Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Welcome to the N.H.K. Anime Review

Welcome to the N-H-K
N.H.K. ni Yokoso
Complete Collection - 6 discs
600 mins. - 24 episodes
$29.98 (2010) S.A.V.E.
$69.98 (2009)
$59.98 (2008) Parts 1-2/ea.
$39.98 (2007) Vol. 2 w/artbox
$29.98 (2007-08) Vol. 1-6/ea.
ISBN 704400096662
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Yusuke Yamamoto
Studio - Gonzo

Synopsis: Tatsuhiro Sato dropped out of college and now seldomly leaves his apartment.  He spends time on his computer, watches anime, and reads manga.  His parents support him from overseas and he hasn't had a job in years.  Sato is a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and is slowly turning into a hikikomori (a person who doesn't leave their home for many months). He's a total recluse and has developed a conspiracy theory that the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (NHK) is purposely causing people to become hikikomori for their own nefarious ends.
Sato is a complete slob and has sequestered himself in his apartment
Despite Sato's best efforts he still comes in contact with people that want to pull him out of his hikikomori state.  An odd girl, Misaki Nakahara, takes an interest in him and claims she has developed a program to cure him of being a hikikomori.  She convinces him to sign a contract for the program and he tries to downplay his recluse lifestyle.  He discovers his next door neighbor (who keeps bumping the incessant theme song for Puru Puru Pururin 24-7) is actually a former high school classmate,  Kaoru Yamazaki, who Sato rescued from some bullies.  The bullies later kicked Sato's ass.
Sato's neighbor Yamazaki is a complete otaku and animation student
Yamazaki is an animation student and Sato ends up working on an erotic computer game to prove to Misaki that he's actually working on something.  Sato drives Yamazaki crazy because he gets distracted so easily (like spending an entire night downloading porn for 'reference material').  Yamazaki is a hardcore otaku and introduces Sato to all of the standard material - manga, doujinshi, erotic manga/doujinshi, erotic computer games, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, and anime.  Yamazaki wants to unveil their game at Summer Comiket to impress his classmates and especially the cute girl, Nanako, who he has a major crush on.
Sato is approached by this cute girl named Misaki.  Huh!?
We learn about Sato's past before he was a hikikomori when he runs into another old classmate, Hitomi Kashiwa.  She appears to be a successful government worker, but learn her life is less than perfect.  She's the one who first introduced Sato to the idea of a big conspiracy working behind the scenes to manipulate people's lives.  When these two get together anything can happen and it puts Sato's relationship with his friends (and his very life) in jeopardy.
Sato spends an entire night looking up online porn, ahem,
'researching' for the gal-game he's writing for Yamazaki
Misaki and Sato meet every night to work on her curriculum and he is a semi-willing student.  Why is a cute girl like her spending time with an obvious loser like Sato?  Misaki's past is a mystery and contrasts greatly with her innocent demeanor.  Is she part of the NHK conspiracy?  What happens when Sato's parents finally pull the plug on his solitary lifestyle?  Can he possibly shed his hikikomori ways and rejoin society?  Why bother?
Sato becomes obsessed with playing an online RPG game after
meeting a cute cat girl who partners with him
Pros: Explores a lot of interesting themes relevant to the Japanese and society in general - hikikomori, NEETS, otaku culture, pyramid schemes, online gaming, and internet suicide pacts (yeah, that one was unexpected), Gonzo does some decent animation, good opening/ending theme songs (although ending theme is a bit frenetic)
Sato dreams he has an affair with former senpai Hitomi
Cons: Sato has a weak character and can be pretty mean to Misaki, the little NHK conspiracy goblins are kind of lame, no real resolution to the story at the end, this series is actually kind of depressing as it progresses
Hey, why are those people holding hands and walking toward a cliff?
Mike Tells It Straight: Welcome to the N.H.K. was completely unexpected and fairly interesting.  I was expecting something completely different after seeing the DVD covers and preview.  These prominently featured scantily clad women and manic comedy, but the show was a lot deeper.  The subject matter is slowly unveiled from beneath the comedy and concerns deep psychological problems among the main characters.  Each one has something they are dealing with like Sato being a hikikomori, Misaki's past, Hitomi's desperation, and Yamazaki's avoidance of responsibility with childish pursuits.  What I thought was going to be a satirical comedy (like Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, although that had a serious side as well) ended up being a serious show.
Misaki pretends to be Sato's girlfriend in front of his Mom, but
is he really falling for her?
Don't get me wrong, it has a lot of comedy elements and Sato/Yamazaki are complete spastics.  As the story progresses however and we really get to know the characters and their pasts it becomes clear this is not merely a comedy.  Sato has removed himself from regular society and gets nervous in crowded places.  He doesn't quite fit in with regular people and is easily influenced.  It's fun to watch him cycle through addictions to anime, erotic computer games, online porn, and get caught in the web of a pyramid scheme.  He's truly pathetic and the viewer can enjoy watching his prat falls with the smug certainty that they would never fall prey to these petty traps.  NHK was originally a light novel and then a manga series with a decidedly mature tone to it.  The anime is a much more toned down version than the manga, but I wouldn't mind checking out the manga some time.
Misaki and Yamazaki try to save Sato from a pyramid scheme
I enjoyed the slice-of-life aspect of the show and learning about Japanese culture.  That part of anime is always fascinating to me because it differs greatly from American culture.  The concept of a hikikomori sounds exotic until you consider how many shut-ins and adults still live with their parents.  This show veers off in some strange directions (like the internet suicide pact thing) which kind of lost me for a minute.  It's character-driven and we learn about a group of dysfunctional young adults who have generally lost their way in society.  Each must overcome their own personal obstacles and it gets a little depressing.  I generally recommend this show, but you need to know what you're getting into first (and it has some instances of mature subject matter).  Although I laughed out loud at many parts (the cat girl from the MMORPG is hilarious), it's not just comedy and fan-service you'll be watching.  Be ready for some serious subject matter by the end.
Welcome to the N-H-K!
TO BUY and Recommendations: