Reviewby Luke Carroll, Aug 21st 2011
Welcome to the NHK - Complete Series
Hikikomori - a Japanese phenomenon of acute social withdrawal whereby an individual becomes a recluse from society, typically confining him or herself to the house or a single room for a very long period.
Satou Tatsuhiro is 22 years old and NEET (Not in Employment, Education, or Training). He's also a shut-in, or hikikomori – his apartment is filled with garbage from cheap take-away food and he spends his time watching terrible TV and internet porn. Not even the obnoxiously loud music from next door can snap him out of his hibernation and he is under a delusion that he is the subject of a conspiracy by the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (NHK), a secret organisation whose sole intention is to produce a world filled with hikikomori.
The discovery that his neighbour is actually a perverted otaku only drags Satou further into his psychological black hole, but offers him an interesting opportunity: he will make a “gal game” (i.e. hentai) as proof that he is a “creator”…to impress a mysterious girl!
Welcome to the NHK is an intelligent comedy drama that hints at satire, but never casts judgment on the themes it explores with a lot to say about the adverse effects of consumerism on lonely young people. The characters are superbly crafted and interact with sincerity regardless of their shortcomings. It's this sincerity and overall realism that makes Welcome to the NHK strongly resonate with audiences and has elevated its status to become something of a modern-day classic.
~Puru Puru Pururin~
For a moment, imagine being able to sleep 16 hours a day, everyday. Imagine your parents give you a large enough allowance every month that it covers both your rent and living expenses. Sounds like the dream life right? Well now imagine that you also believe that an evil Global Corporation is trying to ruin your life at every turn, causing you to be so fearful of the outside world that you recluse yourself to your apartment and evidently drop out of college. And on top of this, your next door neighbour is playing an anime song on constant loop, full volume. Not so dreamy now right? Welcome to the life of Tatsuhiro Sato.
Adapted from a novel turned manga series of the same name, Welcome to the NHK is a slice of life anime that forgoes the traditional school setting of most titles, opting instead to explore the sociological phenomenons known as hikikomoris and NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training). Hikikomoris are essentially people who isolate themselves in their home for large periods of time, withdrawing themselves from social life. NEETs on the other hand are young adults who aren't studying, aren't working, and aren't actively looking for work. Our protagonist Sato has the unfortunate privilege of being both, and the series pulls no punches in mentioning just how worthless his life really is.
After living this secluded life for nearly four years, his blessing in disguise comes in the form of a chance encounter with Misaki, a young girl who believes she can cure the hikikomori condition and wants Sato as her subject. Of course Sato denies being anything but normal, however with his eyes now open to the condition, he soon begins to see that this might be the only "out" he has left. On top of following the relationship that begins between the pair, Sato also runs into numerous people from his past along the way, each bringing with them a history of their own that Sato regularly tangles himself into. The most notable of these being his next door neighbour Yamazaki, a major anime otaku who convinces Sato to help him make a ero-game.
As with many anime adaptations, the series tones down or cuts quite a few things out from the manga version. Almost all of the drug references are removed, nudity is toned down a bit, and a few of the plots are changed or removed completely. The speed that series moves at is also slow at times, leading to the last few episodes feeling like they have a less than natural progression. Regardless, the core feelings of the series stays intact, and the ending is satisfactory enough.
The artwork in Welcome to the NHK is certainly not Gonzo's best piece, but it does have a few highlights. The backgrounds for the most part are wonderfully detailed, and the character details fare rather well during close ups. Medium and far shots however show a bit of sloppyness at times, but it doesn't detract too much from the overall experience. Crazy hallucination sequences aside, the character designs are also fairly eye pleasing. Sato and Yamazaki stand out with their unique clothing sets, and Misaki surprisingly avoids being given an overly sexy look, well until Sato starts fantasising that is.
Harder to fault is the wonderful score by the Pearl Brothers. Featuring a selection of guitar and piano melodies, it never fails to enhance even the darkest of scenes. The opening theme "Puzzle" opens each episode on lighter tune whilst the first ending "Odoru Akachan Ningen" is the most bizarre thing you will see for a long while. The second ending theme "Modokashii Sekai no ue de" is a much lighter piece and certainly the most pleasant of the lot. The English dub is also a rather decent affair. Chris Patton does a great job with Sato, as does Greg Ayres with Yamazaki. However Stephanie Wittels does struggle at times to match the heart of Misaki like her counterpart Yui Makino can. Overall it is still a good listen, however the not to literal translation that was down will certainly have people split on what they prefer.
In the extras department, things are kept very lean with this release. Included on the fourth disc is the clean opening and closings, as well as a handful of trailers. Oddly however, the dvd insert misprints the region, despite the slipcase having it correct.
Overall, Welcome to the NHK is a series that knows full well the power of it's cast. Each member has an issue that drives them to be the way they are, and we are invited with each episode to share their emotions. The plot may rush itself at times, and the animation certainly isn't the best, but when series wants to become dramatic, it knows all the right buttons to push.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ You can see the cast grow individually over time without it needing to be pointed out, great musical score.
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