Gabe Finally Watches: Welcome to the NHK (2006)

Welcome to the NHK is one of those titles that you could definitely tell was made around the 2006 era. Animation quality aside, the series’ story progression felt rather stilted, moving from step to elevated step rather than a gradual slope over the course of its run.

Welcome to the NHK title

The series starts off slowly, but promising enough, with main character Sato, living his fourth year as a shut-in after dropping out of college. He spends his days lazing about indoors, fearing entering the outside world and interacting with anyone in general, with his parents apparently paying for his living expenses in their entirety. The rare times he does choose to wander outside are for quick food runs, or to simply sit alone in the park at night to gather his thoughts and wonder whether or not the world could use another “hikikimori” (“recluse”) such as himself. It is during one of these outings that he meets Misaki, a teenager that claims to be able cure him of his condition via personal lectures.

While Sato and the mysterious Misaki are interesting enough characters to set the show’s framework, the series slowly begins to add more to the cast, each of them becoming less and less related to Sato’s personal plight as the series continues. As Sato begins to take his baby steps back to the outside world, we are introduced to Yamazaki—Sato’s noisy neighbor, who also happened to be his underclassman back in high school. Stemming from there, we are introduced to former friends, acquaintances, and family of acquaintances, all of whom are ultimately used to advance the story in an artificial-type of manner and get Sato out of the house as often as possible even though initial episodes have proven that he’s highly incapable of doing such.

Sure, you have some series where an unspoken natural progression for the main character can be seen alongside the progression of episodes. But from start to finish, Sato proves to be a good-for-nothing that happens to be around more interesting characters for the sake of inciting story that isn’t related at all to Sato’s main problem of being a recluse. Perhaps I’d be more forgiving if such weren’t made so apparent but as things stand, I couldn’t help but view episodes 6-19 (with Sato primarily out of the house) as filler, with the remainder of the series serving as the actual plot (with Sato primarily in his house).

But as useless as Sato proves himself to be with each episode, you would think that his quirk as a shut-in would prove at least somewhat interesting. As he spends his time alone in his room, Sato tends to ramble on about the NHK: Nihon Hikikomori Kyouhai, the Japanese Hikikomori Association hell-bent on maintaining the world’s society of recluses for their own evil schemes. But rather than reaching the point that you as a viewer question the existence of such an association, you’re led to believe that Sato’s ramblings are bunk from the start, making him an even more difficult main character to relate to. Further bizarre imagery in the form of Sato imagining his home appliances and NHK-trolls chatting to him during these talks of conspiracy seem out of place and further isolate myself from the series (Later finding out that such imagery was drug-induced, but never fully explained as such in the series itself due to Japanese censorship is further frustrating to say the least).

All problems aside, though, I will admit that the series does an excellent job throughout at expressing the harsh realities of life. From problems as a shut-in college dropout, to living your academic career on the straight and narrow only to be left in the dark upon starting your adult life, Welcome to the NHK does bring home any and all feelings associated with the unfairness that is life after school and the unexpected twists and turns encountered on that journey. If the series made a clearer point of being about individuals facing said problems rather than focusing primarily on Sato from the start, it would have definitely made for a more enjoyable watch.

Alternatively, focusing the world solely on Sato and those closest to him could have also benefit the series. Cutting the middle chunk of episodes, and focusing on the main cast of Sato, Misaki and Yamazaki would have been a more believable story for somebody of Sato’s mindset, and having some of the more cripplingly depressing backstories introduced earlier on to better flesh out Sato’s character would have served as a definite plus as well. Additional characters would be used sparingly, with the right amount of care and direction especially given to scenes when Sato is by himself, really bringing home his problem as a hikikimori and how his paranoia involving the NHK only worsens things.

As it is, it’s an alright series that could have been a lot more had it not been distracted by so many tangents midway. The 20-something episode counts that were more prominent during the airing of this anime is a definite part of the problem, and I’m curious as to how the show would fare by today’s current (read: shorter) episode count standards and occasionally more offbeat direction in story-telling.

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About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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