First Impressions Digest – Non Non Biyori, Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio, Gundam Build Fighters

Non Non Biyori - 01 -8 Ars Nova - 01-5 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -8

Gundam may just have topped everyone in the race to be retro.

Non Non Biyori – 01

Non Non Biyori - 01 -1 Non Non Biyori - 01 -2 Non Non Biyori - 01 -3
Non Non Biyori - 01 -4 Non Non Biyori - 01 -5 Non Non Biyori - 01 -6
Non Non Biyori - 01 -7 Non Non Biyori - 01 -9 Non Non Biyori - 01 -10
Non Non Biyori - 01 -11 Non Non Biyori - 01 -13 Non Non Biyori - 01 -14

Of all the sleepers on my Fall list, this might have been the deepest.  At least, it’s the show that seemed to dovetail least with my tastes in anime.  It was strictly a matter of a gut feeling with this one, nothing more.

I guess my response after watching the premiere is that I was probably half-right.  I do think Non Non Biyori is better than it looks on paper, and it runs a little deeper than it first appears.  But I also didn’t get a sense that it’s going to be anything extraordinary – just a breezy, amusing pure slice-of-life with very pretty scenery and the occasional sharp gag.

This show seems like an odd choice for Silver Link, who’re definitely showing a different face here than we’ve seen before.  Imagine Higurashi if nothing bad ever happened – or at least nothing worse than missing the bus – and you get a little sense of the setting.  The town is tiny, somewhere in the Japanese countryside, and there are only five students – four girls and one boy (who seems never to speak and whom the others seem to pretend doesn’t exist, despite the fact that two of them are his sisters – rather fitting, that).  All of them share one classroom despite the wide difference in ages, something that happens very commonly in such tiny rural hamlets.  This scene is less far-fetched than you might think in Japan, where young people have been fleeing the countryside for Tokyo for decades which, combined with the low birth rate, has made rural areas increasingly the realm of the elderly.

Most of the humor in the premiere is derived from the culture clash when a new student moves in from Tokyo, along with general observations on the idyllic nature of country life.  None of it is exceptionally funny, but there are nice moments – like the bafflement the locals express when the new girl produces a house key, most of them never having seen a lock (one suggests she use it to fillet mackerel).  I also liked the device of showing the preview on a TV inside one of the houses.  There’s some cleverness and wit here and thankfully, the show isn’t sweet enough to rot your teeth.   I’ll watch a couple more episodes, but absent a spark of brilliance I didn’t see in the premiere I think Non Non Biyori will function mostly as a change-of-pace.

Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova – 01

Ars Nova - 01-1 Ars Nova - 01-2 Ars Nova - 01-3
Ars Nova - 01-4 Ars Nova - 01-6 Ars Nova - 01-7
Ars Nova - 01-8 Ars Nova - 01-9 Ars Nova - 01-10
Ars Nova - 01-11 Ars Nova - 01-12 Ars Nova - 01-13

The old school theme of this season continues apace with Ars Nova, a series that in premise seems mostly cut from the cloth of 90’s sci-fi anime.  Mankind has been forced into decline by a mysterious enemy, and only a small force of teen soldiers can save it.  Led by the son of a captain who disappeared – supposedly defecting to the enemy side – and a mysterious and alien little girl, they fight mankind’s last desperate battle for survival.

There are a couple of modernizing twists here, though, neither or which adds a whole lot of value for me.  First we have the enemy – “The Fog” (with apologies to John Carpenter) – taking the form of cute teenage girls as battleships, which seems like a pretty transparent attempt to ride the flavor of the week (though to be fair the manga debuted in 2009), and one of the dumbest trends in anime.  The other is an almost total reliance on CGI, even for the character scenes, which undercuts much of the sense of classic sci-fi a show with this premise might otherwise have had.  Plainly put, this technology still needs a lot of work and every anime that rides it too hard pays a serious price in terms of visuals.

Kishi Seiji and Uezu Makoto are capable of some terrific work, but Blue Arpeggio plays as pretty lifeless for me.  There just isn’t a whole lot of energy to the premiere – it feels very rote and by-the-books.  Rather than classic the premise just seems recycled, and none of the characters makes a particularly strong impression.  With it’s nods to fad and utililization of classic tropes, this gives the premiere an odd (and not especially winning) feeling of both trying too hard and not trying very hard at all.  I had modestly high hopes for this one, but the first episode doesn’t give much reason to think Ars Nova is going to have much to offer.

Gundam Build Fighters – 01

Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -1 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -2 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -3
Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -4 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -5 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -6
Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -7 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -9 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -10
Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -11 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -12 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -13
Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -14 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -15 Gundam Build Fighters  - 01 -16

For a 25-minute commercial, that wasn’t half-bad.  If we’re to be honest pretty much every Gundam series is a commercial when push comes to shove, so I won’t hold it against Build Fighters for being so honest about it.

I’m decidedly less than expert when it comes to the Gundam franchise, but I do have enough experience with it to know that GBF is a pretty lightweight effort.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as it leaves the show free to be a straightforward kids’ adventure story, which is executes with a good deal of energy and humor.  As these sorts of series go Gundam Build Fighters is pretty good.  It takes us to the world of Gunpla battles, and specifically that of Iori Sei (Komatsu Mikaku, in full Joey Jones mode).  He’s an earnest youngster who works the hobby shop his Dad, a legendary Gunpla fighter, built, and while Sei is great at building models he sucks at using them in the VR-styled Gunpla battle simulator, as his irritating friend/rival Sazaki (Hirohashi Ryou) reminds him in a string of humiliating defeats.

The fantasy element in the plot comes in the form of Reiji (Kokuryu Sachi), a mysterious boy who’s alien enough not to know the bread on display in front of the bakery isn’t being given away.  He has a habit of appearing and disappearing at will, and after Sei does him a solid by helping beat a shoplifting rap he gives Sei a stone which allows him to summon Reiji whenever he has a wish.  We also get a visit from “Mr. Ral” (Hirose Masashi) a tribute to a character from the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Ramba Ral – even bringing back Masahi-san as the seiyuu.

That surprising twist is a testament to the fact that GBF is just a little bit smarter, funnier and more clever than you feared it might be.  Take it for what it is – a kids’ series designed to entertain youngsters and serious Gundam otaku and sell a few models – and it would be hard to be disappointed.  It certainly isn’t essential viewing for anyone who doesn’t fall into one of those two groups, but it’s still quite fun – I’ve already seen several premieres this Fall that I’d be less eager to watch a second episode of, that’s for sure.



  1. H

    I really enjoyed Ars Nova, a lot more than it seems anyone else did. I was pretty instantly into the story, which tickled my fondness for slightly sci-fi warfare. I thought the 100% CG animation of people was a fine stylistic choice, and it feels as though it's improving (as it will have to). Sure there are times where I am obviously pulled slightly into the uncanny valley, but those were few and far between for me in the premiere. I also am intrigued by the Fleet of Fog, and love the pretty colors on the ships. :)

    non non biyori was a surprise, a lot more relaxing and enjoyable than I thought it would be, and a lot less 'kiddie' than it could have been. Maybe I wish it would have been a little more kiddie, actually, since the only complaint I really had about it was that Ren-chan was a little too ascerbic, a little too ironic. Apart from that, tho, a really enjoyable show.

  2. It's great that people can see the same show and have such different reactions, because that's what subjective opinion is all about. Ars Nova just left me completely cold – I thought it was as lifeless and flat as anything Kishi and Uezu have ever done (those are not their usual trip-wires).

  3. H

    Yeah, I was actually kind of surprised when I finished it, and then saw other people's reactions to it, wondering if they watched the same show I did. I thought the battle between Iona and Nagase was interesting and authentic enough for future warfare, and also liked the effort that Iona had to put in to being a ship in combat.

    I'll admit that the main characters are both rather unemotional, and while I think they're written that way, the CG adds to the effect. But I thought the rest of the crew was interesting enough, and as I said I really found the concept of the Fleet of Fog interesting, that they'd have such output capacity, such superior weaponry, but still the same sort of naval forms. They kind of dealt with that with Iona's form, but that was just more that pulled me in.

    For me it was kind of going back to my teens (25 years ago) reading books like Red Storm Rising.

  4. H

    Oh, also, am I correct in thinking that all the character animation is completely CG? It certainly seemed so, although there were places where it approached drawn.

  5. That's what it looked like to me.

  6. G

    I enjoyed Ars Nova as well. Not the best series this season but still worth watching. Certainly better then that Gundam mess we got this season. Was seriously disapointed in it.

  7. H

    Hey, that's two of us! Everyone else seems to hate it. :)

  8. R

    that makes three of us. i am liking what i see in ars nova. can't wait to see more of that tsundere heavy cruiser XD

  9. u

    Actually most of the complaints you'll hear about Ars Nova are from people familiar with the manga in the first place — like myself. The first episode pretty much took nothing from the first chapter OR the equivalent drama CD (which showcases Iona meeting Gunzou for the first time), and whats worse, changed some instances that would become major plot points later on (like how the Academy/Institute 4 was still intact when it was actually destroyed in the manga, no mention of the class valedictorian and Gunzou's childhood friend Kotono Amaha, Yamato being a non-entity, and summarily KILLING OFF GUNZOU'S MOTHER IN A FLASHBACK, when said very much alve mother plays not one, but TWO important roles as a supporting character mid-story).

    Anime-only watchers were more charitable, but only a little, and even then there were observations on the stiffness caused by the CGI use.

  10. i

    I watched all three and feel on Gundam Build fighters is worth it. Non non biyori had a nice PV but was quite boring in full episode format, a disappointment considering what a run SL have had. The battleshit anime made Berserk movies look like a work of Makoto Shinkai and was boring.

    If anything, after 30 years of almost exact copies of the original Mobile Suit Gundam its time for Sunrise to start parodying themselves; especially as everyone else has. That I think where the fun of GBF lies and it might be only the third Gundam anime I complete.

  11. R

    i have to give build fighters a pass..though i am a gundam otaku, it really isn't my cup of tea. non non biyori i still have to see.

    what really caught my attention was Ars Nova. admittedly, i only watched it after seeing official art in dengeki last month. but it was actually rather interesting, though not really that superb. from what i got of the manga, the moe AI's was more the fault of the editor than the author himself, but the author managed to turn them into interesting characters. hope the anime does that as well. and i am actually crossing my fingers that this would do what majestic prince managed to pull off: going from this decent generic anime to become one of this year's biggest sleeper hits.

  12. D

    I'll just wait for Kancolle next year, thanks.

  13. J

    Just think of Non Non Biyori as a very laid-back Minami-ke miniature.

  14. Yeah, seeing that as an incredibly charitable description myself. Not a comparison I would ever make, based on the premiere.

  15. K

    Lifeless was the word I was looking for to describe Ars Nova. The complete use of CGI for the characters really turned me off from it. It felt like I was watching some cutscenes from a game or a Japanese music video. The lack of facial expressions coupled with the lack of emotions from the characters made it an extremely boring watch for me. The whole thing felt awkward to watch.

  16. F

    I kinda liked Non Non, but it didn't hit me as hard as, say, Tamayura or Aria. Still, it seems it will be my kind of series. In some ways it reminds me of an incredibly low key Acchi Kocchi. Not sure why, though….

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