If I had to pick one genre of anime of which I have had the most experience experiencing, it would have to be the slice of life genre. More specifically the subgenre that I call the “light slice-of-life” genre. I call it this because the shows that fall into this category are light on most of the things you would expect from an anime. They all, to varying degrees, have: no overarching story or story arcs, no complex character traits, and no character development. Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh, Nichijou, and Kiniro Mozaic are some anime that fall in this genre. While I can’t say I’ve consumed the entire buffet that is the plotless and character-development-less slice-of-life genre, I have sampled a fair selection of the many acclaimed titles that have been put up for consumption.
Now here’s something ironic: I’m no huge fan of the light slice-of-life genre. In fact, I’m not a fan at all. It’s not that I have something against shows without plots; I believe episodic shows can be good. Much of Cowboy Bebop is arranged in an episodic manner that doesn’t necessarily bring the plot forward, but still manages to be entertaining. At the same time, I don’t believe character development is necessary for a show to be good. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya hardly has any character development throughout both its seasons but still manages to be a solidly enjoyable series. It just so happens, in every circumstance that I have encountered, when both plot and character development are cut out of a show, it always fails to entertain me. That was, until now…
Let me lay out my thesis plain and simple: Non Non Biyori is the best light slice-of-life to exist at this moment in time. I will make it my job for this article to convince you that Non Non Biyori, through its setting, purpose, and execution, is far superior to any of the light slice-of-life shows that have come before it. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Non Non Biyori follows the story of a group of elementary school students and their lives in a rural Japanese village. This may not sound like much, but the premise has a key aspect to it that so many slice-of-life anime seem to be missing. A unique setting! An interesting location in which people lead intriguing lives. This was what I had always wanted from a slice-of-life show. I always thought, “Hey, how nice would it be if someone took an interesting fantasy location and made a show based on people living in this incredible environment, exploring the aspects of life in a unique, novel universe.” You could imagine my disappointment when I learned that light slice-of-life shows typically follow normal people leading normal lives. I always thought of how much missed potential there was in the genre by not showing unique locations. But Non Non Biyori capitalizes on this and advances it a step further by giving it the one thing that I believe has truly advanced the genre: a purpose.
For so long I thought light slice-of-life anime lacked a justification for watching them. If you weren’t following a story then why were you watching? In many cases, the reason was simply comedy. Most of the time, there wasn’t a reason at all. Non Non Biyori, however, has a clear purpose, which is to transport the viewer into a simpler time and a softened state of mind – where complexity dissolves away into serene relaxation. It’s simply built for unwinding from the troubles of life.
The setting of a sleepy agricultural countryside carries the nostalgic tone of a simpler time without the complexities and concerns of modern life; this theme is well-developed, and not merely used superfluously to create an intriguing premise. Combine this with the characters, which all carry a strong sense of childhood innocence, and you have all the factors necessary to induce a state of reminiscence to the golden days of juvenile bliss. It’s this telos, this purpose, that gives meaning to Non Non Biyori and is the most defining characteristics that separates it from the aimless masses of ordinary light slice-of-life shows.
But not everything is peachy in this agricultural paradise. Non Non Biyori has a vegetable medley of a cast that ranges from fresh and succulent to bitter and off-putting. To start, there is Hotaru, our new arrival to the countryside. While you would expect her character to be our guide to this wonderful little hamlet, she is the weakest character of the cast. She falls face first into the manure that is overused anime tropes. Her “ahh sempai” lines feel unnatural and her obsession with said sempai is uninteresting and generic. Aside from her, we have the sisters Natsumi and Komari. Both manage to be solid characters expressing the classic views of young children and, as a result, fit the telos of Non Non Biyori very well. But they pale in comparison to the one character that steals the spotlight every time she is on screen.
That character is Renge. Her personality, her role – everything that she is works perfectly to the show’s purpose. Her character’s view of life is the refreshing perspective that “every day is an interesting adventure” and the exuberance with which she does new things makes her a joy to witness every time she is on screen. In addition her interactions with the other characters are by far the most endearing. She encompasses that “look how cool absolutely everything is” mentality, which makes even the most mundane of events seem unique and captivating. In short, she is a perfect fit for the show and elevates its effect on the viewer.
Having introduced the characters, I must give the standard health and safety advisory to the levels of moe in Non Non Biyori.
WARNING: those with severe allergic reaction to little girls with big eyes and high pitched voices should not consume Non Non Biyori in high quantities. Side effects include: anger, annoyance, eye rolling, cringing and diarrhea. Please speak to your doctor if symptoms last for longer than the duration of the show.
For those not opposed to the moe art form, you will enjoy learning that the characters of Non Non Biyori have the kawaii character expressed not merely through big eyes, but through their interactions with the world and with each other. This gives their moe a far more full-bodied flavour that is lacking in the bland, modern iterations of moe. A solid plus for a moe connoisseur such as myself.
With regards to the more mechanical aspects of the show, there are few faults in the crop. The sound is well done and the background music often works beautifully with the setting to create a relaxing atmosphere. The opening and ending themes are both enjoyable, with the ending especially being incredibly addictive. The art is gorgeous, providing rich and highly detailed backgrounds of nature to accompany each scene. All of this is, however, somewhat marred by the relative lack of animation. Besides the horrific use of CGI cars that seem to have become standard nowadays, the show hardly uses any animation at all. Still frames are used so prominently that the anime is almost akin to a nature slideshow. Luckily for Non Non Biyori, this fault is mitigated by the previously stated beautiful backdrops. Overall, Non Non Biyori is built on a solid, though occasionally lacking structure.
To sum it up, Non Non Biyori has, to me, been a true spectacle to behold. It is the first light-slice-of-life I have watched that has left me wanting more. I can’t remember the last time an episodic show in general left me so compelled to watch the next episode. For advancing the standards for what you can do with a light slice-of-life anime and redefining the way I look at the genre itself, I give Non Non Biyori a GREAT… out of 10. This show is simply exceptional, and excels far beyond most anime in its genre.
With that said, expect a review of the second season upon its completion. See you next time… oh, and before I forget; regardless of what time of day it is, to all of you, “Nyanpasu” (it would have been criminal not to include that somewhere).