It contrast to my most recent review of Galilei Donna and Beyond the Boundary, which unfortunately had to focus on the the failings of those two shows, I would like to focus this review on what the two most relaxing anime I have ever seen did right. Those series are Gingitsune: Messenger Fox of the Gods and Non Non Biyori, and you can see their current rankings here. I am actually quite troubled by their current placement and am considering redoing my ranking system to better accommodate the differences between shows. (After all, how does one compare Non Non Biyori to Attack on Titan?)
Gingitsune: Messenger of the Fox Gods
When I first started Gingitsune, I didn’t really know what I was in for. I had seen shows with slice of life elements in them before, but had never really ventured into pure slice of life before. What I found was a relaxing, heartwarming show that gave me my favorite OP of the season, fhána’s “tiny lamp.” While we could have an entire discussion on what defines the slice of life genre, Gingitsune pretty much fits the genre no matter how you look at it. Focusing on shrine-dwelling high school girl Makoto, her shrine’s fox spirit herald Gintaro and the collection of friends and family that surround them, Gingitsune places characters and their relationships at the forefront of the anime. This is probably the show’s greatest strength, putting believable, likable characters on the screen in everyday situations and just allowing them to be themselves. As a writer, I’ve heard the virtues of letting characters just do what they do widely extolled, and Gingitsune makes, it seems, a conscious effort to allow its inhabitants to live their lives as they should. Nothing about the show feels forced; the emotion is genuine and the occasional drama is never melodramatic.
Gingitsune also benefits from a fascinating infusion of Japanese Shinto culture, as the Saeki shrine serves as a backdrop to the whole series. Rather than being an information dump, the inclusion of shrine culture into the show is incredibly enriching and adds another layer of authenticity to the show. For me, that must be the defining trait of a slice of life show: if it’s not authentic, it cannot be a slice of life. Slice of life is meant to simply tell the stories of how life is, and despite the mixture of magical herald spirits, Gingitsune is beautifully and peacefully real.
If you need to relax, Gingitsune is the anime for you. As a slice of life anime, there is nothing wrong with this show. Totally free of any objectionable content and offers a very honest glimpse into the lives of true characters and shrine culture. Oh, and it provides plenty of laughs. It’s not a must watch; but if you do decided to watch it, your time will be well spent.
Reasons to Watch:
- Makoto is a wonderful main character: loving, kind, but still flawed. She’s a joy to watch.
- If you are even a little interested in the Shinto religion, Gingitsune a very interesting look at some of the shrine traditions.
- Authentic characters, character relations and numerous heartwarming moments.
Non Non Biyori
I thought Gingitsune was a relaxing watch. Then I watched Non Non Biyori. Compared to this, perhaps the hidden gem of the fall season, Gingitsune is a roller-coaster ride. This moe slice of life anime is punctuated, err…paused frequently to slowly pan across beautifully drawn countryside landscape accompanied by a tinkling, soothing soundtrack. In any other genre, the pacing of the show (approximately nothing changes after the token transfer student appears in the first episode, excepting the seasons) would be north of glacial, but in Non Non Biyori, it simply feels peaceful and perfect.
Along with its laid back meandering, Non Non Biyori is also absurdly idyllic. Set in the Japanese countryside, the backgrounds are beautiful and the gentle country life is glamorized as comforting, serene and fulfilling. Non Non Biyori is apparently very popular in Japan and given the speed of life in modern working Japan, it is not surprising that such a change of pace from real life would be welcomed with open arms. This anime is, in some ways, the media equivalent of the stereotypical American wish to have a white picket fence in the suburbs with a garden or having a plot of land out in the country.
Finally, Non Non Biyori strikes gold with first grader Renge as a prominent character. The show doesn’t really have a protagonist and Renge is the obvious standout on the cast. The writing for Ren-chon is spot on for her grade, as she is as equally prone to silly childish actions and statements as she is to the terrifying moments of clarity young kids occasionally have. The rest of the cast is likable, but generic and the episodes focusing on Ren-chon are notably more entertaining and fun than those featuring other characters. Her vacant facial expressions make most of the things she says hilarious, especially with her voice actor’s ability to mimic the casual seriousness with which children speak. Overall, the show is very good for laughs, and although I wasn’t laughing out loud constantly, I was constantly smiling (that is, when the music and extended landscape shots weren’t putting me to sleep).
Non Non Biyori falls a little closer to “must watch” territory than the former anime, simply because you are unlikely to ever again see a show that is as laid back as Non Non Biyori. Happily free of objectionable content, it is a pleasure to watch and a potentially excellent cure for insomnia, in the absolute best way possible.
Reasons to Watch:
- Ren-chon is adorable and hilarious and strangely riveting to watch.
- Idyllic and relaxed; a welcome departure from the hectic pace of everyday life.
- Gorgeous background animations & lovely music.
- Good for lots of smiles and laughs; the non-speaking of the brother is a particularly funny running gag.