What They Say:
When Hotaru Ichijo transfers from a school in bustling Tokyo to a tiny school in a quiet countryside village, she should be experiencing major culture shock. After all, there are only three other girls in the school, and none of them are even in the same grade as her. But adjusting isn’t too hard for Hotaru thanks to first grader Renge and the Koshigaya sisters, Natsumi and Komari, who are in the seventh and eighth grade respectively.
Even though it takes 20 minutes by bicycle to get to the only place that sells comics and the video store is 10 train stations away, there’s something about the laid-back lifestyle that makes her feel right at ease. It’s a big change from the big city, but there are still plenty of new adventures to look forward to as Hotaru learns that home really is where the heart is.
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this release is about what you’d expect in that we get a simple stereo mix with only the Japanese language, which is encoded using the lossless DTS-HD MA codec. The show is all about the ambience and dialogue, so it has to work the calm and quiet scenes well throughout, letting some of the sounds of nature dominate as well as other incidental aspects of it all. It handles it all quite well overall, but like a lot of mixes of this nature it’s not going to come across as striking or impressive, though it does it all in a very good way. There’s some decent placement from time to time with the show as we get a good number of characters together at a time as well as a bit of depth as well, though less of that overall. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this twelve episode series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Since there’s only one language track here, we get the show on one disc for all twelve episodes. The series has a lot of static backgrounds throughout it which makes it easier to work with a mid-rage bit rate that lands mostly around the twenty range with plenty of variation near it. That’s definitely welcome as there’s a lot of great colors here that stand out well and add to the overall richness of the show that definitely needs to be seen in high definition. Though it’s not the most animated of series, it does handle its animation well but it also balances it out with some good details to the characters, beautiful colors in backgrounds and foregrounds and fluidity of animation when necessary. This is a really well done show in that it immerses you in the area through the visuals and the transfer captures that.
The packaging for this release works with a standard single sized Blu-ray case that uses some very familiar artwork with it. The front cover gives us a look at the four girls in their various uniforms and outfits as they walk home together with the light shining down on them through the trees. With some beautiful background material and a real sense of setting, combined with nice looking character designs, it definitely lets you know what to expect and sells that in a big way. Add in the cute logo along the top with its colors to add a bit of pop and it’s definitely a solid design. The back cover works in the natural colors nicely with more background material along the top under the tagline while the bottom goes for a solid shade of green for the production information and the technical grid. The center strip has some good character artwork and a solid slate of shots from the show that shows off more of the various locations while the premise, done in red text on white, covers things really well in exploring the basics of the cover. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works in a very simple way but it sets the mood and atmosphere quite well. The overall static image is that of the four girls along a hillside with cherry blossom trees in full bloom behind them, which lets us get a great pop of soft color to accent the characters and the color design there. The logo is very vibrant against all of this along the center top while the right side has the navigation strip, which works the logo design in a way with its rounded edges on the left while the breakdown of episode by number and title line along it in a purple and white combination that plays well against the color of the trees. With nothing here outside of the extras, navigation is a breeze and the menu looks good when used during playback as a pop-up.
The only extras on this release are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name by Atto, Non Non Biyori is a twelve episode series animated by Silver Link which was broadcast during the fall of 2013. The original manga began back in 2009 and has seven volumes to its name so far, giving this a fair bit of material to work with overall. Slice of life shows are ones that can be worked a bit easier anyway since they have a natural slowness to them that can lead to some creative and fun ways of stretching things out a bit. With this series, we get taken out of the usual norm for a show like this in that it puts us in the countryside village of Asahigaoka. Having spent my own time in far off places that are quite similar to this, you can definitely feel a certain truth coming from the design of a series like this.
While we’ve had countryside village stories before, often they take us to more regional schools where we get a fairly normal kind of crowd that has the standard size to it but without the whole big city aspect. What they do here instead is introduce to us the place through the arrival of Hotaru, a fifth year elementary student who has come from Tokyo due to a job transfer her father had. She’s not a worldly Tokyoite or anything but simply comes across as a normal kid. One that’s shocked to find that her new school has four students in it prior to her arriving. The school takes place in a single classroom that’s handled by a single teacher, Kazuho, who herself graduated from here several years ago. It’s more a traditional Little House on the Prairie kind of school where we get everything that’s taught at the same time in a way but it’s more about self study and working through workbooks rather than Kazuho actually teaching. Which is good since she’s more predisposed to sleeping most of the time like a cat.
The make-up of the class is heavily tilted towards the girls as there are three of them versus the single boy and the arrival of Hotaru makes it all the more tilted. The single boy is the elder brother of Natsume and Komari, which gives us three of the characters being siblings in the class of four, which is awkward enough. To make it more so, the first grade student in here, Renge, is related to Kazuho, so there’s a lot of easy familiarity among everyone because of this situation. Hotaru’s arrival is one that doesn’t exactly upset it since the girls all get together more and just hang out, especially since Suguru as the only male is barely used and barely even qualifies as window dressing since he has a handful of lines at best here. Which works well enough since this is pretty much an all-girls show anyway, but at least that make mention of one or two boys along the way so that it’s not as if boys don’t exist at all.
Thankfully, the show doesn’t focus on Hotaru as the view of the village from a big city girl, though we get some of it to start. It works well enough to introduce us to the village and some of the quirks of it, but it’s largely a normal place where you have to travel to a nearby city for a normal market and other kinds of amenities. There’s a few simple places within the village, but the only noteworthy one that really comes up is that there’s a candy shop that’s run by a former alumni of the school who is barely eking out an existence since there aren’t a lot of people here and little in the way of money. A lot of the show simply takes place at the school, but it also doesn’t spend all of its time there as it shifts around other areas that really does a good job to accent its beauty. There’s an episode that focuses nicely on this as we get Renge meeting a girl who has come to visit her grandmother for the summer and she shows her around so she can take lots of pictures. It’s a nice story in that it gives Renge someone her own age to interact with, though you know it won’t last.
The draw of a show like this is the slow moments themselves, the way they interact with each other and just hang out. Because of the big age differences at times with them, and some of the silliness of the height differences as well since second year middle school student Komari is shorter than her younger sister, and almost on a first grade level at about four foot nine, you get plenty of situations come up that deals with these differences. During the simple and mostly non-fanservice oriented beach segment, Komari goes off to get drinks for everyone but a few of the caretakers in the area worry that she’s a lost little girl and keep her with them until her friends come and pick her up. Everyone is apologetic, but there is definitely some comedy to be had with these even as you feel bad for Komari. Though you can’t help but to enjoy the way Renge even gets a few good laughs in with it.
Non Non Biyori works through plenty of familiar stories as it goes on, from a rather cute late night challenge of bravery that panics the girls to a more personal piece where Komari and Natsume deal with Komari watching a ghost movie that freaks her out more than she thought it would. Of course, siblings make everything worse and Natsume really torments her in a big way. Cooking figures into the show as well of course and there’s also a good episode where they try to put on a culture festival with a cafe while drawing in a few other alumni in order to make it profitable. Not that anyone in the class can even read a recipe and follow it – Kazuho included – which makes it a comical bit to watch. Still, having some of the older students come back makes it fun to watch since there’s some family relations in there as well. You can see the echos of that generation coming through upon revisiting.
Silver Link’s work on the show here is important because the quality of the animation in terms of design really is critical. It may be a bit more green natural than some might expect in a way, but it has a big naturalistic look to it and a bit too clean, but it paints an appealing picture of saying that there is much to like out here and that there are many happy people in that area. The background designs are just beautiful throughout when it comes to the outdoors and they do just as solid inside, though that’s a bit more traditional. Similarly, the character designs have a lot of appeal as there are some real differences in the characters but they each have their quirks that make them stand out. It’s not a series with high fluid animation because it’s simply not necessary as it’s all dialogue driven with simple movements, but what they do offer really comes across well and leaves you with a very good impression of the project as a whole.
As the show covers almost a years worth of time as it moves through the seasons, we get a nice little look at the world of Non Non Biyori, the setting and the characters. And getting it in high definition is important because it does bring it to life in a really great way, with a vibrancy and pop but also a lushness. The show is kept simple and nice with some sweet moments along the way as you’re brought to care about the characters as much as you can. While we do get to know them, none of the characters here actually face any adversity or challenges of note, even at the ages they’re at, so there’s nothing to really draw you in further and really empathize with them in a big way. It’s pleasant and nice and you can easily like the characters, but it’s also something that’s fairly superficial as it tries to get you to fall for them. I can see the appeal and the way that it did garner itself a good group of fans, but for me it was just a pleasant diversion that I suspect won’t leave much of an impact or memory.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: January 6th, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.