Review for Non Non Biyori Vacation
Television anime is certainly saturated these days, more so given the plethora of channels available to broadcast on, and the freedom of online streaming services. Bandwidth isn’t an issue, and when your audience is literally spread across the world, it’s a lot easier for production companies to justify continuations when it comes to subsequent seasons, even for shows which ten years ago might not have been considered successful. But there is still one, physical indicator of genuine success. If a franchise gets a theatrical feature film, where fans have to gather in one place, cinemas, then you know it really is a hit. This is the review for the Non Non Biyori movie, Vacation. And if you’ve been reading my reviews this summer, you’ll know that I love this show and these characters.
It could have been a painful culture shock when Hotaru Ichijo’s father got transferred out of Tokyo for work. Taking a city girl and putting her in the middle of the countryside is isolating enough, but 5th year Hotaru’s new school is small! It takes place in one classroom combining Elementary and Middle Schools, and has just four other students, siblings Natsumi, Komari and Suguru Koshigaya, in 7th, 8th, and 9th years respectively, and young Renge Miyauchi is a first year. Renge’s oldest sister Kazuho is their teacher. It could have been a big shock, but in Renge, Natsumi and Komari, Hotaru’s found her best friends.
Living in the country has many advantages, but it has a few drawbacks too. So when
Kaede “Candy Store” Kagayama is driving to the nearest department store, it’s a chance for the girls to get a taste of the cosmopolitan life. They’ve been enjoying their summer vacation to the fullest, but when Komari and Natsumi’s brother Suguru wins a trip to Okinawa in a store raffle, it’s a chance to take their vacation to a whole new level. The five students from Asahigaoka branch school and their teacher are joined by Kaede, and friends Konomi and Hikage for a brand new adventure.
Non Non Biyori Vacation gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and it offers smooth, clear and vibrant animation. The image is clear and sharp, compression is minimal, and the colours are bright and vivid. The character designs are appealing and friendly, and nice and familiar from the TV series. The quality of the animation is much the same too, although there are one or two theatrical flourishes at times. What’s really different here is the Okinawa setting, which allows for a whole other kind of vegetation, climate, and architecture. Studio Silver Link do the honours, and they present an expressive and character focused animation. The Blu-ray really does deliver when it comes to clarity, richness of colours, and detailed line art and animation.
As you would expect, a feature film gets a surround upgrade, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese with player locked English subtitles. The dialogue is clear, and the sound comes across without any glitches or dropouts. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos. You get to hear a new nano.RIPE opening theme, and the character end theme in glorious surround, while the incidental music suits the holiday feel perfectly. The voice acting too is perfect, great performances that really engage the audience with the characters.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray style case with a reversible sleeve. The disc boots to a static menu and the film is followed by a translated credit reel.
On the disc you’ll find 3:03 of Japanese Promos, and 1:17 of Japanese TV Spots.
I know I said that I love Non Non Biyori, and that is true, but it’s also true that I had my reservations about the Non Non Biyori movie. Non Non Biyori is based off a short form manga, and that’s reflected in the style of the anime, with the episodes comprised of short skits and little story vignettes. That’s not a form that you’d think of first to adapt to a feature film. Famously, Ghibli’s My Neighbours the Yamadas was adapted from a 4-panel manga, but when the similarly sourced K-On debuted its movie, they managed to create a plot line, and character arcs that better suited a feature film format.
Non Non Biyori’s source manga isn’t a 4-panel manga, but the term ‘short-form’ storytelling is just as applicable, and given its style, it’s even harder to find a way to make a feature film narrative work without losing what gives the anime series its charm. In the end, it seems the creators realised that too, and chose instead to make the feature film itself short and sweet enough at 71 minutes, to allow for the vignette style of storytelling, while finding a couple of tender character beats to hang a story off.
As is usual with Non Non Biyori, simply relating the good bits would result in a list of spoilers, but the gang is all there, and their characters get to shine with plenty of charming, funny, and heart-warming moments, as they leave their rural idyll of a Asahigaoka, and take a 4-day trip to the rural idyll of Okinawa; something Renge comments on when she sees an Okinawan cow. But there is enough that is different here to make it an adventure.
In terms of emotional arcs, Renge continues to march to the beat of her own quirky drum. She’s been spending the summer vacation drawing in her sketchbook, and when they win the trip to Okinawa, she decides to ‘show Okinawa’ her pictures of home, and has a list of three pictures that she wants to draw of Okinawa to show Asahigaoka when they get back. Also, when the group get to Okinawa, they stay at a hotel run by a woman, helped by her daughter Aoi. Aoi is the same age as Natsumi, and at first the carefree Natsumi is a little awkward around a girl her age, but one who shoulders the responsibilities of working in a guesthouse. But it isn’t long until she discovers Aoi’s playful side, and the two begin to form a friendship. But a four day friendship might just be too ephemeral.
The other characters get up to plenty of mischief, with Renge’s sister Hikage the butt of more than a few jokes on the trip. It’s all delightful fun to see the Non Non Biyori characters in a different setting (a reason so many anime set in school eventually have an episode or two with school trips to exotic locations). However, for once with Non Non Biyori, my eyes did start straying to the clock at one point. Unless you deliver a strong enough narrative core to a feature film, this style of storytelling, so effective in a weekly episodic format, doesn’t sustain over longer runtimes. The story in Non Non Biyori Vacation just doesn’t hold the attention as well as the 20-minutes episodes do. I still enjoyed it greatly though, and it’s a nice enough conclusion to MVM’s summer of Non Non Biyori.
Non Non Biyori Vacation: The Movie is available from MVM’s webstore Anime on Line, United Publications, Anime Limited, and mainstream retailers.