Welcome to the NHK [END] – And so dies the NEET

It was cute to see NHK end with a role reversal between Misaki and Satou – there are big differences between a lazy hikkimori and having a genuinely mixed up life. In spite of his personal problems Satou was always a fairly normal person just in need of tough love. When his parents’ money dries up, for perhaps the first time in his life Satou loses his comfort zone and is finally forced to fend for himself and become independent. And so dies the NEET.

Misaki is a lot more interesting. We’ve gone through this show thinking she is doing Satou a favour by sticking around, but during these final couple of episodes it becomes fairly clear that she desperately needs him; having a dead (suicidal) mother and an abusive step-father, the self-loathing, unconfident and lonely Misaki has grown up surrounded by hate. Her problems are deeply seeded and psychological – she needs help and probably sees herself in Satou; the lectures, the exams and even the home-made lunches are as much (if not more) for her as him.

It all ends on a (notorious) cliff top with both characters ready to jump into oblivion. Both actually give up on life and jump, but both are saved. Misaki is caught by Satou, and Satou himself (amidst another surreal vision of gooey paranoia) is saved by a steal mesh especially placed there to catch suicidal fallers. Given their personal problems through out the show, it seems fitting that Misaki was finally saved by genuine friendship (not a stupid contract) and Satou by the society he so fears. At this point NHK could have flown into romantic territory, but despite these two obviously being in love, it ends with them as good friends having knowingly been through so much, and Satou lecturing Misaki on the park bench!

Undoubtedly this has been one of my favourite shows of the year; despite losing some momentum during the over-long MMORPG arc, Welcome to the NHK was ultimately a fine testament to the importance of friendship and independence. GONZO’s animation production was fairly unspectacular but Pearl Kyoudai’s grungy score, paired with a couple of totally uplifting and poppy opening and ending themes, more than made up for any visual shortcomings with its melancholy and chilled tone; surely a contender for best soundtrack of the year.

Welcome to the NHK is not a show for everyone – it can come across as overwhelmingly depressing and slow, sometimes too close to the bone and uncompromisingly geeky, but then I suppose that’s why I like it too. Within a few episodes I had totally fallen for these characters and desperately wanted to see them grow and find happiness. With this end – leaving the characters feeling optimistic but still somewhat scarred and timid, I’m more than content, knowing deep down they’ll be okay.


Welcome to the NHK! – (Never) Learning to Fly

Having just finished watching episode 19, this must be the first time I’ve left off Welcome to the NHK feeling happy! It was fantastic to see a smiling Torotoro-san biking around and about the streets of Tokyo; you can see in his grinning face that suddenly life is worth living again.
Despite Satou’s constant whining, I’m not convinced his mental condition is dire. He has friends to keep him company, hell – Misaki’s even cooking him dinner now – and having all this is so important. At the other end of the Hikkimori scale is Torotoro-san; a genuinely scary dead-beat with no friends and no Misaki; I can’t help but think his sad condition is closer to the real life of a hikkimori. He lives in the lonely perpetual hell of knowing his life sucks but being too afraid (and too paranoid) to do anything about it. People fear change and responsibility, and if given the choice will often take the easy way out.
Both Satou and Torotoro-san had one thing in common – they can rely on others to survive. Satou can afford to live like a hermit because his parents are funding his isolation, likewise Torotoro-san’s sister will do anything and everything for him. They are spoilt kids – never kicked out of the nest and taught to fly. Only when Torotoro-san’s sister disappears for a few days is the guy forced to decide whether to eat (and live) or starve (and die). Given NHK’s track record, I was expecting Torotoro-san’s suicide, but I guess the human spirit isn’t that ridiculous. My heart was ready to break. All it takes is a bit of tough love though – Satou’s parents take note.
As a side note the animation of episode 19 was a lot more fluid than usual. Despite sacrificing some facial detail and hair texture, for once I really enjoyed seeing the characters actually glide through a scene and physically convey their feelings – it helped the slapstick humour, and the interesting use of facial shadows meant this was a particularly good looking and stylish effort.


Welcome to the NHK! – 17 – The pyramid scheme of dreams

Just once I’d like to see Satou out smart someone. Now I know that he is a hikkimori with zero self confidence, but by the end of this episode – in which he is heartlessly conned out of precious rent money by an old school mate – it’s as though he has talked himself into being ripped off.
Satou must know that he is buying into a scam, so why do it? Subconsciously perhaps it’s an attempt to escape his bedroom life style; spending rent and food money to the point where you need to sign up for a financial loan will surely mean that his only option will be to go out and get a real job (and hopefully, rejoin normal society in the process). A hikkimori without money is a bum; he is forcing himself into situation where he will have to fight to survive.
So I suppose in this twisted way, the pyramid scheme Satou’s school mate sells really can change his life! I like how Welcome to the NHK will often parody modern societies nasty little problems; we’ve gone from porn games and MMORPGs to internet suicide clubs and now business pyramid scams, they are all easy targets but it makes for grotesque and exploitative viewing none the less. All these pursuits offer us is a fading superficial taste of success or belonging, like how the blinged-up old leader of this fraud owns an impressive “super car” but still operates out of a dingy, worn down old house – he wears and buys his happiness to hide his dingy, worn down life.


Welcome to the NHK! – 16 – The Ultimate NEET

There was always going to be a twist behind the real world identity of Mia. “She” was too perfect, Satou loved her too much, and NHK! isn’t about Satou being in love. I certainly didn’t see it being Yamazaki though – jeez, that was cruel of him. And then there is the flash-forward to Satou’s soon to be 50-year-old fat balding old man still leaching off his parents. Brutal and depressing – basically I’m glad this arc looks to be ending soon.
Satou’s melodramatic over reactions to the in-game chats are darkly funny; especially when he can hear the bishoujo Mia creeping towards his apartment, the dumbstruck “oh no! my hikkimori is revealed!” expression slapped across his face is priceless – but where is the series going with this MMORPG arc?
I suppose the problem is that I can’t really see what the story is building towards; we’re now over half way through and it would be a shame for it all to just suddenly end in one episode with Satou walking outside, smiling and ready to take on the world. For all this damn depressing mental torture, I demand payment in smiles and happiness! Obviously the manga is still on-going – so this is a real concern.
The animation was pretty bad too. NHK! is hardly ever good looking, more mediocre, but it bothers me when the character designs are clearly misshapen, rushed and lacking in essential detail – like faces. Come on Gonzo, I thought you were supposed to be good? Give poor Satou back his face.


Welcome to the NHK! – 14 to 15 – MMORPGs destroy lives… mmmk?

The relentless waves of depression continue unabated with these two episodes as Satou (hardly recovered from his suicidal exploits) stupidly falls foul to the life sucking world of MMORPGs. These highly addictive and never ending online games are undoubtedly one of the major forces behind what is becoming a worldwide epidemic of hikkimori, but what if, like Satou, you’re a hikkimori before even signing in? You already have no work and no responsibilities – so there is no reason for a break, you can just play the game all day and all night without a worry in the world.
The end of episode 15 was a harrowing and unhinged sight. Satou’s suicide attempts felt like melodramatic entertainment, as if he was looking for (and found) a reason to survive, but now he appears to be a lost cause, detached from reality and convinced he has somehow improved his life style. MMORPG’s offer a gradual yet hollow sense of achievement, making it seem as if going up a few power levels was worth the weeks of effort.
Like most entertainment mediums, MMORPG’s are an easy escape from reality, but where movies usually finish after 2 hours; these games can essentially run forever. For an amusing but ultimately just as depressing satire of MMORPGs, take a look at South Park episode 147.
Satou is lucky to have Misaki and even Yamazaki checking up on him. In reality a cute girl does not knock on the door of a hikkimori. Then again perhaps their concerned interference is harming his progress. If Satou is ever going to change, he has to want to do it. No matter how much Yamazaki bugs him about their gal-game or Misaki lectures him about recovering, Satou has to hit rock bottom to decide how he wants to live. Misaki, Yamazaki and even his parents are dragging him on, allowing him to quietly trudge through life, when all he needs is a bit of tough love.


Welcome to the NHK! – 13 – In a word, depressing

For some odd reason, I was expecting Satou to be the hero of this episode, but today I doubt he will ever be a hero – just like Yamazaki says, people “like him” aren’t suited to dramatic ends. In a word, depressing. Hitomi is selfish and cruel, her reasons for coming back into Satou’s life were superficial; he is her fail safe option, a shoulder to cry on when she feels down and clearly she has no romantic interest in Satou. He has been dragged along as her token sacrifice.
Misaki’s “confession” was nearly as bad – just like the cruel Hitomi, to her Satou is a selfish reassurance that no matter how bad life can be, she can never slip as far as that “lowly hikki” Satou. She needs him around to validate that her existence isn’t totally worthless.
Naturally, Satou doesn’t take well to these revelations and eventually goes from being the one person not on the deserted island with suicidal intentions to the one personality crazy enough to actually kill himself. His friends (and I suppose that includes Misaki) turn up to save him, but by the end of this episode he is understandably feeling like the loneliest man in the world, his contorted, desperate cries ringing around the abandoned island. It’s not the NHK conspiracy forcing Satou in to his hermit lifestlye, it’s his friends!


Welcome to the NHK! – Anime or manga? Yawn

Anime or manga, one is inevitably better than the other – whether it’s just another case of elitism or not, you can always bet on the jumped up manga fans hating the anime adaptations of their favourite stories. This is because the voices you hear in your head will always sound better in comparison with the efforts of some cheap hack actor, because when reading that “damn slow” story can move as fast as you turn the page (in other words – running times are for losers).
Gonzo’s Welcome to the NHK! was an inevitable travesty in the eyes of the existing manga fans. But it is a train wreck that never happened; of the 11 episodes I’ve seen, this has been an outstanding and unique series, veering from bizarre surrealism to painful reality in an exciting matter of minutes. The characters – and especially Satou – are disgustingly sympathetic personalities, shining in their moments of disdainful human vulnerability. I haven’t read the manga – so my opinions aren’t tainted with deluded expectations based on art and imagination. But I can say that out of everything I’m following at the moment, Welcome to the NHK! is the one series I’ll often watch the same day it’s downloaded.
Can manga ever be compared with anime? Can the personal experiences and emotions felt reading a “comic” be judged against sitting through a TV series? Clearly not – film is by and large a passive journey, a voyeuristic indulgence, but reading invites imagination, essentially the reader will often find himself at the centre of that story, able to invent and fill in gaps for himself. Given this tight personal attachment, a film can never be compared with or subsequently become superior to its written source material and it’s unfair for the so called fans to expect their personal standards – inevitably set as high as possible – to be met by another mere individual. Welcome to the NHK! was not directed by god, so it’s not tailored to your imagination, but it’s a fine, thought provoking and entertaining watch. Enjoy it, anime fans!


Welcome to the NHK! – 9 – Sparkling festival fireworks

An unusually positive and uplifting instalment of NHK!, I wasn’t planning on commenting on this episode but the sparkling festival fireworks always get me. So bright, so beautiful, so romantic. Even Yamazaki gets some lovin’.
This is so far the best episode, a dizzy mixture of jilted love and romantic despair, it astutly comments on the fickle defensiveness of macho human nature. Yamazaki had his heart broken by his first love and subsequently hates girls, but the moment he gets a little female attention again, suddenly all that pent up anger just fades. Or drops, like the mask covering his real face.
That Sato and Misaki finally get it together is very much the expected outcome of their growing relationship, but it’s still a heart warming and effortlessly touching moment, seeing two people so clearly confused and unconfident gradually throwing aside their fears all in the name of “love”. Such an overblown sentiment is always accompained by fireworks, the pretty mutli-coloured fireworks.
(Note: Instead of screen capping this episode, I’ve clipped pictures from the opening theme. I love the song “Puzzle”, a happy, hopeful and uplifting tune perfectly complimented by the opening animation’s attractive onslaught of bright and exciting colours. I’m gradually realising this is my favourite show airing at the moment, I haven’t read the manga and probably won’t, but really, this is a great series with an underplayed and wonderful grasp of human nature.)


Welcome to the NHK! – 8 – Meet the parent

It’s time to meet the parents, only Satou doesn’t have a girlfriend, or a job, or a life outside of his apartment, making the whole arrangement pretty awkward from the get-go. If only Robert De Niro was his Dad – what laughs we would have!
Judging by his mother’s phone call in the previous episode, I wasn’t expecting her to be quite so cool though. She wasn’t the demanding and expectant figure anticipated, instead she comes across as the first thoroughly likable character in Welcome to the NHK!, in other words, a real parent to her son. When she realises Satou is basically lying about everything, she doesn’t throw a fit — rather just acknowledges the fact that she has a weird son. When she surprisingly leaves Satou and Misaki to have a "real date", you get the impression that she is content in knowing that Satou has made friends good enough to help him out with his insecure, paranoid bull shit. For now, a hikkimori Satou is not.
The rest of this episode is notable for how Misaki is warming up to Satou — they engage in a real date and nearly kiss, only to be distracted when Satou’s phone rings — a cliche "rom-com" way of padding out the now inevitable romance? Misaki makes several hints about her troubled home life too — clearly she is hiding some dark secrets about her past and probably needs Satou as much as he needs her. Where the narrative goes next will probably define the true path of the rest of this series.
I’m really enjoying watching Welcome to the NHK!, it has a cast of characters bustling with fascinatingly broken personalities and is completely unpredictable in whatever colourful, dreamy direction it decides to head in next. The art, though the quality varies, often shines with style when emphasizing a moody or emotional feeling – the flackback to Satou’s childhood in this episode being a prime example of this emotive aesthetic beauty.


Welcome to the NHK! – 7 – Is Misaki Real?

Although it’s not nearly the “best” series airing at the moment, I often watch Welcome to the NHK! as soon as it’s downloaded. I have the first 6 episodes of Bokura Ga Ita stocked up, another four of Legend of the Galactic Heroes and even the most recent Honey & Clover- but it seems (whether I like it or not) NHK! comes first. It’s not that I find it easy to watch – it’s actually the opposite, Satou scares me. His deluded fantasies, wild pipe dreams and attempts to cover up his “NEET” life style are morbidly close to the bone. Many people move through life like him; escaping reality by depending on impossible dreams, only to wake up 10 years later and wonder what the hell happened. I hope Satou snaps out of it by the end; no, I’m not talking about him and Misaki getting it together or some Hollywood bullshit like that, however he must (or I hope that he will) at least turn the corner.
Episode 7 was totally about characterisation, and it’s all brought on by his mum; she is set to visit Tokyo and in usual style, Satou lies through his teeth to cover up the Hikikomori situation. The saddest thing about this scene is that his mum buys it all, about him having a girlfriend and everything; it puts her mind at rest, knowing her son is “normal” now. Satou’s despair after the call “Don’t be so happy” (more like relieved) says it all.
The rest was fairly cute fun; Misaki ends up playing as Satou’s girlfriend and they go on a pretend date that raises just as much questions about Misaki’s situation. Who is she? Is Misaki -or the Misaki being seen by Satou- even real? Notice how she isn’t clocked by Yamazaki when she enters his room, and how we only ever see her talking to Satou. It’s worrying and distressing to think she could well be a figment of his imagination. Obviously that would explain why she knows Satou’s phone number (and all the rest) – but for his sake, I hope she is real. And for my sake, I hope I haven’t just guessed the big plot twist of NHK!