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!


Welcome to the NHK! – 2 – Crazy-otaku neighbour to the rescue

Sato meets with young Misaki to talk about her “how to take the hikomori out of Sato” project. Though with his trademark destructive hiko-nature, Sato immediately tries to deny his shut-in ways by proving to Misaki that he does have a part to play in society after all. In embarking on this mission, he ends up getting involved with his crazy-otaku neighbour and by the end of the episode; they are planning on developing, as a means of doing something (anything) with their lives, their very own porn game… It’s a start, I guess?!?
Despite lacking in the more surreal, vivid moments that so punctuated the first episode, NHK – 2 was still an impressive follow up with just enough self depreciating wicked humour and melancholy reflection on (missing) life to be entertaining without crossing the line into out right depressing. Sato has chosen the wrong neighbour to work with though- after all if you are looking for a helping hand in life, the last person you need advise from is a perverted otaku; I wonder if he has an anime blog?!
The rocky soundtrack is still one of my favourite aspects of this show. The opening five minutes were great just because they are backed by this acoustic band music- such refined sounds can add so much more impact to a scene and NHK! has got this important balance between emotional, sad and crazy music spot on.


Welcome to the NHK! – 1 – Salvation lies within

I admit I was initially turned off by the pretty poster girl heavily pasted all over the promo art (much like Black Lagoon) and yet still, my interest in NHK has rapidly grown over the last 4-5 weeks. Being an anime fan it’s always fun seeing otaku culture lampooned by the big screen; but unlike say Genshiken or Densha Otoko where the so-called geeks actually come off as sub-urban heroes, the acclaimed NHK was said to depict a more detestable, depressing side of otaku life.
NHK goes beyond simply ripping it out of otaku though; I’d go so far to say that the main character (Tatsuhiro Sato) has a mental illness. Paranoid, unconfident, afraid, lazy, whatever; Tatsuhiro (young 20s, I guess) is an anime fan who never leaves his apartment – the Japanese word for this kind of person is ‘hikomori’. Basically he has spent the last few years doing nothing but watching anime, smoking and wanking, and until now, he has been too scared to even talk to his neighbours.
I see great potential in NHK; the soundtrack is outstanding, running non-stop through-out the first episode and featuring a wide selection of rocky and indie tunes. The animation and general mood is really damn surreal; being as he is isolated from society, Tatsuhiro spends a lot of his time sleeping and day dreaming. The viewer regularly slips in and out of his sometimes fun and exciting, sometimes leery fantasies, and it quickly becomes obvious that here is a boy entrenched firmly within his escapist hobbies.
The characterisation is vivid and pulls no punches, and yet Tatsuhiro comes off as neither a good nor bad person, rather just a completely flawed, worryingly paranoid young man in serious need of help. We can laugh at him floundering through conversations, but there is also a twinge of sympathy in there too. I believe (or is it that I hope?) that he can be saved, and feel strongly compelled to watch more.