Review for Non Non Biyori
Region locking is still a problem when it comes to Blu-ray, and with anime even more so than mainstream releases. It shouldn’t be, after all the biggest market outside of Japan, the US is in the same Blu-ray region as Japan. Japanese releases are expensive enough to need no region coding, and to deter reverse-importation, US releases now have subtitles locked during playback, and certain companies have instituted geo-locking, which separate from Region coding, checks the geographic settings of your Blu-ray player and limits playback to those areas. They do what they can to stop Japanese audiences from buying cheap US releases, but by Region coding their discs, they also stop Region B owners from importing as well. And as the US gets the lion’s share of anime localised to English, there are plenty of shows that never make it to a Region B release. I had settled down to wait until some of my favourite shows were eventually licensed, but an announcement from Sentai Filmworks last year changed my plans. From 2018, they will no longer release new shows on DVD; they’ll be Blu-ray only, region A Blu-ray only. I wouldn’t be surprised if that means that once existing DVD stock is sold, that is it; those shows won’t be reprinted in SD format. I’ve decided to stop waiting for a potential Region B release, and get the DVDs while they are still available. Top of my want list has been one of my favourite shows that I watched when streamed, Non Non Biyori.
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.
12 episodes of Non Non Biyori are presented across 2 DVDs from Sentai Filmworks.
1. A New Transfer Student Came
2. We Went to the Candy Store
3. I Ran Away from Home with My Sister
4. Summer Vacation Started
5. I Pretended I Forgot My Swimsuit
6. I Became a Ghost and Tried Hard
7. My Rice Crackers Turned into Curry
8. We Cooked Rice at School
9. We Tried Having a Cultural Festival
10. We Watched the First Sunrise of the Year
11. We Made Snow Houses
12. Spring Came Again
Non Non Biyori gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer on these discs, 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, but the world design, the rural setting really makes the show warm and nostalgic. Studio Silver Link do the honours, and they present an expressive and character focused animation.
The audio comes in DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese flavour, with optional 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. The show gets some really nice music, a nano.RIPE opening theme, and the voice cast supplying the end theme in character, while the show’s incidental music suits the rustic feel perfectly. The character voices too are perfect, great performances that really engage the audience with the characters.
You get two discs in an Amaray style case, with one disc on each inner face.
The discs present their contents with static menus and jacket pictures, and each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
Disc 1 has the Sentai trailers, Amagami SS+, Hidamari Sketch: Honeycomb, Little Busters! Refrain, Maid Sama!, And Yet The Town Moves, and A-Channel.
Disc 2 has the textless credits, one opening and two closings.
If it wasn’t so far away from the city, everyone would live in the country. Every time I see a show like Non Non Biyori, or Silver Spoon, movies like Only Yesterday, I get hit with a massive dose of nostalgia for those family vacations I had as a child, when we’d visit the ‘old country’. Miles from the city in rural Punjab, it was a big, fun adventure for a child, making new friends, exploring the countryside, and Non Non Biyori in particular takes me right back. Of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s just a brilliant, warm-hearted, slice of life comedy, revelling in friendship, and adopting the same languid pace as its setting implies. Slice of life shows are ten-a-penny these days in anime, but Non Non Biyori’s particular niche, following four friends in that countryside setting makes it stand out above the rest.
Non Non Biyori follows four friends over the course of a year, after Hotaru moves to the village from Tokyo. She’s actually younger than sisters Natsumi and Komari, but she’s taller, and looks more mature for her age, especially with her cosmopolitan outlook and dress sense. Komari’s the eldest of the group, but she’s short for her age, shorter than her sister, and tries to be the mature one, although she’s let down by being easily flustered, and spooked. Hotaru thinks she’s adorable, and quickly develops a schoolgirl crush. Natsumi’s the brash extrovert, not too smart, but quick with the daft ideas. Renge is the adorable, cute, youngest member of the group, only just starting elementary school, and fitting the grey-haired, expressionless stereotype, but with a seriously quirky and odd outlook on life. The four quickly become close friends, when Komari, Natsumi and Renge welcome Hotaru into their lives.
Other notable characters include Renge’s eldest sister Kazuho, who is the school teacher, although given that everyone is in different grades, it’s all self-study and working from textbooks, so she tends to sleep, or find ways to have an easier life. Kaede Kagaya runs the local candy store, and she also helped babysit Renge when she was younger, and of course there is Natsumi and Komari’s mother, Yukiko, who has to confront Natsumi’s idiocy on more than one occasion. I mustn’t forget to mention Komari and Natsumi’s older brother Suguru, a constant presence in class, but who never get the chance to speak in the show, added comic relief in an entertaining comedy.
There’s no great plot or narrative to Non Non Biyori. It’s all about the friendships, as the girls hang out and have fun together, and we dip in and out of their lives over the course of the year. The first episode sets things up, introducing the city girl to a rural setting, and offering a bit of culture clash as they get to know each other, and as Renge, Komari, and Natsumi show Hotaru around. One nice touch is that Hotaru is the only girl with a house-key in a village where no one has a lock on their door.
Subsequently, it’s the little vignettes in their lives that entertain, such as Komari offering to meet up with Hotaru to show her around the village, only Hotaru dresses up and Komari doesn’t recognise her; or the class outing being a trip to Kazuho’s family fields to plant some rice, a regular ploy to get free labour. Renge’s other sister Hikage comes back from school in Tokyo ready to show off how chic she now is; only she loses her air of superiority when she meets Hotaru. A day at the beach doesn’t start well for Komari when she hasn’t grown enough to warrant buying a new swimsuit, and it gets worse when she’s mistaken for a lost infant. Hotaru’s Komari crush gets out of hand, and explodes out of a closet. Renge and Hotaru are outsmarted by a bunny, Komari can’t cook. It turns out that a school with just five children can’t really put on a Cultural Festival. Being snowed in at school can be fun. And Komari really, really can’t cook!
Writing about what happens in Non Non Biyori is really a pointless exercise. Most of the events here are trivialities with little dramatic or narrative import, but a sense of fun and heart. They are little moments of comedy in everyday life. What make the show so special aside from the wonderfully drawn and realised rural setting, are the characters and their interactions. You wind up investing in these characters, falling in love with them, hanging on their every word, revelling in their joyful friendship, laughing at their silly mishaps, and occasionally feeling for them as well. There’s one, summer holiday episode, where Renge makes friends with a girl named Honoka visiting from the city. It will be the coldest of hearts that won’t feel for Renge in this story.
Non Non Biyori is just fun. When I was a little boy, I’d have hours of fun, just hanging out with my friends, goofing around. Now I’m all grown up, I can do it vicariously, watching Non Non Biyori. It’s 12 perfect episodes of nostalgia.