Let’s Watch a Random Anime (#2)
It’s that time again, folks! In case you missed it, every month (starting last month, which you can see here), I watch and talk about a random anime. The thing is, as the word “random” may imply, I have no idea what that anime will be as of writing this.
I like this series because it forces me to watch series that I otherwise may not. It takes away my choice in the matter. This can be good or bad. We may get a hidden gem that I will worship for all time, or it could be total trash. That’s the fun of it! I’m a gambler at heart, and that’s why I’ll do this instead of ever stepping foot in a casino.
How I do this is with a wonderful website called RandomAnime.org. This site does what it sounds like. It generates a random anime. One rule I will add because I thought about this since last month. If we get a series with over 26 or so episodes, I won’t watch all of it. I’ll watch what I feel is enough. Probably around 20 or so.
I have no opinion on what series I want. I just hope it’s half-decent. But there is a part of me that wants something hilariously bad this time, though. Let’s see. Work your magic, internet!
Now, that’s funny! Just a few weeks ago, I made a post on Slow Start and talked about how I’m not the biggest fan of slice of life, yet enjoyed that series because of some of its themes, particularly with its main character.
Non Non Biyori is a series I keep seeing popping up in discussions about the genre. It’s a pretty well-received anime from what I understand, and while I can’t remember where it was, I did get recommended it at some point, unless I’m just insane.
I’m looking forward to it! I’ve actually had this on my “I’ll watch it soon” list, rather than my “I’ll watch it before I die” list, just because I had heard it was good. And this will have an easy stopping point! The first season, which is 12 episodes. Will I continue after that? It’s certainly possible. So, what’s it about?
“Asahigaoka might look like typical, boring countryside to most; however, no day in this village can ever be considered colorless thanks to five students of varying ages occupying the only class in the only school in town. The youngest student is first grader Renge Miyauchi, who brings an unadulterated wit, curiosity, and her characteristic catchphrase, “Nyanpasu!” Then there are the Koshigaya siblings consisting of the quiet ninth grader and elder brother Suguru, diminutive eighth grader Komari, and the mischievous seventh grader Natsumi. The recent arrival of Tokyo-raised fifth grader Hotaru Ichijou, who appears overdeveloped for her age and thus naturally holds an air of maturity, rounds out this lively and vibrant group of five classmates.”
Sounds pretty generic slice of life. Friends do stuff. I will say this setup does sound fun and isn’t something I’ve seen before. It could make a nice fish-out-of-water story of a city girl who learns to like the country life. It’s also interesting to me that all the characters are different ages rather than being in the same level of schooling. It could lead to some humor unique to this series.
Let’s see how it is.
Let me start off by telling a story related to the series. So, about a week ago, from the time this will go up, I was at work. I generally work in the evenings, so I get home around 9 or 10 at night, depending on the day. At that point, I pretty much want to relax and just go to sleep.
As I was wheeling the day’s trash around to the back of the building, feeling particularly tired that day, I had one random thought pop in my mind. What was that thought? “I wish I was watching Non Non Biyori right now.” When I got home, I laid down, watched 3 more episodes, and fell asleep—the end.
That experience taught me something. It taught me what I think the true value of a slice of life is, and I think I truly understood then and there for the first time why so many enjoy it. And, little by little, especially over the past month, the genre has started to grow on me.
I could go down that rabbit hole for a long time, so I’ll refrain for today and instead talk about the series in question. Imagine doing that in the post dedicated to it.
As past me had deduced, the strongest thing Non Non Biyori has going for it is its setting. It’s just wonderful for the genre. Slice of life is all about characters relaxing and going through their lives and I couldn’t think of a better way to express that than a bunch of friends in a small rural town where everyone knows each other.
I’m not going to lie, I want to live in Asahigaoka. I’ve never lived in the city before, but I’ve also never had the desire to live deep in the country, but I would now. It’s an incredibly charming location.
You can tell that Silver Link wanted to bring the rural town to life. Between the soothing soundtrack and the beautiful camera shots of flowing water in the rivers, petals falling from the cherry blossom tree, and just the looks we get at the countryside in general, it all breathes life into this town like I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen in an anime before.
It creates this overwhelmingly “cozy” feel, which I have heard other slice of life’s described as, but this is the first time I’ve felt that feeling myself. The series is just so full of life. I believe it. I believe that Asahigaoka is a real place with real people, or at least I want to believe that it is based on something real. It just has to be.
You think the series is about a city girl, Hotaru, coming from Tokyo to the boonies and adjusting to all the weirdness that comes with it, but it’s really not. While some of the humor is definitely from the particularities of living in the deep country, I never felt like it was ever being made fun of, if that makes sense.
Any joke that was made, I felt like was made with love. It wasn’t laughing at the country. It was laughing with the country. It was the series going: “I know this way of life is weird sometimes, but it’s still wonderful.” It just emanates warmth and love. It feels like it was written by someone with a deep appreciation for that way of life, and wanted to portray it as different, yet beautiful.
I want to bring up a point that shows itself in both the first and last episode of season 1. Our adorable and hilarious first grader Renge (who has the sweetest relationship with the characters ever, I swear) continues to wonder whether or not she actually lives in the country. She sees stuff happen that’s maybe a little odd, and how different it is from what Hotaru knows, and she can’t help but wonder.
I love this because not at any point in either episode does any of the characters ever answer yes to that question. It’s obvious. Yes, they are in the country, but it’s never said to her. One of the characters may let it slip to make for a joke, but they never tell her directly that they do. As an outsider, when you say someplace is “in the country,” or something like that, it’s usually negative. It generally means it’s a small town, miles away from civilization full of hicks.
By not saying that it is the country, the characters aren’t confirming that being “in the country” is a bad thing, as Renge thinks, and the anime doesn’t label itself or detract from what the setting is and what it means. It’s not just the country. It’s the country!
As I said, this point is the climax of the whole season. After seeing practically the only male for miles chewing on grass in the woods, Renge asks Hotaru again whether they’re in the country. She responds not with yes or no, but by saying that Asahigaoka is very different from Tokyo, and that’s the reason she fell in love with it. The life is different, but it isn’t bad. It’s beautiful in its own special way.
This quiet life where only five children of different grades attend the same school, this life where there is both nothing and everything to do with your time, is beautiful. You can tell the characters love it, and it makes the audience love it as well, and I’m not just saying that because it grows on our city girl as well. She’s probably the least important factor in the grand scheme of things.
This anime is unique in the fact that I don’t think anyone could really distinguish who the main character is. You know who the main characters are, but not any one of them. You would imagine, Hotaru, but each of our four girls gets a pretty even amount of time, both by themselves and with each other.
What really got me to love Asahigaoka was the history the town has. Everybody knows everybody. It isn’t just something that’s said to give you that country feel. It’s true. This character has lived next door forever, so they’re a close friend now, this girl that runs the candy shop in a friend of a sister, you get the point. There are relationships that go back a long time for most of the characters.
One of the most humorous moments to me was finding out that three of the five students in class, Suburu, the guy who never says a word, Komari, the naive girl who wants to act grown-up, but is sensitive about her short height, and Natsumi, the energetic, trouble maker of the group are all siblings! And the teacher of the one class in town? Yeah, that’s Renge’s older sis.
Every character knows each other or knows somebody that knows them. There’s a very rich history in this rural town, which makes Hotaru probably the least interesting of the characters. Her infatuation with Komari’s cuteness becomes her only real personality trait, besides her “matureness” that they try to push on her. However, she doesn’t act mature far more often, killing that pretty quick. She also adjusts to the country life very quickly, taking her city girl card away from her fast as well.
That would have been one thing I’d like to see, a little more from Hotaru. She is who you would assume to be the “main” main character, but with the amount of screentime Renge, Komari, and Natsumi get, it brings into view just how forgettable Hotaru actually is. In fact, I would say that’s probably why her somewhat unhealthy love for her senpai was created. As a way to make her more interesting.
But even that trait is pretty reliant on someone else, which shows that Hotaru can’t really stand out from the crowd separated from Komari or on her own. At least not as much as the other characters can. She just isn’t unique enough, not even in design, if I’m honest. She feels bland and like nobody really knew what to do with her. I think it says a lot that I knew of the series and what Renge looks like, but when I saw the picture on RandomAnime, I was like, “Who the hell is that?”
The Koshigaya sisters are somewhat similar. Their best moments come from their interactions with each other, but they both have strong enough personality traits to make it on their own, unlike Hotaru. And their older brother…well, his whole personality is that he doesn’t stand out, and it’s wonderful, and he’s one of my favorite characters ever. If my humor was personified as a character, it would be him.
Renge is by far the best, not necessarily because of herself, although she is wonderful. She’s hilarious, adorable, and triggers a lot of surprisingly serious moments throughout the series, like the portion dedicated to her finally making a friend her own age before quietly crying to herself in what was an Evangelion-length pause on her face when she has to say goodbye until next year. It’s broke my heart, really, and it shows the unique troubles of rural town life. Something I can personally relate to as everyone I knew for a majority of my childhood was also older than me.
Renge loves and cares about her friends. They mean the absolute world to her, but despite that, she can’t help but want someone her own age to hang out with. Someone she can relate to in a way that she just can’t with the others. That’s some complicated emotions coming from a 7-year-old, let me tell you. Yet, she still acts very childish as she should, regardless of her more serious moments. I really enjoyed her character a lot. She was written really well from both a story and comedic point of view.
But the thing I enjoyed the most is seeing the way the cast reacts around Renge. They love her to death, and you can tell that from their interactions, especially the few times they all try to vie for her attention with various games. There’s a subtle change to how they interact with her, and it was really cute to me. All the characters are better when she’s around. My favorite episode actually involves her and a side character, Kaede, who is sometimes affectionately called candy shop after her livelihood.
She was a character I initially didn’t think would be that interesting, and then we get a whole episode dedicated to her and Renge’s relationship. Flashbacks of how Kaede used to watch little Renge when she was just a baby and how she gradually grew on her against her will. It draws a fantastic parallel to the stuff going on in present-day and even ends with them sleeping in a futon together just as they did all those years ago. It was a beautiful episode, really, and made a character that seemed bland pretty solid.
Ultimately, Non Non Biyori is a slice of life. That won’t surprise anyone. It’s about as slice of life as you can get, but it does that really well. From what I’ve experienced, two things are important to make a good slice of life. One, it has to have a good setting and premise. And two, it needs decent characters that play off of each other really well. You could say the same about any story, really, but it’s especially relevant for slice of life.
They don’t have deep stories to hook your attention. They have to do a lot more with a lot less, which is why Non Non Biyori works. Its strongest points are its setting first and characters second. Even the character I thought was the worst, Hotaru, still plays off of the cast well. The main focus is how they interact so the strongest characters can help cover the weaker ones. It’s something slice of life has over other genres. Not every character needs to be complex. It isn’t the point.
But I didn’t think Non Non Biyori was your average slice of life. It just stands out. It’s unique. And that really is because it’s setting. I can’t stretch just how much that improves the series as a whole. It makes it, honestly. You take these characters and stick them in a normal school setting, and it would still probably be alright, but it would lose so, so much. It would lose the magic that makes it memorable to me.
Because the series doesn’t just have the rural setting. That setting bleeds from every facet of it. It isn’t a series about characters that live in the country. It’s about characters that were created by living in the country. Ever removing them from that would just feel wrong. It all works perfectly as is.
If you couldn’t tell, I would highly recommend this anime, especially for fans of the genre, obviously. There aren’t many series that can genuinely make me feel something. I don’t just go away thinking it’s good. I feel like my perspective was actually altered. This is the anime I will compare other slice of life’s to. It’s my new standard.
This is the reason I like watching random anime. Sometimes you might get an average murder mystery with a solid lead, and sometimes you get Non Non Biyori, a beautiful series that I don’t think I’ll forget anytime soon. I’m also thrilled that I have two other seasons and a movie to watch. Wow. I think my opinions on slice of life may be changing a little bit. That or I’ve just seen some good ones as of late—something to think about, at least.
Thank you very much for reading
Would you ever live in the sticks similar to Asahigaoka? Honestly, yes. Yes, I would. I’ve started to realize the appeal of such a life more as of late.