Because if there’s one thing the anime industry needs, it’s more moe.
Okay, okay, I’ll try not to be too hard on Non Non Biyori just for that. I watched it of my own volition after all, and it’s not as though I instinctively hate all moe titles – I enjoyed a lot of the first season of K-On!, for instance, and Azumanga Daioh is still one of my all-time favourite anime. Even so, I’m left with the distinct feeling that certain types of shows have more than reached oversaturation point, and so I didn’t go into Non Non Biyori expecting anything much out of the ordinary; a few ostensibly adorable schoolgirls here, a few swimsuits there, etc. etc. I guess I was both right and wrong about that assumption.
I think it’s safe to say that most anime set in modern-day Japan take place in the city, or at least in nameless suburbia. Be it slice-of-life or romance, drama or comedy, the majority of shows taking place in current and ‘real’ Japan tend to do so in the likes of Tokyo, Kyoto, or some other unspecified city. Those titles that are set in more rural areas of Japan – Hanasaku Iroha, Gin no Saji, Tsuritama, Barakamon – stand out in the crowd for this fact alone, but Non Non Biyori really takes the cake, and I must admit it’s refreshing to see a series that derives a lot of its comedy and general appeal from its location rather than its cutesy cast. Watching a 7-year old with purple hair wander around playing the recorder is all well and good, but between that and having Renge reveal that she has a trained tanuki for a pet, it’s pretty easy for me to say which scenario I find more entertaining. Likewise, Hotaru’s obsession with Komari is hardly offensive material, but her speechless shock at having to wait three hours for the next bus is what provides the laughs.
To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched Non Non Biyori all the way through were it not for its extreme countryside surroundings. If you’ve seen Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh, K-On!, or Minami-ke then you’ve basically already seen Non Non Biyori. This is slice-of-life anime at its most idyllic, and brings nothing new to the genre beyond its rural setting. As I’ve come to expect from a classic moe show (i.e. one aimed squarely at Japan’s adult male crowd), its cuteness also involves specific types of fanservicey scenes, from Hotaru’s overly obvious crush on Komari (so intense I actually find it borderline creepy), to witnessing the 14-year old Komari in her elementary school swimsuit. These are aspects of the show that I really could do without, and which the series easily could as well; at any rate, I don’t see how taking them away would detract from or even change the core story in any way.
That said, things could be far worse, and I’m deeply appreciative of the fact that the obligatory beach episode didn’t focus too much on the bikinis or even (gasp!) on breast size comparison, and instead went for a more innocuous angle. There are also glimmers of comedy that don’t originate from either the moe-rrific cast or the hardcore pastoral backdrop, such as Komari and Natsumi’s older brother Suguru, who has not a single audible line even on the few occasions where he’s actually about to speak. Major points to the OVA for playing this up even more, and in a way that strikes me as actually pretty clever as well as genuinely amusing. On an unrelated note, it’s also nice to see some adult characters getting a decent amount of screen-time – particularly Kazuho (Renge’s older sister and the only teacher at the local school) and Kaede (a graduate of the school who now runs the village candy store).
The production values are another huge positive. Not only are the colours bright and crisp, but the background art is flat-out gorgeous – lush, vibrant, and extremely detailed, they’re truly a pleasure just to soak up. It’s wonderful to see a show putting so much effort into an aspect of the visuals that’s often skimped on in other titles, especially when such a large chunk of its charm is dependent on how well it showcases its setting. I can’t really say the same for the soundtrack – it’s your typical cutesy stuff that I now can’t even remember – but the sound effects at least are top-notch, and add another layer of richness to the series without overdoing it.
Non Non Biyori isn’t the kind of comedy that’s intended to have its viewers rolling around on the floor in hysterics, and neither is it a series that screams originality or innovation. However, it succeeds in being an easily digestible title that looks great and mostly manages to steer clear of some of the more nauseating characteristics of moe anime in general. For viewers after something light and sweet – perhaps something to relax to after a long day – I have no problems recommending this.
Question of the post: To those who have watched this, what aspect did you find the most enjoyable or entertaining? To those who haven’t, is the moe-ness (if that’s not already a word, I’m making it one) a factor that puts you off titles like this one?