12 Days of Anime #10: “I Practiced Really Hard” December 16, 2015Posted by navycherub in 12 days of anime, Anime, Essay, Non Non Biyori.
Tags: 12 Days of Anime, Anime, Essay, Non Non Biyori
I actually never learned to ride a bike.
Non Non Biyori has a handful of emotional episodes, and the second season, Repeat, has its share. There were naturally a few standouts to choose from, including what seems to be most peoples’ favorite, in which Renge learns about death in the most heartbreaking yet adorable way possible. For me, though, it’s all about episode 10, where Kaede (or “Candy Store” as the children affectionately call her) helps Renge learn how to ride her bike without training wheels.
The basic plot beats are pretty simple. The episode opens on a shot of Renge’s training wheels, as she imitates the sound of a horn and slowly passes a motorbike. Her imagination, and more specifically, the signature way she expresses her confidence in her ability to do whatever she wants with the right mindset, is put on display before anything else. Humorous and also fitting as we enter an episode where she proves that she really can go places (literally).
Renge learns that her older friends no longer needed their training wheels around first grade. Being the ambitious little girl she is, Renge decides that means it is high time she cast them off herself, even though she only recently started riding her bicycle. The beginning of the episode is more comedic, but promising for Renge, as she proves herself a very fast learner when being taught by Konomi how to multiply. It’s a cute and funny skit that shows a bit of why Renge is so endearing – she is not only inquisitive, but willing to put in the work to learn about the things she gains an interest in, as well. And work she does. Though her sister is too busy to help her right away and Kaede initially has her shop to look after, Renge’s stubbornness doesn’t let that stop her, and she insists on practicing by herself (while Kaede “watches her” from inside the store, of course).
The repetition in this scene in front of the candy shop is what sells her efforts. We see Renge pass back and forth, wiggling and wobbling, over and over. What could be a tiring sequence of events ends up being exciting in its own small way. We as the audience are sort of like Kaede in the store, observing Renge. She begins a little bewildered at the sudden request, and rejects it in favor of keeping the storefront manned. The idea that Renge could just teach herself is a little ridiculous, but her perseverance through the scrapes and bruises impresses Kaede and us. It’s a pure, childish sense of ambition that Kaede slowly grows to respect for its own sake, patching Renge up when she is hurt but not stopping her from trying.
It impresses her so much, in fact, that Kaede becomes pretty worried when Renge doesn’t show up the next day, rushing to her house to find out what is wrong. It’s just a cold, of course, since this is Non Non Biyori. She helps make food and reads Renge the story “The Crane Repays a Debt” which has nothing to do with this episode as far as I can tell but has been adapted on Folktales of Japan, if you’re interested. Seeing Kaede become so flustered over Renge’s well-being inspires a sense of sibling care or even motherliness.
The third “act” of this Kaede-Renge story is almost wordless, and a little beautiful. Kaede decides to help Renge personally, and we watch as they go through the learning process together. The exact same kind of visual ticks and cues used when Renge was practicing by herself are used, such as close shots of her bike and her feet pedaling. However, this time Kaede is always there, and the same kinds of images of Kaede’s feet running to push off Renge, and eventually lingering shots of Kaede standing alone after Renge has gone off by herself. The sun is setting the whole time, too, contrasting the early day of most of Renge’s original practice, and of course standing in as a representation of Renge growing and moving past the need for Kaede’s assistance. By the end, Renge is entirely independent, and we can feel a bit of Kaede’s personal sadness as she realizes Renge doesn’t need her help any more. It’s a bittersweet moment as we see Kaede at the end of a long shot, which Renge rides along with and eventually disappears from, while the setting sun rests in the background.
The next day comes, and Renge is off riding around without her training wheels like her friends. As they go off on their own, Kaede’s shop is just a detour on the way, a small line of pain for Kaede who just yesterday was Renge’s hub for practice. In my favorite scene in the episode, though, we are assured their relationship continues to be important for both Kaede and Renge. Renge reaches for a pack of gum that is just out of reach for her. She doesn’t ask for help, and tries her best, but can’t reach it by herself. At the last moment, Kaede grabs the gum for her, and an unspoken moment of mutual understanding is had. A reassuring moment for parents, teachers, and anyone else who has felt the fear of no longer being needed, as well as their “children.”
At the end, Renge declares that she can go anywhere, and that line alone manages to encapsulate the entire thematic weight of the episode – the desire to grow, the desire to help, and the reasons we want to do these things in the first place.