Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 20th 2007
Welcome to the NHK
DVD 2 - 2nd Conspiracy
Tatsuhiro's encounter with his high school senpai Hitomi stirs up old school memories, which lead him to accept Misaki's counseling contract, which inspires him to make a more concerted effort on his gal game development. A trip to Yamazaki's school, in pursuit of the truth about whether or not Yamazaki actually has a girlfriend, leads him to sit in on a game design class, but ultimately the stress of the situation proves too much, causing him to sink even deeper into his hikikomori funk. Only a call from his mother, indicating that she intends to visit soon, can force him into action, but how is he going to be able to cover his claims that he has an actual job and a girlfriend he's thinking about marrying? And why is Misaki so eager to step up and help? Or is it all just more NHK conspiracy?
If someone somewhere does not use this series for discussion in a sociology class or project then a golden opportunity is being wasted. Nowhere else, save perhaps Neon Genesis Evangelion, will you see such a thorough exploration of one person's social dysfunction, and Tatsuhiro rivals even Shinji Ikari in terms of dysfunctional behavior. Watching what he goes through, and how unable he is to cope with life without outside help, can at times be a discomforting experience, yet also a fascinating one. And as this volume also suggests, his initial transition into being a hikikomori probably was not a sudden thing. The roots of it certainly lay in his school years. The insights the series shows are so sharp and detailed that one has to think original creator Tatsuhiko Takimoto based the story heavily on personal experiences.
Watching Yamazaki can also be interesting, as he represents the intense, almost militant otaku who clearly feels more comfortable in his own skin than Tatsuhiro but also has his own issues. Some of his behavior can be disconcerting (the Pururin body pillow has all sorts of wrongness written all over it, but such things do actually exist), but what guy who does/once did consider himself geeky or a fanboy can honestly say he doesn't have at least a bit of Yamazaki in him?
Misaki at first looked only like the cute “out” to provide Tatsuhiro hope for a better life, and she does serve as a tool for delving further into the analytical psychology of the hikikomori, but as this volume begins to imply, not everything may be good in her life, either. Hints dropped throughout these four episodes suggest that she could wind up being the “girl taken with the hero in childhood” character so common in anime series, and that she may be trying to reform Tatsuhiro as much out of romantic motivations as pure kindness or practical experiment. Tatsuhiro certainly seems like an unlikely prospect for such a cute girl, but much here yet remains unrevealed. (Wouldn't you love to hear what's really going on in Misaki's head?) Whatever the truth, her presence, and that of Hitomi, lend some brightness and stability to Tatsuhiro's screwed-up, delusional world, as well as some actual pleasant characters to look at.
And that begs the question: are Gonzo and Studio Easter, who collaborated on this projecting, deliberately trying to make Tatsuhiro look as unappealing as possible? Rarely in anime do you see a male lead so homely as Tatsuhiro is, and the effect of his reclusive ways on his appearance cannot account for all of that. Yamazaki has the expected (but not exaggerated) nerdish appearance, and background depictions of otaku seem to go out of their way to portray the most unglamorous specimens, but at least they have to be respected for not playing these depictions up as jokes or caricatures. The young female characters, by contrast, are in the full bloom of their cute/sexy beauty, and both get some brief fan service-ish opportunities, though again, the series avoids needless exaggeration except in Tatsuhiro's delusions.
The character designs would be fine if not for the big problem with artistry: its quality is grossly inconsistent. Complaints about occasional quality control breakdowns in the first volume were, unfortunately, only the tip of the iceberg. At times the artistry looks nearly as beautiful as the best series out there, especially in selected background shots in episode 8, and the background art in general stands strong. The character renderings can range anywhere from attractive to quite rough, however, and the same can be said for the animation; one scene where Misaki stumbles down some stairs looks particularly awkward, for instance, but in other places the animation moves along quite smoothly. Although these episodes technically feature no actual nudity, it does have enough close calls, fan service elements, and suggestive content to warrant a TV-MA rating. (Though how this one gets TV-MA and Step Up Love Story doesn't still baffles me.)
Musical themes in these episodes repeat the poignant guitar/piano numbers used to punctuate key moments in the first volume, as well as mixing in other softer numbers to promote a usually gentle mood. Delusional scenes, by contrast, get more of a rock treatment. The nice J-pop opener and whacked-out closer remain constant.
Would it be indirectly insulting to say that no other American anime voice actor could have fit the role of Tatsuhiro half as well as Chris Patton? But it's true. He has the neuroses and attitudes of Tatsuhiro so perfectly pegged that those watching the series in English first may find it hard to imagine anyone else in that role, the original Japanese performer included. It may ultimately stand as one of Mr. Patton's career-best performances, and certainly ranks amongst the year's best. His efforts outshine what would otherwise have been a stand-out effort by Greg Ayres as Yamazaki and a quality performance by the up-and-coming Stephanie Wittels as Misaki; we will certainly be hearing much more from her in dubs to come, since she has a naturally soft, kind tenor well-suited to teenage girls in anime roles and a goodly amount of acting ability. The script adjusts wording at times but does stay faithful on using “gal game” as opposed to the more common “ero game” or “hentai game” terms used in the States.
ADV's production offers only clean opener and closer for Extras. Their selection of cover art also leaves more than a bit to be desired. The series' artbox is available with this volume, however.
As with the first four episodes, the second four offer an occasional good laugh and some common romantic comedy hijinks, but more often they play better taken as straight drama and character study with some romantic overtones. It may not be the most purely entertaining series, and is more apt than most to make its viewers feel uncomfortable at times, but that makes it no less interesting to watch.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Involving character study, strong English dub work.
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