I’ve just finished my first viewing of Welcome to the NHK, and I was pleasantly impressed with what it delivered. To summarise, Welcome to the NHK is a collection of stories about some of the darker issues facing people living in modern society, presented in the form of a pseudo-comedy about a NEET and hikikomori – 22 year old Tatsuhiro Sato – who is seeking an escape from his habitual lifestyle. If you’re unfamiliar with the terms, NEET is an acronym for ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’, and hikikomori is a japanese word used to describe a person who isolates him or herself from the outside world, somewhat comparable to agoraphobia. The story follows Tatsuhiro’s attempts to escape from his hikikomori lifestyle, with the aid of the mysterious Misaki Nakahara who has taken it upon herself to counsel him and cure his hikikomori disease. As Tatsuhiro finds himself becoming within reach of freedom, a new strange situation will present itself to him to bring him back to where he started, prolonging his recovery.
As I alluded to, what Welcome to the NHK presents is an in-depth look at some of the darker issues of people living in modern society, told through the characters in the story. The darkness of it all is covered over by an ambiguous guise of black comedy. The events in the story feel very real, but the story is able to make a bit of light of them, if the viewers choose to interpret it that way. One scene that can be scene as really dark to one person could be really funny to another, depending on your perspective. I think that’s a lot like real life, how people are able to take a negative situation and laugh back on it. Anyway, the big key here is that each of the characters tell a different story, and bring something different to Tatsuhiro’s own story. One thing about the characters is that just about every one is dysfunctional in some way. Tatsuhiro’s friend and next-door neighbour, Kaoru Yamazaki, is an obsessive otaku, but he also he is also running away from an unpleasant history of being controlled by his parents. Tatsuhiro’s old high school friend, Hitomi Kashiwa, has frequent delusions of worldwide conspiracies working against her. Tatsuhiro’s old classmate, Megumi Kobayashi, was sucked into a pyramid marketing scheme with very few options available to escape. All of these, as well as other characters’ individual issues effected and rubbed off on Tatsuhiro, together holding him back from achieving freedom over and over again. Perhaps the most interesting of the characters is the mysterious Misaki, who has taken an interest in trying to save Tatsuhiro simply because she ‘wants to feel needed’, to be of use to someone ‘even more worthless than [herself]’.
What NHK delivers is an experience that may at first glance seem absurd or surreal, but is profoundly steeped in reality. The issues the characters face and the themes explored are all very real. One thing that separates NHK from other stories is the fact that isn’t afraid to show the blemishes of life. In fact, it completely embraces these blemishes to the point of being artful. I remember one whimsical scene of Misaki balancing on top of something, with Tatsuhiro pondering if she was an angel, only to end with her falling down on the ground ending the episode with the line “Ow, I fell on my butt.” I think this perfectly represents what makes Welcome to the N.H.K. unique. Paranoia and delusions, being told “a dramatic death doesn’t suit you” when about to attempt suicide, dumping a girl you’ll never see again by infuriating her with an act of perversion, and the calm acceptance of one’s inappropriate sexuality. Welcome to the N.H.K. doesn’t try to be that whimsical and inspiring drama; its beauty lies in the fact that it’s presentation is so raw and unbiased. It doesn’t make any judgements, it has no biases, it just states how life is, and how it can be. While I wouldn’t call NHK a feel-good show, it’s inspiring in that it presents a dreary and unpleasant reality, but describes how a small happiness can be found even in a world like that. Even if ‘90% of things in the world are sad’, it only makes that small percentage of happiness and positivity feel much richer. I really think that’s what Welcome to the N.H.K. was going for; an honest and down-to-earth look at some of the darker aspects of life, working at a steady pace without getting too serious at the wrong moments, and painting a picture of an imperfect yet honest and beautiful happiness. It’s very analogous to reality, and I love it for that.
The art style is simple yet expressive, working with the original ambient accoustic melodies to paint the picture of the a very raw world. Together with such an imperfectly beautiful story, N.H.K. created an experience that I surely won’t forget. It really had a deep impact on me, causing to reflect on many aspects of my own life. I don’t say that often enough. I have Welcome to the N.H.K. to thank for giving me so much to reflect on. It’s a world so steeped in reality that you can’t help but relate to the troubles of the charaters within it. This kakera is very near to our own, and that’s what makes it special.
Welcome to the N.H.K. was based on a light novel of the same name by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, later published as a Manga by Kadokawa Shoten, then later into an Anime by Gonzo. The light novel and manga has been published in the UK and USA by Tokyopop, as well as Canada for the Manga. The Anime has been liscenced for distribution in USA and Canada by Funimation Entertainment, and recently by Siren Visual for us Australians.