Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Non Non Biyori Vacation
Summer vacation is drawing to an end. When Suguru wins a free trip to Okinawa, all of the five students of Asahigaoka branch school are excited to end their vacation with a bang. Along with Hikage, Konomi, and their teacher and the candy store owner, everyone goes to Okinawa for a fun three-day trip. There, Natsumi makes friends with Aoi, the girl who helps out at the hotel they stay in.
I wasn't sure how Non Non Biyori would work as a film. The TV series is one of those iyashikei anime, which means that it's calming and relaxing to watch but also has no conflict-based narrative whatsoever. That's perfectly appealing in 20-minute episode chunks because you can take breaks and let the soothing effect sink in, but a 70-minute film poses a challenge for the pacing. Watch too much Non Non Biyori in one sitting, and there's a risk that all of the sweet vignettes and atmospheric moments will just blend together and lose their impact.
Unfortunately, my worst fears were confirmed when I sat down to watch Non Non Biyori Vacation. It plays out like an overly long episode of the TV series, except much of the unique charm and atmosphere has been diluted. Although it's typical for anime franchise films to put the characters into a new setting, this was a bad move in Non Non Biyori's case because the rural backdrop was a core part of the anime's appeal. The result is a middling cinema experience that fails to add much new to the series' world. This is a pity because fans have been clamoring to see the storyline of this film ever since the first OVA in 2014, where the characters are shown preparing for a trip to Okinawa. The trip itself was never actually shown, which left a giant question mark in viewers' minds, and Non Non Biyori Vacation serves to answer that four-year-old question.
The best thing about the film is that it shows much more of Okinawa than most anime. That may be a low bar because most anime depictions of Okinawa never leave the beach, but this film shows the characters attempting to learn the lingo and making friends with a local girl named Aoi. Although there was no way that this film would explore the complicated relationship between mainland Japan and Okinawa, it was nice to see the characters learn from each other about how they perceive their home. Non Non Biyori has always shone in its depiction of life in Japan that isn't dominated by Tokyo or Kansai, and that strength still remains in the film.
On the other hand, the film struggles to capture a sense of atmosphere for its new setting. Although it was never a requirement of the film to depict local Okinawan culture authentically, the ambiance of the anime's original setting is largely absent in the film. Some attempts to recreate the long silences and slow panning shots from the TV series serve to drag out the scenes instead of establishing atmosphere. This actively detracts from the fun of the film; outside of the interactions with Aoi, most of the movie is preoccupied with typical tourist activities, like frolicking on the beach, snorkeling, and canoeing. The contemplative moments never quite fit in with what's going on.
Some of the film's failings can be attributed to its music and sound design. Although there were some tracks created in the style of Okinawan folk music, these were mainly just used for montages and scene transitions. When it came to individual scenes, the film sounds almost exactly like the TV series, for better or worse. The contrasts between sound and silence also did not work as effectively with surround sound audio as they did in the TV series, which is somewhat unusual given the technical upgrade.
But the biggest fault of the film lies in the writing's inability to sell its big emotional moments. In typical Non Non Biyori fashion, there is no conflict or larger plot to speak of. Even the scene breaks after a skit are present in the film, which reinforces the impression that you're watching an extra-long TV episode. Perhaps aware that replicating the exact structure of the TV series would make the movie drag, the film introduces a subplot between Natsumi and the new character Aoi. The two girls make friends but eventually have to part ways when it's time for everyone to go home. Yet because Aoi only appears in a handful of scenes and most of the film was preoccupied with all the other characters getting into funny antics, the emotional punch of Natsumi and Aoi's scenes are severely undercut.
Non Non Biyori Vacation is a watered-down experience from the TV series, but at the end of the day, it should still please dedicated fans. It's always been a beautiful-looking series with fantastic art direction, and the film is no different in that regard. Non Non Biyori Vacation still has limited character animation for the most part, but it works well for the film's scope. One scene where Hotaru and Renge play badminton about as well as you can expect from two inexperienced kids stands out as particularly well-animated by the franchise's standard, and there are other little pleasant surprises sprinkled throughout.
More than that, however, Non Non Biyori is just a funny series. Most of the jokes in the film land as well, so it could be worth watching as a pure comedy. Ironically, some of the best comedic material comes from before the characters even leave for Okinawa, and that sums up this movie in a nutshell. Non Non Biyori is one of the better slice-of-life anime series out there, but it's better on its home turf of 20 relaxing minutes a week.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : C
+ Good sense of humor, charming interactions between the people of Asahigaoka and Okinawa
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