The slow-paced yet heartwarming life of the four girls in the tiny Asahioka Branch School continues as Natsumi, Komari, Renge, and Hotaru attend school in the one-room schoolhouse that holds only 5 students. Although the laid-back environment and atmosphere is a big change for Hotaru, who came from bustling Tokyo, there’s just something charming and calming about life in the Japanese countryside.
Just occasionally a season two can have the edge on season one. Silverlink’s 2015 return to the tale of the Asahigaoka village girls is a good example. Once they knew they had captured their audience they knew they could run through the same story telling it all over again and push it further. This is always risky and sometimes fails. This time they did good. Non Non Biyori Repeat essentially covers the same timeslot as season one did: it starts with Renge entering First Grade with transfer student Hotaru joining Fifth Grade. It runs through this same first year again and fills in all the gaps left in season one. More of the same but better. This is a show that has learnt how to breath. Characters will often just take a moment to gaze at the scenery. These pregnant pauses are perfectly timed: not too long, not to short. That character is often the youngest, Renge, who can often be caught just day-dreaming as if considering something really deep. Few other anime shows could get away with this but Non Non Biyori is special. Once it found its audience it knew what to do. The quiet can say as much as the dialogue. Such is the endless charm of this show. The anime equivalent of a back rub. Season two becomes sublime around episode 10 and 11 when we get to explore the relationship between the Renge and Kaede (“Candy Store”). Renge gets a new bike and is keen to learn free of the training wheels. No one is available to help her so she pedals up and down outside the Candy Story with Kaede looking on. Kaede always tries to keep her cool but she is very fond of Renge. She later learns that Renge has returned home to bed with a fever. After a few moments of indecision, she shuts up the shop and rushes off on her moped to be at Renge’s bedside only to find the whole gang has already beaten her to it. They tease her relentlessly. Feeling guilty she takes an entire day off work to help Renge learn to ride. As Renge finally takes off into the sunset Kaede looks on like a proud Mum. It is one of those ultra-feelgood moments for the audience to wallow in. It is just wonderful. A golden moment in anime that just glows. Shortly after Komari learns how to send an e-mail on Konomi's phone leading to humorous results because there is no mobile-phone signal in the village. So, they have to stand outside Konomi’s house on tip toes to get service. Komari is of course too short to get this to work. How many animes have a joyous scene like this? The whole show is jam packed with wonders like this. The girls study for tests, get lost in the woods, clean the school pool, play with dolls, go swimming, have a woodwork class, go fishing, pick bamboo shoots, etc, etc. It is all endlessly mundane and free of laugh-out-loud funny moments yet the humour is so relentless you will just smile the whole way through. If you have a reason to get through the day, just check out baby Renge in episode 8 or the girly version of Natsumi in episode 9. Essential Iyashikei for lovers of the countryside.
'Repeat' is the perfect word for this second round of Non Non Biyori. It is not to be the further adventures of the girl quartet from Asahioka Branch School. It is more like the additional adventures of Hotaru as she and her new school friends spend that spring to spring first year away from Tokyo to the natural setting of rural life. Again. Additional adventures? More like better selections that give us better glimpses into the character of first-grader Renge, fifth grade Hotaru, seventh grade Natsumi, and petite eighth grader Komari. The first season introduced us to Renge, starting out in the first grade. Repeat gives us the story of Renge's first day of school, with all the ceremony befitting a school of five kids and five grade levels. Renge gives us many 'moments of discovery' which feature her flashing eyes and subdued thrill in her voice. The first season presented Hotaru as she enters school. Repeat gives us her first moments outside her new home, movers lugging boxes of possessions into place. Shortly thereafter, Hotaru repeats her introduction to the class. The first season's opening had a clip of the girls taking a daring leap from the bridge into the river. Repeat gives us an episode where Hotaru gets the courage to make that first leap. In the first season, Kaede 'Candy Store' Kagayama demonstrates an attachment to Renge. In Repeat, there is one flashback episode where we meet Renge as a toddler who comes to visit Asahioka Branch School while Kaede was still attending. Cold as ice Kaede gets to hold Renge briefly, and bonding occurs. In the first season, Hotaru is seen as an overly mature fifth grader. In Repeat, we see she is still essentially a child when at home. Additional stories. Better stories. A deeper understanding of what makes these four girls so diverse in personality yet the best of friends. The animation shines again in depicting the glories of nature, using stills and moving stills, or moving action from stills. Such a variety of imaginative technique. There was also a CGI fetish with transportation and moving vehicles, as if Non Non Biyori wanted to show it wasn't just a study of meadow, creek, and panorama. And, of course, there was the short pieces at intermissions where the kanji letters of Non Non Biyori could do crazy things, and finally turn into ‘That’s all for now!’ when one of the chibi-style characters give them a spin. The music was lilting and entertaining, especially in the segment where the four girls march through the four seasons, arriving at the spring where Hotaru marvels that a year had passed (the name of the last episode). But the picnic underneath the flowering cherry tree with sakura pedals just beginning to drop made for the better ending then what season one offered. It's a wonder how the third season, Nonstop, will carry on the Non Non Biyori tradition. And don’t forget the movie Vacation.
This is more of the same as the first season meaning we have the return of the quintessential iyashikei. Fun, likable characters that play off each other well, absolutely gorgeous artwork, nice animation and great voice acting with no plot. I'd recommend not binging this one, just grab yourself a nice beverage of your choice and sip away snuggled into your bed or couch or wherever you watch your anime and have a fun, relaxing time with some quirky characters one episode at a time. If this sort of anime is not your thing, don't waste your time and then whine about it later. There's nothing original or groundbreaking here to change your outlook. Otherwise, highly recommended.
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