Sometimes nature is beautiful.
Like Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka, Non Non Biyori returned this year for a second season. However, in contrast to GochiUsa, Non Non’s success was predicated on its command of atmosphere and its ability to highlight the simple pleasures of country life. This seemed like a much harder formula to replicate than GochiUsa’s charming aesthetics and general cuteness. At the same time, it provides the show with the potential to be much more than simply cute girls doing cute things. Of course a show that combines both atmosphere, cuteness and humor a la K-ON would be ideal but failing that I’ll take atmosphere every day of the week.
I’m glad to say that Non Non Biyori Repeat managed to take the sense of atmosphere from season one and build on it reaching a level beyond anything the first season achieved. The atmosphere was even more immersive, the little moments more poignant and the aesthetics of the countryside even more warm and welcoming. It took everything that was good about the first season and enhanced it resulting in one of the best anime of 2015.
Narrowing an outstanding show like Non Non Biyori down to one moment is difficult, but there’s one moment in particular that stands out above the others as the most special. Like my post about the first season, this episode was about Renge and coping with loss. The episode opens with the cast fishing for tadpole shrimp. They bring the tadpole shrimp into their classroom and Renge is immediately enthralled. It’s probably the first time she’s gotten to care for a pet and she takes to it with great enthusiasm. However, these are tadpole shrimp and before long they pass away. Seeing Renge have to deal with losing something precious like these tadpoles for the first time is a heartbreaking experience. It’s made all the more heartbreaking by the rain and the excellent musical choices used to accompany this sequence. What made Non Non Biyori special was often the way it was able to weave visuals, storytelling and music together to create an immersive atmosphere and this episode was on of the best examples of that.
But this episode isn’t just notable for Renge’s sadness. It’s also notable for the way Natsumi steps up in Renge’s time of need. It’s easy to forget sometimes that Natsumi is actually the second oldest of the group given how she tends to behave. But here we see her notice what Renge is going through and immediately step in to make things better. She realizes that the tadpoles must have laid eggs in the tank and quickly moves to replace the dirt and refill the tank. When Renge returns to school on Monday she’s amazed to find that there are new tadpoles floating in the water.
The entire progression from the exhilaration of caring for the tadpoles to the heartbreak of them dying then the joy and relief of seeing the new ones was beautifully executed. The visuals and music were incredibly effective at letting you share in the emotions Renge was going through. Helping you feel like part of the everyday countryside lives of its cast was the great strength of Non Non Biyori’s first season and Repeat was even better at this. Episode four’s climax was the best example of this and it was one of my favorite anime moments of 2015.