Nyanpasu!

Renge-chon’s familiar nonsensical greeting captured all our hearts after all of five minutes into episode 1 of this beautiful series. From there on, one after another, Range expounded on matters we didn’t even know we needed to think about until she brought them to our attention. And I’m glad she did. Or, I’m glad that the genius that created this character took such a view of the world and decided to share it with the rest of us!

Normally, when I love a series like I do this one, I’ll expound on it myself copiously. But in honor of Renge and all the lovable cast of this series, I intend to keep my words to a minimum. I’ll let Ren-chon do most of the explaining herself. After all, no one could put it quite the same as she could!

Enjoy the beautiful memories of this great show!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 10

Renge is magnificent. The voice from Kotori Koiwai, the energetic yet dull faces, the stares of wonder, the aforementioned greeting, the funny way she ends most of her sentences with some form of “non,” and of course, her hilarious dialogue, are all perfect. It’s hard to believe someone created this great of a character. And to be a little one at that! We’re used to eccentricities in anime characters in the first grade age range (Yotaro, World Trigger) or ultimate kawaii (Kanna, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid), but we’re not used to this combination of the two! Not to mention the philosophical nature of her speeches! But enough of my words. Browse through some of the best one-liners from Renge scattered around this review, and enjoy the lols. 

The second most notable character is Natsumi, the near-delinquent of the two Koshigaya sisters. “Natsun,” as Renge calls her, is carefree, boisterous, indigent, mean at times, self-confident, and only scared of her mother. She has the second most memorable sets of lines in the show, beyond all doubt! I don’t think I screencapped many of her lines, as they were less one-liners and more pieces of larger conversations. But among a great set of characters, she claims the second spot in my estimation.

Third on my list is—wait for it—not Komari, not Hotaru, not Candy Store (hilarious), but Suguru. Who’s that? you ask, as you scramble to remember all the girls’ names. Oh, right, it’s not a girl! The only male child in this series is Komari and Natsumi’s older brother, who Renge has named Nii-nii. But wait, you say! He doesn’t have any lines! Right, he doesn’t! It’s totally hilarious! He talks one time, but his guitar is so loud we can’t hear him! I hoped right at the end, when he graduated from the school, that we’d finally get to hear him speak. But we didn’t! I threw the pillows up in the air and just laughed once again!

My fourth favorite is Kaede Kagayama, also known confectionately—excuse me, affectionately—as Dagashiya, meaning “Candy Store.” She doesn’t have a ton of lines, and isn’t really that funny when she speaks. She’s mature, and one of Kazuho-sensei’s few acquaintances of her own age. What I adore about this character is how much she loves Renge. It’s funny, because she’s fairly harsh externally, almost a bad girl type, but she runs a candy store of all things. And she has a special relationship with Renge. We never actually see the Miyauchi parents, and because of that Candy Store kind of takes over the mother role for Renge at moments. It’s really sweet. Candy Store is really pretty too, I should mention. I’m probably more than a little in love with her.

Speaking of Kazuho, she’s the eldest sister in the Miyauchi family, and mostly runs the house in the parents’ absence. She’s also the sole teacher at the local school. Who did it before her is a mystery which is never solved, nor ever posed to us. She’s in a perpetual state of nap time, even when she’s awake. Actual sleep or drunkeness exacerbates this state, and she will begin to mumble about money or food or other random nonsense. Renge regularly chides her with philosophical common sense, which Nee-nee, another Renge-ism, takes to heart, but it never gets from her heart to her body. She’s sleepy and kind of lazy, if always very well-intentioned, right up to the end. It’s hilarious!

Poor Komari. Natsumi’s senior by age, but not by stature, she is on an incessant quest to prove she’s an adult. She’s definitely not an adult, definitely not even a high schooler. She’s smaller than just about everybody except Renge and the two girls Renge eventually meets that are younger than she is. While she doesn’t have the respect a senior is owed, she does have the affection she deserves. Or at least, judging by Hotaru’s behavior she does.

Hotaru is the new arrival on the scene in Asahigaoka. She’s been living in Tokyo, so this move to the countryside is a big change for her. But she smiles maturely and doesn’t imagine herself above these people, and fits in very quickly. And she’s kind of in love with Komari, as much as a mature fifth grader can be in love with a slightly immature eighth grader. She thinks Komari is super kawaii—yes, because she’s short! In her obsession, she makes tons of of Komari plushies, at one point becoming embarrassed that Komari sees all of them!

Hikage, or Hika-nee, is Renge’s second oldest sister. She goes to school in Tokyo now, and imagines she’s made it in life because of it! She doesn’t play a big role in the story, but she adds to the craziness when she’s around! Also there’s Konomi, a neighbor to Natsumi and Komari. It’s a little hard to keep up with her, as she has similar hair to Hikage and Hotaru, plus her name is similar to Komari’s. You have to watch carefully to not lose track of her. She’s the only character that’s not immediately memorable among this crew though.

A handful of other characters appear every so often as well, including Renge’s two younger friends which will put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye and a memory in your heart. I guess the only people I haven’t mentioned are the Koshigaya mother, a benevolent tyrant in Natsumi and Komari’s house, and Akane, a late-comer to the story who Konomi befriends through their mutual interest in the flute. Renge wants to name her Aka-chan, but Akane resists, as this is pronounced the same as the Japanese word for “baby.”

Oh lord, they’re all hilarious and they all fit in this show perfectly! You can’t ever quite tell if someone’s trying to make fun of the “country folk” in this story or not, but either way it works out really funny, and you don’t feel anything but love for these people. They’ll make you laugh your head off and warm your heart all in the same scene. Well done by this author and the producers of this anime!

Artwork

Rating: 9

There are some gorgeous landscape drawings in this show. Landscapes are relegated to the background more often than not in anime, so it was both unusual and refreshing to see such an emphasis on the surrounding scenery in this show. It is out in the countryside after all, so you should expect this. I remember the opening of episode 1 of this series distinctly, and I think I always will. You have this folkish tune being played on the recorder in the background (by Renge herself, as you soon find) as the “camera” pans all over this beautiful scenery. This goes on for several minutes before we even see a character or have any dialogue. It’s very unusual, and very engaging, and it sets the stage for this entire series.

For ages of humanity people have extolled the virtues of the country lifestyle. It has a quiet peacefulness that cannot be found anywhere else. I don’t want to dig into that too much here. But this is another fine example in the long train of literature surrounding the countryside way of life. And the art does a great job contributing to that historical train of thought.

I can’t stop praising the design for Renge. I know the design was originally from the manga, but the anime reproduced its essence perfectly. That vacant yet sagacious stare and those semicircular eyes are everything! If you notice, her horizontal eyebrows never change. Her emotions are handled entirely with eyebrows and mouth and coloring on her face. This is gonna sound funny, but it’s a true work of art!

Overall, to be a purely comedic anime, the art is fantastic. It’s pretty, it’s eye-catching, it’s unusual, it’s simple. Just like a portrayal of the countryside should be!

Story

Rating: 8

The genius in this story is reliving Renge’s first grade year three times over. After I watched season 1, I kind of figured season 2 would do this. There didn’t seem any point in having Renge age. And I was not disappointed when I found S2 does indeed repeat the year, just highlights different moments. When S3 did the same thing, I was sold on this method. It works perfectly for this set of characters and presentation.

Each show is its own tale, and could stand alone from any continuous thread of story. Basically, Renge goes to school. Renge makes friends. Renge interacts with friends. Renge plays with new and old friends. Renge learns. Renge teaches. Renge travels. Not very far, but still, travels. Renge thinks. Renge expounds. It truly is little slices of life in this beautiful world.

As much as I like all the characters, anytime the story lapsed away from Renge for too long, I felt that was time misspent. Don’t get me wrong, Natsumi’s antics and Hotaru’s adventures, etc., are all lots of fun on their own. But it’s Renge that puts this series into another realm, and anytime she’s not in the picture, you can really tell. 

I can’t fault it for any of this though. It all works together fine, and is very satisfactory either way. 

Overall: 10

I’ll sum up the dialogue with this: there are times Renge will say things, and you’ll stare in utter disbelief just like the other characters listening to her. What???

What’s best about this series, in my opinion, is that you could continue this pattern indefinitely. A fourth season could totally repeat the same year again, and we could watch Renge marvel at the ordinary, watch Natsumi stumble over the ordinary, watch Hotaru make Koma-plushies, watch Candy Store devote herself to Renge, watch Kazuho-sensei sleep through class, watch the sakura bloom and the clouds roll by, and I would be as happy as I was from the first moment I heard that silly recorder.

One thing I noticed about this series was how long the episodes felt. You’ve probably seen me mention how episodes for certain anime fly by, and I’m done with thirty-something episodes and I didn’t even realize it. I note that’s usually a sign of the quality of the show. I’m so engaged in it I lose normal awareness of the passage of time. You might think that if the opposite were true, and episodes seemed interminable, that it’s because of the mindset opposite of interest. That longer-feeling episodes are the result of disengagement and boredom. Ordinarily, I would agree. 

But Non Non Biyori is not ordinary. These episodes seemed like they’d never end. But it wasn’t because I was bored of them. I was totally immersed in each episode, and often found myself wondering how a particular episode could possibly still be going on. There were times when I wondered if the episodes were anomalously thirty minutes or more! But that was never the case.  

Actually, I can’t tell you why I felt like the episodes were so long. For I do not know myself. If I had to guess, it’s that this show’s feeling, the pace of life in this little world we’re shown, draws you into itself. The slow but beautiful days feel neither definite nor endless. The present captures our awareness amidst the seas of green fields and blue skies and blank stares and wise words. Whether this was the intended effect or not (or even if everyone felt this or not), it’s a magnificent result. Great art is highly evocative, but evocative doesn’t have to mean we cry until our eyes hurt, or laugh in hysterics, or our hearts skip a beat as if falling in love. Sometimes it just means something as simple as taking our awareness of time and slowing it down, making us, for once, a little less the servant of time. That’s quite remarkable artistically speaking. 

Non Non Biyori is an amazing little gem among a big world of anime, and it holds its own. It is immovable in its simplicity, and as marvelous as any adventure story. It’s quite an experience to watch. As I write this, season 3 just finished up (April 2021), but I definitely hope this isn’t the end of the road. Renge finally made it to 2nd grade in this past season, and that makes me worry. This anime has spanned seven years of time to this point. But I certainly have hope that this ride will continue. As life in the country goes on, so I hope we have not see the last of Renge-chon.

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