Non Non Biyori Episode 1: Life in Asahigaoka

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Non Non Biyori is a favorite show of mine, thanks to its relaxing, bucolic atmosphere – the town of Asahigaoka exists in the Japanese countryside, away from all the bustle of city life, and one can get that impression from the opening shots of the first episode. Renge, the youngest of the four protagonists, serves as an introductory element; she openly wonders if she lives in the country while playing her recorder, and gives a very cursory introduction to the town she lives in. Throughout the opening sequence, one sees the protagonists getting ready for school, along with images of the town; along with Renge, we meet the Koshigaya sisters, Komari and Natsumi, as well as the new transfer student Ichijou Hotaru (who used to live in Tokyo prior to moving).

There is little music present here in the opening sequence; one can hear Renge playing on her recorder, but music is kept to a minimum. This provides a nice contrast to other anime, which may include a lively rock or orchestral theme accompanying the credits. Non Non Biyori‘s opening theme itself is a pop-oriented piece, but rather easy-going; this complements the slower pace of the show, which allows the audience to take in the sights before getting into the plot of the episode. Special mention can be directed to the scenery here – the first few shots of this opening segment show the characters in a long shot, with the environment dwarfing them. To give an example, the shot of the sisters above shots the house as a major presence; school and home life dominate this series, so it makes sense for the house to be so prominent here.

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Formal introductions of the characters come immediately after the opening theme – Renge, Natsumi and Komari appear first, with Hotaru appearing at school. With Renge and Natsumi, they walk to the bus stop; as one might expect, they’re used to this sort of thing, as the bus stop (which we later learn about) has rather lengthy wait times between arrivals. Renge, the youngest, has her own greeting “Nyanpasu” (here translated as “meowning”); it’s a nonsense word, befitting her age, and confusing Natsumi in the process. This scene illustrates Natsumi’s habit of being late; she arrives at the bus in the nick of time, while her sister Komari already left for it earlier. This becomes a recurring theme in the anime – Komari acts as the more productive, punctual sister while Natsumi finds an excuse to explain away her tardiness and other oddball behavior.

Now we come to Hotaru – she gets her own in-school introduction, with both the class and the audience meeting her for the first time. She writes her name on the blackboard, a traditional thing in Japanese schools; if you watch school-based anime where transfer students are introduced, their names are always on the board, allowing other characters to learn that person’s name and how it’s spelled. Of course, the family name appears first in Japanese nomenclature – the characters refer to each other by given name here, often in nickname form (often with an honorific attached), so Hotaru becomes Hotarun and Renge becomes Renge-chon.

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Here we get into the cultural dynamics of life in the countryside; Hotaru is quite new to all of this, so she notices all the little details that the others have acclimated to. For example, the characters don’t lock their doors during the day – Hotaru, having lived in Tokyo, is more used to locking hers, and her new classmates express their puzzlement over that fact. Hotaru eventually gets used to all the idiosyncrasies of country life, but here she notices them for the first time; the cattle crossing sign gets a special mention because Hotaru specifically points it out, with Natsumi, Renge and Komari further elaborating that deer and boars also use the crossing. Tokyo rarely, if at all, has such crossings – it’s very urban in scope, and cattle do not appear there, so Hotaru has a learning experience here.

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The final segment of the episode concerns the question posed by Renge from the outset – are the protagonists living in the country? They do, of course, but Renge finds herself wondering about that due to her perceived lack of knowledge of “country versus urban”; having lived in Asahigaoka for her entire life, she has no knowledge of Tokyo (aside from the occasional commercial, such as one about convenience stores, as mentioned in an earlier scene).Ultimately, the answer to Renge’s question comes from Natsumi, who spends her time initially defending against the idea that it’s the countryside; Natsumi at first explains that the countryside is not defined by the existence of tanuki or somesuch, but the rather lengthy intervals between bus arrival times causes her to inadvertently blurt out that it’s inconvenient, surprising Renge (who now has an epiphany).

Despite Natsumi’s hesitance to accept it as the countryside, however, the country as shown through the episode looks rather relaxing; Non Non Biyori shares this quality with Aria the  Animation, as the two series focus on worlds quite distant from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in urban centers. With Aria, Aqua serves as the major narrative center – Mars became terraformed at some point, allowing humans to settle there, and Neo-Venezia hearkens to a slow-paced, calm life away from all the distractions of cities. In fact, one can draw parallels between Hotaru and the girl who visits Neo-Venezia in the first episode of Aria; the two visit a new place for the first time (under different circumstances, of course, and with different expectations), and are eventually won over by how relaxing everything is. In Hotaru’s case, she moves to Asahigaoka due to her father’s job; the girl in Aria arrives in Neo-Venezia because she got tired of her sister seemingly bragging about it, and wanted to see the city for herself.

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