Set in the idyllic Japanese countryside, Non Non Biyori focuses on the lives of a group of young girls who live in the fictional small, sleepy farming village of Asahigaoka. When 5th grade elementary school student Hotaru Ichijo moves there from Tokyo due to her parents’ work, she has to adjust to the quietness of country life, where the school only has five students, buses run every couple of hours and the only shop is a solitary candy store. Thankfully, she finds that life in the country isn’t as boring as she imagined, as she forms new friends and experiences all kinds of new adventures that wouldn’t be possible in the big city.
Non Non Biyori is a lovely little show that is the absolute definition of “iyashikei”, that slow, healing subgenre of slice-of-life shows that just leave you with a bunch of happy feelings after every episode. Cute, colourful and easy to watch; it’s a world away from our busy city lives, immersing you in a peaceful and serene setting full of fun and engaging characters that you can easily connect with as they go through their daily lives. As such, there’s no deep plot here, with each episode setting out its own story, focusing on either a specific joke or character moment as the series take us through Hotaru’s first year of living in the village.
The first couple of episodes largely introduce us to the main cast, including Hotaru herself along with two of the main families that live in the village – the Miyauchi family, comprising of 1st grader Renge and her older sister Kazuho (who works as the school’s teacher), and the Koshigaya family, comprising of sisters Natsumi and Komari and their older brother Suguru. Throw in some side characters like candy store owner Kaede as well as other extended family members and friends, and you’ve got a nicely balanced bunch with the main girls in particular feeling like a strong ensemble.
While Hotaru is meant to be our eyes and ears in seeing this new world from the perspective of a city-dweller, there’s no clear main character and each of the four girls gets their fair share of screen time and development over the course of the series. A lot of the character moments on offer are hilarious, going from looking at Renge’s sudden realisation that yes, they do live in the country, as it compares her life to Hotaru’s in Tokyo; to the dynamic between the Koshigaya sisters with Natsumi being the rebellious one and Komari wanting to be grown-up and mature (when she’s far from it); while Hotaru quickly latches onto Komari’s cute and petite appearance and starts making plushies of her.
There’s definitely a character for everyone here, and there’s plenty to see from very different perspectives, whether that be through the eyes of the kids or the adults. Renge is probably my personal favourite as she’s a very quirky child (particularly with her “Nyanpasu!” catchphrase) and all the jokes surrounding her land perfectly, yet thankfully she never comes off as annoying. Kaede is also a very interesting character on the adult side, often appearing as an aunt-like figure to the main girls where her closeness to them reinforces how closely knit the community is. Suguru is underutilised but is a dark horse, appearing only very occasionally (as is par the course with these types of shows where male characters get very little look in) but is always comedic gold.
As much as the show is light-hearted, it balances that well with the more emotional beats that it uses for world and character building. When characters have to face a challenge, they really do grow through it, and I was reduced to tears several times throughout the series due to how sweet and sentimental it gets at times. Episode 4 is a particular highlight (which you may have seen edited into several parodies) as Renge forms a close bond with Honoka, a girl visiting her grandparents for the summer, but must deal with the girl suddenly having to go back home.
While this is meant to be a slow and relaxing show, some of the more whimsical episodes can feel very pedestrian in their pacing. Not that I particularly minded so much, but it’s certainly not a show that will catch everyone’s attention and if you’re more into deep, engaging plotlines and intense action then this isn’t going to suit you. If you’re up for a chill Sunday afternoon though, then this is exactly what Non Non Biyori delivers.
Produced by Silver Link, visually I found it to be very pretty in its boldness and simplicity, often feeling quite painterly as it glances over the scenery and beautiful landscapes, showing us some great snapshots of people’s daily lives. The soundscapes really help with this too as they really go out of the way to capture that countryside feeling with the sounds of the animals and tweeting birds, as well as the grass and trees swishing in the breeze. This is backed by Hiromi Mizutani’s score which not only fits well as relaxing country-themed background music but is at times deeply ingrained with the show as it matches up with things like Renge playing her recorder.
It’s animated really well overall and you always get a good sense of the characters’ emotions and actions on-screen. Character designs though I feel are a bit hit and miss, as some feel either too old or too young for what they should be – Hotaru being the worst case for this.
The series is brought to us via MVM, and although I love the series, I think it’s a shame that Sentai’s masters are very barebones. There’s the twelve episodes of the series available subtitled only and clean opening and ending animations and that is it. It’s sadly missing the extra Episode 13 OVA, which Sentai didn’t license, and I would have liked to see more in the way of extras even if that was just promotional videos and trailers.
Having no dub for the series also leaves it in a bit of niche place and cuts out the market for people who prefer to watch their anime in that way. That’s not a deal breaker for me personally though, and I think the Japanese cast do a wonderful job. Kotori Kowai particularly impresses as Renge and acts out that child’s voice really well, giving Renge her own unique sound, while everyone else really fits the characters, like Kaori Nazuko who does a great voice for Kazuho as a sleepy teacher.
While there are plenty of great healing shows out there, if you want something that’s slow-paced and relaxing but still a bundle of fun, then look no further than Non Non Biyori. With its beautiful depictions of country life and engaging characters that genuinely grow and learn throughout the series, it has emerged as one of my personal favourites and is definitely worth a watch if you are into this type of thing. It’s just a shame that the release is very barebones and doesn’t do it justice, so I can’t recommend picking this up straight away, but it’s a fantastic shout when it eventually goes on sale.