Yes, I have a sweet spot for slice of life anime. I genuinely enjoyed the laid-back shows such as GJ-bu, Tamayura, Yuyushiki etcetera this year, but that doesn't stop me from saying that Non Non Biyori was one of the most conformist and loveliest experiences in the past few months. It's definitely great-tier in the slice of life section.
The simplistic story takes place in a rural area of the countryside. Eleven year old Hotaru Ichijou moves into the town from Tokyo with her parents, and transfers into a school consisting of only four more students; Renge, Natsumi and Komari (yes, it's a rather small school). It shows the ordinary lives of these children, as well as other residents in the town throughout the seasons of the year.
That is quite literally it.
And hence is one reason why I love this show dearly. The story knows exactly what its purpose is; relaxation and healing. The execution of the countryside is depicted very well: The writing isn't complicated in the least, rather very simplistic, but the pacing and direction takes a gentle slow approach, and especially a faithful one to its original setting (it's based on a real place after all). Everything content wise is pretty much laid back, whether it's the lack of vehicles to rivers streaming, or doors without locks to shops without its shopkeeper (you pay in the money box!). The nature environment and gentle flow keeps this show consistently soothing, and each episode has the magic to ease you from anxiety or worries.
It's not all slice of life though, as its comedic factor takes a big role too. In its environment, it's very light-hearted comedy, carried by its characters heavily, but largely comedy based nevertheless. I'd say it's a mix between Aria's slice of life aspect and Nichijou or Azumanga's comedic aspect, although more plausible than random. But the amount of laughing fit moments are high in its otherwise slow stretched content.
Non Non Biyori doesn't illustrate any life messages at the end of every episode, unlike Aria or Tamayura, and its story doesn't particularly end on a high note either (which is good though because second season is possible). However, a few episodes can cause need of replacement for heartstrings, as the dedicated episodes can really warm and break the heart if you're not careful (which can consist of moments we can relate to too). But generally, the story presents the interactions and lives of our cast, and to lay back, eat ice cream and relax in ease is the best way to approach a series like this.
In our cast we have the little grade 1, Renge, the two sisters Komari and Natsumi (grade 8 and 7) and Hotaru, grade 5. They all have pretty distinct personalities, although can be considered realistic. What makes watching them more interesting though is that they're all different ages and have different mindsets, so the interactions and chemistry between each of them together are often entertaining. Especially with Renge, because we're able to see a point of view of a child, not often expressed in anime, in which her childish mindset and logic can be quite ironic yet sweet. The characters pretty much drive the comedy factors forward, and you grow to care for them as the series gradually continues.
I guess the lack of pandering and 'sexual' fanservice is a strong trait of this show as well. The anime makes hardly any attempt to sexualize the characters (except the beach episode (which wasn't actually typical either (yes there's a beach in the countryside, deal with it))). The prohibition of panty and focus-on-body-parts shots makes them non-existent, and helps the faithfulness of this show to keep its soothing story from being ruined. It also ranges a better audience to non-anime fans (as the Japanese countryside people apparently like this show a lot!).
I adore the animation in this show a lot. A lot of long pauses in this show makes up various, delicious wallpapers to use; it's like an impressive painting exhibition at times, with distinct, bright colours of nature in land and sky. Rivers sometimes flow, looking beautiful with reflections and sparkles. It just seems so fun to draw and paint some spectacular scenery, and such exhibitions are a complete plus in these kinds of shows. The shadings and lightning are handled very carefully too, and are the notable strengths in the art department. And of course, the budget is pretty high but that's to be expected with a slice of life shows as they usually are (there's lots of money to spend with not many scenes).
Sound direction is done craftily great too. The soundtrack portrays a lazy yet calming mood for the show, sometimes being the center of the scene for a few times. The careful use of silence and sound effects suits the environment of the countryside, in which helps essence the lovely atmosphere this show has to offer at front. The voice actors deliver their lines well, whether it's a punchline or not. You'd probably recognize Joshiraku's Marii in this, and Renge's VA coins the child character with ace. The OP and ED are generally enjoyable to listen to as well, and not once I skipped it.
All in all, Non Non Biyori is definitely one of the better shows in its respective genre. It may look appealing to moe-inducers, but its environment and atmosphere is what sets itself apart from the typical slice of life anime with girls doing nothing. Its fun characters, lack of fanservice and soothing lazy pace helps the show in becoming a decent healing anime. And girls doing nothing it is, but as long as you have the right mindset and approach towards this show then it's highly enjoyable and comforting, especially when you're feeling down the dumps or blues. It's an anime that makes you smile; one that eases your tensity.
This is why I love the slice of life healing genre.