Welcome To The N.H.K Complete Collection (Cert 15)
4 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running Time: 546 minutes approx.
Tatsuhiro Sato is a hikikomori – someone completely withdrawn from society with no education or job prospects, locked up in his messy flat all day long barely subsisting on a living allowance from his parents. Sato’s exclusion from the outside world, and the influence of the talking appliances in his flat, leads him to conclude that his condition is in fact the result of a conspiracy by the N.H.K (Nihon Hikikomori Kyōkai) to keep the younger generation under control.
A rare venture outside leads to a chance meeting with Misaki Nakahara, a young girl who later contacts Sato with a contract which she says will cure him of his hikikomori ways. In denial of his condition, Sato falsely claims he is in fact creating a computer game and will show Misaki the results. However, the next door neighbour who is driving Sato to despair with the perpetual playing of an anime theme song turns out to be old school friend Kaoru Yamazaki who is, in fact, a computer game programmer. Together they plan to make an eroge (erotic game) to make their fortune and help Sato break out of his self-imposed isolation. If only it were that easy…
This adaptation of Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s novel and eight volume manga has finally arrived on UK shelves after almost four years in the wilderness. Originally scheduled for release in August 2008, this title was pushed back to 2009 then finally abandoned when then licensees ADV films collapsed.
Thanks to MVM, the anime gets to see the light of day and – let joy be unconfined – it was certainly worth the wait. It needs to be pointed out first of all that the N.H.K referred to here is not the TV broadcaster of the same name (Nihon Hōsō Kyōkai) who, even though they show a lot of anime in Japan, not unsurprisingly didn’t air this series.
The story runs across many terrains over twenty four episodes with the key thread being the people upon whom Sato relies for his salvation are just as troubled as he is. Misaki is clearly hiding something and is far from the angel Sato believes she is. Yamazaki is a full blown otaku whose heavy handed introduction to the world of anime, moe girls and eroge pushes Sato into a porn obsession as he researches material for his role as game story writer.
Then we have Sato’s high school senpai Hitomi Kashiwa, now a pill popping depressive who unwittingly takes Sato along to a suicide party. Finally Sato’s former high school class rep Megumi Kobayashi reappears in Sato’s life with the intention of conning him into joining a pyramid scheme. And yet while some of them may end up making progress in beating their woes, Sato is pushed deeper into his.
To watch this tale unfold, one has wonder how unlucky one person can be but as much as the actions of the others hamper him, Sato only really has himself to blame. There are no heroes here – just a bunch of people all living their lives as a lie and are looking to everyone else to help them find that sliver of happiness and fulfilment – yet it is difficult not to warm to the cast even if they are essentially a dodgy bunch.
By now, nothing here probably sounds like a barrel of laughs yet the show is rife with jet back, satirical humour with its social commentary and a few hearty giggles at the overreactions of Sato and company to the many revelations and situations of this often bleak reflection of modern Japanese society. The rise of the hikikimori in Japan over the last few years is an extension of the NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) problem which affects many teens and people in their early 20’s.
The timing of this release here will no doubt resonate greatly with UK viewers as the current crumbling economical climate in this country is producing its own increasing army of NEETs. Hopefully no-one watching this series will end up in the same situations as Sato although the dangers he carelessly wanders into here are very real indeed, making this one of the more incisive and biting anime series to come out in quite some time.
With the source material being considerably darker and more explicit, acclaimed animators Gonzo have opted to lighten things up with some surreal turns to make Sato’s world a little more accessible for the rest of us, and in turn present us with a show that looks unlike any other the famed studio has produced thus far.
Fans of the manga will notice the liberties taken with the story, with some arcs given more attention and room to develop while others are dropped or rearranged. Sato’s drug reliance and later overdose isn’t in the anime while some characters like Hitomi’s fiancé Jōgasaki is given a different role here.
The ending is also different and open to subjective debate as to its effectiveness but a conclusion is at least offered. Even with this heavy editing and significant changes, the story is not compromised or loses any of its cynical edge or pathos, allowing this series to serve as an essential companion piece to the written works rather than a poorly realised cash-in adaptation.
Welcome To The N.H.K is a show which is both easy and difficult to recommend. Its central premise is likely to both intrigue and repel potential viewers while its content will either entertain or appal. Rather than celebrate the world of the otaku and the NEET, it holds a mirror up to it and the reflection is not always pretty – much like real life itself. An astutely observed show which offers a darkly entertaining experience for the viewer unlike any other this is a great way to kick off the year!
English Language Version
Japanese Language version with English Subtitles
Disc 4 only:
Clean Opening Credits
Clean Closing Credits
Rating – *****
Man In Black