I had one single misgiving when I began viewing the third season of Non Non Biyori, Nonstop. We were once more running through the same first year of former Tokyo girl Hotaru Ichijou in the rustic environs of backwoods Japan, the pristine village of Asahigaoka. Again. More adventures of the four diversely aged classmates of the Branch School seen through the passing of the seasons, ending with that shower of cherry blossoms which bring the cheerful iyashikei to a close. After viewing two seasons, have the third season rehash the whole same timeframe gave me feelings for that children’s novel Tuck Everlasting, whose non-aging characters were charming, yes, but were starting to become trite and anachronistic after a few chapters.
But, with Nonstop, there's this hitch. It comes blaring out at you in the final episode, but you come to realize that this all has been playing quietly out through all the episodes. And it's subtle. Each girl shows some level of maturity as they pass through that particular stage of life they've entered, and, by season's end, has finally moved past. For young Renge, this comes with the entrance of little Shiori, the constable's daughter who is helped by Renge when she becomes lost. Renge gains the perspective of being the 'big sister,' an aspect Shiori ironically gains later on when there is a birth in her family. Renge also gains the friendship of Akane Shinoda, a high school classmate of Konomi who shares an interest in the flute. Akane's hard work in practicing the flute at Konomi's house brings out the best in Renge's recorder playing.
Nonstop brings out the best in the older girls of the series. Candy Store is Renge's second mother, and a bout of drunkenness on her part is a serious breach of offence which Candy Store is resolved to keep hidden lest Renge thinks the less of her (Renge can't, the dearie). HIkage remains the inspiration behind Natsumi's mischief, but her budding friendship with Akane seems to mature her. Konomi is courageous in looking forward to her new adventures as a collegian. Even that laziest teacher in the world, Kazuho Miyauchi, gains a new respect for her work of training when quiet-natured Suguru Koshigaya graduates from the Branch School.
It is one more twelve-pack of youthful experiences of the cast of Non Non Biyori. The strength of this series has been the animation, but specifically of the nature scenes, which come as us as still landscapes until someone activates them. A marvel of technique. But NNB seems to do less well with animating the human figure. These are not as majestic as the vistas in and around Asahigaoka. But what makes them as majestic comes from characterization of each individual, a soul of integrity wrapped in a distinctive personality. Refined but immature Hotaru. Inquisitive, assertive Renge. Easily flummoxed Komari. Mischievous but good-natured Natsumi.
In the end, I saw what was worth waiting for. Renge is a second-grader. More, Shiori joins the Branch School, making Renge a senpai (and so young, too!). Others make their special transitions as Konomi in college, Suguru to high school. But life continues at Asahigaoka Branch School, as always. Just slightly altered. And that is not bad.
This leads me to fear that the greatest irony in Nonstop is that it might well be the last season. All good things ... so they say. But any winding it all back to the beginning and playing those twelve months over again would be a little harder.
Still, they said ... NONSTOP. We might hope for more.