Title: Welcome to the NHK! aka NHK ni Youkoso!
Format: 24 episodes
Date: 9 Jul 2006 – 17 Dec 2006
Synopsis: Satou Tatsuhiro is a NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and a social recluse, also known as hikikomori, for almost four years. He believes that everything around him is one big conspiracy created by a secret organization called Nihon Hikikomori Kyoukai, or NHK. He also thinks that NHK’s goal is to create a world filled with hikikomori, and that he is just one of the many people who have fallen victim to their plans. Wanting to get away from their evil clutches but not knowing how, Satou is increasingly becoming desperate… until a innocent-looking girl by the name of Nakahara Misaki showed up in his life and claims to have a cure for his problems.
Satou Tatsuhiro: An embodiment of traits shared by most real-life recluses.
Cast: Each has a story to tell, all mirroring actual issues in Japanese society.
Narrative: Absorbing; social commentary ranges from light-hearted to provocative.
Animation: Inconsistent at times; poor quality for one episode was glaring.
Gonzo: Should look back and figure out how it could produce something remarkable sometimes.
Hikikomori is a term that is native to contemporary Japan. Defined literally as “staying indoors”, they are a unique subset in the sphere of social recluses, and is a constantly discussed topic in sociological studies within the country. It goes without saying that finding an anime series that uses this controversial phenomenon as a theme isn’t easy; the only one in recent memory that touches upon such a topic is the dark comedy Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. But before that came Welcome to the NHK!, a title that not only uses it as a theme, but also competently understands what it’s all about and tells a story with it, eventually becoming a cult classic in many anime circles.
The story of NHK revolves around the life of Satou Tatsuhiro, a ordinary man who under unfortunate circumstances becomes more withdrawn from society and finds it more challenging to get back into it day by day. It doesn’t simply narrate the story of a typical hikikomori; it’s also a simplified psychological look into the life of an individual who undergo experiences and suffer the problems shared by many others of his kind. Paranoia, self-denial and helplessness are just some of the hardships he faces as the show scrutinizes and follows his long and arduous road to recovery, from his violent social withdrawal upon stepping foot into a large crowd in a long time to his insistent belief on a dubious organization to pin all his failures on. He may say the craziest things and do the most childish acts, but his character is so down-to-earth and genuine that viewers can relate and understand his psyche on an intimate level.
As much as NHK views Satou under the spotlight, the protagonist is not the only character to get fleshed out. The people around him get a generous share of the pie too, each of them having his own story to tell the viewers. The show sees the cast as more than just fictional characters; it portrays them as representatives of societal issues and subcultures that form part of the underbelly of society. From a suicidal who feels estranged from reality to a victim of domestic violence, his acquaintances have stories of hardship equally or more tragic than his, ranging from pitiful to even disturbing. All of them are riveting in their own way, and viewers would look back and think how lucky they are for not suffering similar fates.
But as amazing as it is, NHK is not without its share of flaws. It suffers from what seems to be production budget problems, as the animation occasionally shows dips in quality and consistency. There is one episode where it was so apparent that it looks as though it was done by amateur animators. On top of this, there’s also the issue of how one particular arc was wrapped up. It is perhaps the most gripping of all in the entire storyline — one that highlights the destructiveness of a parasitic hikikomori‘s lifestyle to the ones close to him — yet it has a rather weak ending. For a story with a predicament that seems almost impossible to be resolved within a short time, it feels as though the arc was hastened just to make enough room for the remaining ones.
Apart from its technical shortcomings, NHK is nevertheless a one-of-a-kind experience. A show with characters of such depth and a script this well-written doesn’t come by so often, and it’s even more surprising when it is produced by Gonzo. A production studio that I associate with forgettable or disappointing titles more often than not, it surely reminded me how it could come up with something amazing once in a blue moon. Still, it’s a studio that isn’t known to make really good shows on a regular basis, and in order to counter that, perhaps it should look back at its past productions and understand how it did what it could: produce a series that people would talk about even after many years.
The Rating: 8
Reviewed by: AC