Welcome to the NHK – An Awkward Meeting
Title: Welcome to the NHK
Welcome to the NHK is an unusual series. Adapted from a manga that was adapted from a novel, it deals with the life of a hikikomori named Sato Tatsuhiro, and his road to recovery. It deals with the first relationships he forms with real people since dropping out of college four years previously, and his struggle to overcome his seclusive habits.
The first episode deals with Sato’s ‘realisation’ that the reason he has become a hikikomori is because of a conspiracy through the television to keep him trapped in seclusion – this later expands to include Aliens, so it isn’t a very well thought-out reason. A catalyst comes in the form of Misaki, a beautiful young girl who appears on his doorstep one day, accompanied by an Evangelist pamphleter. Embarrassed and ashamed of himself, Sato forces himself outside to try and find a job, rehearsing his casual greeting over and over as he walks, “hey, I came by because I heard you were hiring…” Unfortunately, he is thrown off his carefully planned spiel when he discovers Misaki working in the Manga Cafe he had hoped to apply for. He flounders, and then runs home, re-immersing himself in his isolation. Added to this, his frustration is increasingly building with his next door neighbour, who is constantly playing the theme tune to a magical girl anime loudly at all hours of the day – a neighbour who, on eventual confrontation, turns out to be Kaoru Yamazaki, an old school acquaintance of Sato’s.
The series deals with issues which are clearly prevalent in Japanese current affairs at the moment – that of the hikikomori and of NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training – also a focal point of the plot in Eden of the East). This anime deals with it from the personal perspective of a hikikomori, and considers the mental state which must surely accompany people who isolate themselves so totally for such long periods of time. Really, this could be a fascinating anime exploring what appears to me – both in reading about hikikomori and watching Sato’s behaviour in the anime – to be quite a severe mental health issue.
Unfortunately, whilst it has moments of real pathos, and shows in glorious technicolour Sato’s obsessive and unstable nature, the show bills itself as a comedy, and I expect some of these scenes – which feel occasionally awkward in the way they’re pitched – are meant to be played for humour. I wasn’t able to find it funny in that way. I found it sad, pitiful and uncomfortable to watch, but with the odd glimmer of beautiful humanity in it, but I would not have considered it a comedy. Therein lay my problem, and perhaps where my initial inability to settle into the series came from. The art style is very bright and bold, with strong colours and lines. The animation is dynamic, and occasionally there are extremely creepy looking monkey-things which appear and dance around – figments of Sato’s imagination, and personifications of the conspiracy he believes he is trapped in. At one point he has a conversation with his fridge. The colours and animation and art style all scream for a much more light hearted and straightforward anime, but Welcome to the NHK doesn’t really deliver that. Given the subject matter, and the emotive way it is played by the voice actors (including Chris Patton, of Pretear, amongst others!), the animation contrasts strikingly with what you’re watching, and gives it over all quite a dark and sinister tone, rather like a clown with a chainsaw.
In the original novel, and partly in the Manga, I understand that quite hard drugs are used by the characters at various points. This is edited out of the anime, however you can see where it would fit in the sometimes ‘trippy’ nature of the scenes that Sato reenacts in his head. By removing the drugs, it is almost as if one of the explanations for his behaviour has been taken away, and it leaves him seeming more unstable than he really would be. There are mentions of some other vices though – lolicon being mentioned as an aside, but internet pornography and hentai games take up quite a bit of screen time at points, particularly given Sato’s obsessive nature. In many scenes, the telling box of kleenex is left in shot almost as a guilty reminder of what has probably been happening. Following on from that, Sato’s relationships and opinions of women based on this are so utterly warped it is a little scary – he first pictures Misaki as a nun, then decides that she must be a ‘slut’ (there is no middle ground, it appears), at a later point she is even a goddess. When he discovers internet porn, he begins to assign personalities and identities to the women he find pictures of, building fantasy relationships with them to the point that the number of pictures he has downloaded takes over his computer entirely.
It’s certainly an anime I wanted to watch more of as I watched it – I found myself thinking about it in between episodes, and it makes for very compelling viewing. The flaws in these characters are very starkly represented – whether through design or accident of style – and I wanted them to come to a happy ending, to overcome their issues and really start to succeed, and at the same time I just wanted Sato to stop acting weird. Perhaps that is the driving factor of any person’s life – just to act like a normal human being and have meaningful relationships with real people, not just computer games.
Overall – I enjoyed it, but perhaps not for the reasons intended. I didn’t find it really funny, but I grew quite attached to the characters and seriously wanted the best of them. Perhaps some of the awkwardness comes from a quite harsh mirror being held up to certain parts of Otaku culture as well – there ae definitely things which anyone who attends conventions regularly might recognise and blush at.
Rating: 6/10 – Like Dance in the Vampire Bund, there were bits of this series I really really liked, but I did feel it didn’t hit the mark it was aiming for. What it did find was something different, and still a little bit special in its own way.