I'm starting to have a problem with iyashikei shows. I haven't seen enough to speak with authority, but those I've seen have often been amiably unimpressive.
"Iyashikei" means "healing". In an anime context, it means happy, warm, reassuring shows in which almost nothing happens. They're meant to make you smile. Don't expect them to have a plot. They might be slice-of-life, with cute girls doing cute things. They might be set in an SF world or an alternate reality where everything's peaceful and bucolic. Everything will depend on whether or not you, personally, find the show charming. If you do, you'll enjoy it.
I saw a plausible theory recently that iyashikei anime started with Azumanga Daioh. This actually makes a lot of sense. Everything they're attempting, Azumanga Daioh does. I can easily see a reductive synopsis of that show going "schoolgirls being silly in a plotless show and it's absolutely brilliant". (Also, crucially, it's based on a four-panel gag manga, so plotlessness is pretty much built into the format. If nothing else, Azumanga Daioh also showed that a schoolgirl anime doesn't need fanservice to be a hit.)
In fairness, also, I've also "iyashikei" used to describe more interesting works like Kamichu or Barakamon (which are both superb and have meaningful stories). What elevates such shows and Azumanga Daioh is that the characters feel real, absurdity is earned and the laughs are genuine.
Time will be less kind to the likes of Kin'iro Mosaic, Is the Order a Rabbit? and maybe to some extent Non Non Biyori.
Non Non Biyori isn't that bad, mind you. It's pointless, but it's okay and quite nice in small doses. I can believe in its cast. Kin'iro Mosaic and Is the Order a Rabbit?, though, are 4-panel manga with a cast that's practically feebleminded. Tomoko would kill me if I tried to watch either of them with her. You're meant to be thinking "awww, cute girls", but I suspect most people (and quite possibly all women) would be thinking "morons". They have long, good-natured conversations about nothing, spinning off from nothing. They do airheaded things because they're airheads. Here's a plot summary of ep.10.
1. The girls' idiot teacher, Karasuma-sensei, goes into the wrong classroom and has to have this explained to her by the students.
2. "She can't understand any sentence longer than five words." (In fairness, they're talking about Shinobu's level of English rather than Japanese, so it's not as if she's retarded. She's just slow academically. However Shinobu wants to be an interpreter.)
3. The girls have a pointless discussion of nicknames.
4. Alice is alarmed by her horoscope and vows to stay as close as possible to someone who's lucky! The television said that this was Shino's lucky day, so she sticks to Shino. After this tactic doesn't work... "Is my bad luck transferring to Shino?"
5. That's not just a throwaway gag either. The episode keeps it going. "But my luck is supposed to be terrible today!" She discusses it with Karasuma-sensei, who believes every word and takes this bad luck warning just as seriously as Alice did.
6. After this, they discuss blood type personality analysis. This is a thing in Japan. People will actually be surprised that you don't believe in it.
7. "Have you seen my glasses?" "You don't wear glasses!"
8. A girl's younger siblings pull her leg by claiming not to be her blood relations. She's thunderstruck.
9. Lesbian subtext.
...and that's it. That's your 25 minutes. Now imagine twelve episodes of that, plus a second series in 2015. (Well, almost. The average level isn't quite that bad, since I picked an extreme episode to demonstrate my point. The show's never too far away from that, though.)
The lesbian subtext is loud, incidentally. It's effectively text. The show has gags that depend not just on the girls being lesbians, but on the audience having realised without being told. That's unsurprising from a Manga Time Kirara manga, but this is laying it on thicker than usual. (Aya fancies Yoko and Alice fancies Shino, who has a fetish for blondes and so drools over both Alice and Karen.) I was assuming that the characters were all twelve and so it was all academic, but a late episode shocked me by reminding me that they're in high school. Really? These girls are sixteen? Frankly, it would be easier to believe that they were six.
That said, though, the lesbianism is quite useful. It improves the show. It can add subtext to scenes and hence stop the fluffy nonsense from being quite as horrifyingly empty.
Then we have what they sound like. The squeaky anime voices I can live with. Manami Tanaka (Alice) is particularly plate-scraping, although Asuka Nishi (Shino) impersonates a few bats too. However it's anime. You expect this kind of thing. It goes with the territory.
No, what killed me was the English. Alice and Karen are both from England, you see, and they speak English a lot. The early episodes even have scenes set in the UK, including Shino's homestay a few years earlier. This is a recipe for horror... but to give this show its due, the producers have done something all too rare in anime and employed voice actors who actually know the language. They're not native speakers, but they're pretty fluent. They understand their dialogue. This is good. Already we've surpassed the requirements of the domestic Japanese-speaking audience and I realise that it would be unrealistic of me to expect more. I understand that. The producers' priority was the Japanese performances, not fine details of a language that most of the audience don't speak.
However it's agony to listen to. Shino's plane lands in London. She goes to a village. What do you hear on all sides? AMERICANS. Wall-to-wall American accents. That's what's taught in Japanese schools, you see. (They're not even native speakers, which would at least have been wrong with authenticity. Manami Tanaka has a tendency to swallow certain consonants, for instance, which with an "L" at the end of a word happens to resemble Estuary English, but otherwise just reminds you that this isn't her first language.) Personally, I'd have preferred bad English. I was dying. It was like ants digging in my eardrums. You might argue that Alice and Karen are Americans who'd simply moved to Britain, but alas the show's screaming "England England England" at every opportunity and giving Karen a Union Jack jacket.
In fairness, though, there's less English in later episodes. This is a life-saver. However ep.1 trumps its own accent problems with some dialogue that would have been fine in Japanese, but sounds corny and overdone the way they've translated it into English.
That's a lot of badness in this show, with almost no redeeming features. This show's intention is to have nothing to recommend it but charm, but its cast are too eye-rollingly stupid for that to work. In real life, it's hard to say that you'd even find them tolerable. Oh, and the characterisation's pretty thin, too.
That said, though, I did make it through all twelve episodes. I might even watch Season 2, which I'm told is an improvement. What's good, then?
Sometimes it's funny. I did laugh. Alice yelling "konnichi wa" in ep.1 is a funny and charming moment, for instance. The girls are all thoroughly nice (although Alice and Karen can be amusingly insensitive, which might be a "Japan vs. non-Japan" thing.) They're likeable. Disbelief-shatteringly simple-minded and gullible, but likeable. They're nice people who are fond of each other and enjoy being together. Spending time in their presence is relaxing and unchallenging. Then, too, the lesbian crushes make the show less superficial. In addition the show is trying to have a more sincere core, with episodes often including a brief look at a deeper side of the girls' characterisation. Aya not telling anyone about her painful foot in ep.6 because she didn't want to be a party pooper, for instance.
Also, the ending theme music is glorious.
I don't mind the show, but I think it's a failure. An endearing failure that did well enough to get a second season, but it's still a character-based show that fails to create memorable (or even at times distinctive) characters. I much preferred Yui Hara's other 4koma comedy, Wakaba Girl. Eight minutes is a better length for material like this, for starters.
DIALOGUE: "An English girl came to stay in our class!"
AUDIENCE: "No, she bloody didn't!"