yotsuba Nakano) and has a lazy personality, causing no shortage of trouble for her family and friends, but when she’s properly motivated, she’s also quite capable of getting things done.

  • After Akane runs into Konomi after club activities end, the two visit a local summer festival and share time together: Akane had been quite worried about what would happen as Konomi was approaching her entrance exams and wondered if she’d have the confidence to continue on as a flautist. Unable to bring herself to ask Konomi directly, she finds herself being taken around the summer festival as Konomi seeks out gifts to bring back to the folks in Asahigaoka, and ends up having a wonderful time as a result. Here, the pair attempt a shooting game in which both are successful with their initial shots, but miss on subsequent rounds. I imagine that the corks are rigged in such a way as to travel straight on a first shot to lure players in, and then subsequently, the merchant loads misshapen corks that don’t fly straight.

  • Throughout the fair, Konomi attempts to demonstrate her skills, whether it be at candy-cutting or goldfish scooping, only for things to fail. These subtle moments are meant to help Akane see that Konomi isn’t flawless, and was a clever way of helping the two to connect further. One nice touch about the goldfish scooping scene is that Nonstop chooses to use bouncy balls instead of goldfish: I imagine the practise can sometimes be unsustainable, since folks who do win are left with a goldfish to take care of, and may result in abandonment. Bouncy balls offer no such challenge, and is therefore a more sustainable approach, reflecting on Non Non Biyori‘s respect for the natural world.

  • Akane’s worries turn out to have been greatly exaggerated: she’d been bothered at the prospect of Konomi rolling back on club time to prepare for her entrance exams and sought to thank her properly for everything she’d done. As the two prepare to part ways, Akane finally is able to voice her gratitude to Konomi. In a bit of a twist, Konomi reveals that she’d actually already been accepted to a post secondary and isn’t burdened with entrance exams, so she’d be able to stick around until graduation. This creates a great deal of embarrassment for Akane, acting as a funny means of easing the tension that had been building throughout the summer festival.

  • When Konomi decides to spend the night over with Komari and Natsumi, Natsumi figures the time has come to start a pillow fight. She effortlessly catches Komari’s shot and prepares to return fire, but accidentally hits the wall in the process, seemingly creating a hole in the thin paper on the sliding screen. Natsumi loses her mind when she sees the hole; rather than benig forwards about it, she decides to devise a plan to keep out of trouble. Komari and Konomi are completely unimpressed and are content to watch as Natsumi struggles with a solution.

  • Thanks to clever use of camera angles, viewers are left in suspense as Natsumi does everything she can to cover her mistake, eventually, applying a Fukuwarai (福笑い, “Lucky Laugh”) game to cover the hole. Upon hearing the commotion, Yukiko shows up to check up on the girls. Upon spotting the Fukuwarai and seeing Natsumi’s panic, she explains what had actually happened: while vacuuming, she’d accidentally bumped into the screen and created the hole.

  • Clever use of camera angles meant that we viewers don’t actually get to see what had happened, but in retrospect, the paper siding would’ve yielded without hurting Natsumi: her initial reaction was that of pain, suggesting she’d hit a wooden column instead. It is funny how things turn out, sometimes, and Natsumi is giddy with relief, that her mistake hadn’t been anywhere nearly as severe as she imagined it to be. However, when Natsumi makes to remove the Fukuwarai, she takes out the entire section of wall with her. The subsequent reactions are not shown, leaving things to the viewers’ imaginations.

  • Later, to help Akane with her nerves, Konomi has her stay overnight to practise and also invites Hotaru, Renge, Natsumi and Komari over to watch. With four extra sets of eyes watching her, Akane struggles to find the courage to play, so Konomi takes everyone outside. At this point in time, autumn has fully arrived in Asahigaoka, and the forest foilage has taken on various shades of reds, oranges and yellows.

  • It is out here that Akane delivers her performance, and this was a magical moment in Nonstop, showing that beyond her nerves, Akane is actually quite skillful with her flute. Hotaru, Natsumi, Komari and Renge are thus treated to a delightful performance that speaks to the magical and peaceful atmosphere around Asahigaoka. Traditionally, the gentle sound of a flute is associated with nature and magical realms; I imagine that being outdoors, around Asahigaoka’s landscapes, gives Akane the calm she needs to focus. Non Non Biyori has traditionally included these songs in its soundtrack, and it’s likely Akane’s song will make it to Nonstop‘s soundtrack. Unfortunately, I do not have a release date for Nonstop‘s soundtrack just yet. Having said this, both Non Non Biyori and Repeat‘s soundtracks released a day after the finale, so I’d hazard a guess that March 30 will be the release date for Nonstop‘s soundtrack.

  • Nonstop‘s decision to give Akane an entire episode created an immensely satisfying experience: viewers get to see her grow past her anxiety, as well, and also showcase a bit more of her true self. As the two prepare to sleep, Konomi reveals that she intends to continue playing the flute in post secondary and would be more than happy to continue mentoring Akane. With a bit of the uncertain future rolled back, Akane’s worries are assuaged. The next day, even Renge picks up on the new spring in Akane’s step when the three gather to practise their instruments together.

  • Despite her best efforts at being the dependable older sibling to Natsumi, Komari’s one weakness is ghosts: while she attempts to dismiss them as being fanciful explanation for things that lack an immediate answer, she still fears them nonetheless. Strange noises and unusual phone calls begin afflicting Komari the moment Natsumi and Suguru leave, and while Komari is quite aware that what’s happening does have rational causes, the power of suggestion renders her quite jumpy. Natsumi mentions a Zashiki-warashi spirit that really puts Komari on edge, but looking around, these spirits are actually said to be benevolent.

  • Perhaps Natusmi is referring to a different kind of Zashiki-warashi than the ones I’ve read about. Speaking to the rural setting of Non Non Biyori, a weasel finds its way into the Koshigaya residence. The smallest mammalian carnivore, weasels are often regarded as a nuisance because they target poultry on farms and the like. Komari’s approach, in trying to catch one with a net, is unsuccessful, but since they are carnivores, one could lay out some meat, capture it and then let it go somewhere far from the property: killing them is to be cruel and also to shoot oneself in the foot, since weasels are very voracious predators and do an excellent job of managing rodent populations.

  • Even Natsumi is unable to sustain the series of lies about Komari’s knitting projects; unlike Natsumi, Komari knows where to draw the line and comes forward with the truth that she’s not particularly good at knitting, that everything she’d made came out wrong. While Komari may appear immature and excitable, the ninth episode, being centred around Komari, gives her some shine time and demonstrates that unlike Hotaru and Natsumi, she’s able to admit to the truth even when it is uncomfortable. Natsumi tends to cover up her mistakes, and Hotaru is usually too embarrassed to be honest (as seen during the episode where she and Akane are discussing the mechanised Komari plushie).

  • According to Natsumi, the last time Komari cooked, she, and I quote, “destroyed” gratin. Most gratin dishes entail adding breadcrumbs and then browning this on top of a bed of potatoes, macaroni and cheese or other item. Conceptually, it’s a simple dish to make, and going from Komari’s own thoughts when she decides to make curry, I believe that her failures likely come from improvising too freely and then panicking when things begin falling apart. Watching Natsumi’s response to things is hilarious, because it stands in stark contrast with Suguru, who doesn’t even flinch: the average of their reactions could suggest either that while perhaps not the best gratin in the world, Komari’s cooking is minimally passable, or Suguru is simply so stoic that Komari’s cooking is not enough to faze him.

  • The first time I made curry, my mistake was not boiling the vegetables for long enough (they ended up quite raw) and not adding enough water to the curry roux, which created a curry that was more pasty than creamy. In retrospect, this failure was actually an easy one to resolve: adding more water to dilute the roux up more and allow it to mix more evenly, and then cooking the vegetables until they were tender, would fix things. Indeed, the next day, this was precisely how I ended up with curry of a passable standard. She starts by chopping up some onions, but when the onions become too much to handle, she spots some conveniently-placed leftovers that looks helpful.

  • While curry is a relatively simple dish to cook, requiring only the right amount of water (too much, the curry becomes runny, and too little, the curry roux remanis a difficult paste), Komari appears to be going off mission when she considers adding sugar to the curry. A bit of honey can indeed sweeten curry up, but without honey, Komari attempts to substitute sugar. In a bit of serendipity, Natsumi’s taken the sugar to attract ants, and with this option off the table, Komari begins to panic. Meanwhile. the leftover potato and meat stew begins to burn, causing Yukiko to show up. Like the situation with Hotaru and the knitting, rather than let her pride get in the way, Komari admits that she could use some help.

  • With her mother helping, Komari is able to whip up a good curry in the end. This moment really put a smile on my face: Komari suffers quite a bit of misfortune throughout Non Non Biyori, and things very rarely work out in her favour when she’s given the spotlight in an episode. Nonstop not only devotes an entire episode to her, but also shows how she’s able to overcome shortcomings that she comes across. The art of cooking minimally edible meals isn’t actually too tricky: all cooking entails heating up something until it’s rendered safe to eat. Instead, the act of preparations (e.g. trimming fat from meat, washing and cutting vegetables, determining which seasonings and condiments to add) that is the most time consuming.

  • Natsumi is stunned to see the curry as appearing quite ordinary, and doubly surprised that it tastes exactly as it should. One thing that I’ve come to notice as being a reality, and which was mentioned in Futurama, is that when one did a good job, for the most part, people won’t be able to tell whether one did anything at all. This mindset does speak to the human mind’s ability to hone in on mistakes and negativity – there’s a biological reason behind why this happens (being attuned to what’s bad for us helps us to avoid it), and in general, when things are done well or in working order, we tend to take it for granted and not think about it too much.

  • For Yukiko, this moment is one worthy of a smile – Komari has not only taken the initiative to cook, but also demonstrated maturity in admitting that her skills had limits, but she was willing to learn how to do a proper job. While Yukiko is often seen as being very strict towards Natsumi, this stems from how lax and unconcerned Natsumi is with things: it’s certainly a side of Yukiko that I imagine to be more representative of how she typically is (versus those moments where she overhears or comes across Natsumi doing something bone-headed).

  • Thus, I’ll wrap this post up with Komari smiling – the ninth episode ended in the perfect fashion, giving Komari a chance to really be at her best where most of the series, she ends up on the receiving end of trouble. I get that this is done for comedy’s sake, and that in her day-to-day, things would be more unremarkable, but balancing things out and having her successful every so often shows that Non Non Biyori is about letting everyone have their day on top of putting everyone in unfortunate (but hilarious) situations.

Non Non Biyori originally had the seasons as being the primary backdrop for Hotaru and her friends; after moving to Asahigaoka, she explores the local specialities, goes on summer vacation with new-found friends, settles in to a new term as the leaves yellow, and marvelling at the snowfalls of winter. However, as Non Non Biyori continued, the seasons become a familiar cycle, and it is the people in Asahigaoka that take centre stage. The end result is a series as expansive as a child’s imagination, exploring topics and ideas that we often take for granted: from hilarious misunderstandings to common mistakes, new discoveries and adventure, Nonstop covers a considerable amount of ground during its third quarter. The range of scenarios seen are never overwhelming, inviting viewers to slowly take everything in, and in doing so, imparts a stronger impression than had everything been handed over to viewers on a plate. Because we are now entering Nonstop‘s final quarter, I expect that winter will arrive in Asahigaoka, allowing Non Non Biyori to portray the sorts of things that can only occur when there’s a chill in the air, and a foot of snow on the ground. Of course, the imminent arrival of winter means that Nonstop is also fast drawing to a close: it is a little sad to see the series enter its final quarter so quickly. Each and every episode has been a novel, refreshing experience, and it goes without saying that I’ve certainly been having fun with Nonstop this season; I am looking forwards to seeing what winter adventures await everyone in Nonstop‘s final quarter.

3 responses to “Non Non Biyori Nonstop Review and Reflection at the ¾ mark

  1. David Birr March 7, 2021 at 18:10

    “…when one did a good job, for the most part, people won’t be able to tell whether one did anything at all.”

    The translator’s preface in a book I have mentions a story about a family of physicians. One of them, “whose reputation was such that his name became synonymous with medical science in China,” explained to the lord who employed him that his eldest brother was so skilled that he detected and cured illness before the patient was even aware of any symptoms, and therefore he had NO reputation to speak of. The middle brother, he added, was ALMOST as expert as the eldest, and thus a few people in the neighborhood knew he was a good person to see when one had the sniffles. “As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the lords.”

    Like

    • infinitezenith March 8, 2021 at 20:01

      Thanks for sharing the story with me! I believe Neil De Grasse Tyson is also credited with a similar remark: “The act of doing something perfectly, is the measure of it going unnoticed”. When things work as expected, we don’t really notice. With this in mind, I find that noticed or not, there is value in doing a good job all the time because at the end of the day, actions speak the loudest about who we are as a person.

      Like

      • David Birr March 9, 2021 at 12:45

        A fantasy novel series by David Eddings, *The Belgariad*, included a blacksmith, Durnik, who had a strong positive influence on the main character’s upbringing. Durnik once explained why he always did the best he could when smithing: if he ever slacked off on the quality of his work, no one else might notice, but he’d remember and feel shame every time he saw the piece of equipment on which he _hadn’t_ given his best.

        Like

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