Note: Nope, haven’t read the manga yet.
Almost nothing is better than watching a show that exceeds all of your expectations. I jumped into this series expecting a polished rehash of the same old theme that almost all ecchi shows have: namely, one (or more!) cute girls inexplicably falling for an insultingly spineless Keitarou-clone loser. However, this GONZO work is not, by any stretch of the imagination, your average nerd-meets-girl. On the contrary, Welcome to the NHK! is a remarkably strange series – one that happens to be among the best of the year.
What makes the series so excellent is that it manages to work well on not one, or two, but three levels.
The first level is the one most people will enjoy the show for: namely, a witty romantic comedy involving quirky characters in unusual situations. Most of the laughs in the show come from the protagonist, Satou, a loveably dysfunctional shut-in whose tendency to fall headfirst into social problems is tempered only by his relentless paranoia. Most of his personality is developed through internal monologues, which, as with Kyon from The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, quickly flesh him out into a likeable, albeit bizarre, protagonist. Coupled with some equally strange but equally appealing supporting characters, Satou leaps from one anti-social obsession to another in rapid-fire succession. The bizarre situations Satou finds himself in, coupled with his strange personality, make for plenty of laughs and give the show a good deal of charm.
The second level is less immediately appealing, but is nonetheless fascinating. Alongside the comedy, NHK provides insightful commentary on Japans many societal problems. By unwittingly finding himself in the middle of some of Japan’s most dysfunctional circles, Satou acts almost as a medium through which the audience can see usually distant and abstracted problems up close in frightening detail. From the internet suicide chat-rooms to the NEET shut-ins, the anime gives faces, motives and reasons to these important and alarming statistics. In the end, in addressing real-life problems in Japan, this is probably the most honest and believable anime out there.
Finally, there is a third level that surfaces most near the end. Put simply, NHK is in part a desperate search for meaning in a vast and lonely world. One of Satou’s most telling lines is, "I am alone in the universe." His inability to relate with society almost forces him to be what he is – a lonely, emotionally neutered husk of a human being. This theme carries over to the supporting characters as well; each troubled soul searches endlessly for some hope, some iota of meaning, and always comes up short due to his or her own insecurities and idiosyncrasies.
While this anime could have been good with just the first two “levels” of entertainment, the third level is really what makes the show. There is an underlying sense of poignancy running through the entire work; even as I laughed at Satou’s numerous shortcomings, the sad truth is that I saw a lot of myself in his exaggerated character. As individuals who necessarily live at least somewhat on the fringe of society, I suspect other anime watchers will have similar thoughts.
I was a little apprehensive to see GONZO helming this series. However, unlike other anime by the studio, GONZO doesn’t allow over-p=roduced animation to interfere with the show. While at times the show is quite visually innovative (particularly when Satou is in the throes of some wild personal fantasy), for the most part the studio plays it straight. The result is a visual look that seldom wows, but provides a solid backbone for the story to rest on.
The sound, on the other hand, is great. An impressive array of seiyuu performances is led by Koizumi Yutaka, whose fevered and thoroughly erratic rendition of Satou borders on transcendent. For music, I particularly enjoyed “Purupuru Pururin,” a deliberately inane JPop song that pokes fun at the musical taste of anime-watchers. The rest of the soundtrack is suitably zany, with a solid OP by Round Table and a hilarious ED.
As mentioned in the story section, Satou really steals the show here as the loveable anti-hero. The other characters usually just act as foils to him, but are generally interesting in their own right as well.
As a whole, NHK ni Youkoso! is a landmark achievement for the year. Besides the fact that some people may find the transition from comedy to drama awkward, I’d recommend this to just about everyone. No other anime this year has appealed to me in so many different ways.
So, I expected Welcome to the N.H.K. to be a wonderful story about hikikomori life featuring characters that developed and reacted to things with sense, but I was sorely disappointed in that I didn't like it as much, since it wasn't really what I was looking for.
However, if you're not looking for a true portrayal of hikikomori life and the social anxieties and problems they face, and you're looking for a portrayal of Japans' society portrayed through dark humor and sarcastic jokes, then Welcome to the N.H.K. does coupled with some wonderfully psychotic characters who need serious help, then this does an amazing job for you.
Just, I found certain problems that as a story kind of made me unable to enjoy it as much. Otherwise, though I can't say I enjoyed it, I'll still praise for being a masterful characterization of its' time and a decent portrayal of some characters.
Okay, so if you're looking for an overarching, sensical, logical and linear plot that you can usually easily follow from point A to point B, you'll have some problems with Welcome to the N.H.K. right from the start. It's more like life: it doesn't follow a plot. It's depressing at points, funny at others, happy and bittersweet at others, but you're never really sure that you're actually getting anywhere, and it feels kinda of distanced like sometimes you're not connected to it all. In that way, it manages to connect to reality beautifully, in a kind of depressing way.
The characters also don't really change over the way, and sometimes they don't always make sense with how they react. Sometimes, they seem to be reacting weirdly to things and the way they portray the facts of hikikomori life feels more like this is about Satos' potential schizophrenia and mental disorders than the actual social nature, or rather antisocial nature, of outcasts.
For example, the reason Sato becomes a hikikomori was never really explained in any definitive way, and he simply walks outside, feels he is being made fun of, and then dashes inside. It was never really expressed that he was an outcast, but I feel he has more insecurity issues and some deep psychological disorders that affect him. Typically, hikikomori are more anti-social, until some big event that impacts such as years of harassment, bullying, or losing something important.
However, Satos' story is never explained and the way he goes about things is more typical of someone with mental problems. Which is fine if you like it, but not if you're looking for hikikomoris' story.
Also, sometimes things don't really make sense with how the characters act and when you feel it would make more logical sense for it to proceed this way, it doesn't and instead reverts back to normal like nothing ever happened, something I don't really like.
But, the positives are that all throught the story offers a mockery of modern day Japan, that as one who isn't a big fan of Japan, I can appreciate it. They expose its' stiff nature, the hypocrisy contained within and how people are not always the nicest no matter how you consider it. I like that, and it does offer a genuinely interesting and compelling story about social outcasts with issues with their psyche.
The animation is certainly, actually...very bad for Welcome to the N.H.K. After looking at the original book cover, which makes Misaki seem so much more interesting and attractive, the anime is very disappointing. The character design is fine, but it's just the level of art is so atrocious that I'm not a fan in any way, and I wish for something that would have stuck to the art of the book. Also, some scenes are very blocky and choppy, and everything feels kinda of choppy and blocky when looked at. The backgrounds are rather basic, and certainly could use some help.
The sound wasn't particularly bad, and I actually enjoyed the opening theme. The ending theme was actually pretty bizarre, though, and I feel it's either an acquireed taste or an enjoyment of the bizarre people who like bizarre things, which is fine by me.
Otherwise, the soundtrack wasn't really memorable or interesting.
The characters, other than the animation, was one of the worst parts of this anime. Rather than acting like typical hikikomori, these people acted more like psychologically disordered individuals that often exhibited signs of schizophrenia and other disorders rather than typical hikikomori. Yet, the show insisted itself on being about that, more then being about people with general psychological problems. Also, some characters solutions to something were really big problems, and had several deep issues that needed professional fixing rather than some girl reading from a notebook.
I kinda of feel that some solutions weren't solutions, and that these people need actual help that isn't going to be solved by some promises written on a notebook, as sweet and romantic as those are.
Otherwise, the characters also were very whimsical and nonsensical in how they made sense of things and did not really do things as they should have, as typical hikikomori should have.
Also, I didn't like that scattered nature of the plot as unlike typical SoL anime, this one kinda inhibited character development and modeling.
Welcome to the N.H.K. is an overall good romantic comedy about society, Japans' society, disorders and how people are all different. However, it fails on several points that should logically make sense, such as how hikikomori, NEET, and other people actually act and not how psychologically disordered people act, and how some solutions in reality actually wouldn't be solutions and would simply be stop gaps to the problem.
However, it's still an entertaining show over and certainly a step up above the rest.
Welcome to the NHK is one of the most unexpected treats I've stumbled on in recent times. It follows a hikikomori (think a live at home WoW addict) named Sato. He lives alone in a tiny apartment, is unemployed, and a bit mad, under the impression there is a grand conspiracy against him. Shortly after his introduction he meets a young girl who promises to help him fix his reclusive ways.
What follows is a series which addresses some of Japans recent issues in a manner thick with dark humor. The earlier episodes err on the side of funny while the later are downright depressing.
The most impressive thing about this series is that when all is said and done you feel like you actually went on this journey- Which while not particularly epic has its roots in the real world and thus feels real. Even if you dont learn anything from the adventure it is strangely soothing to see things you notice in people around you pointed out in a visual medium.
ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Welcome to the NHK (NHK for short) is one of the best cathartic anime ever created and it even retains a large portion of realism about it. It was also never turned into a slutty cashcow despite its fame and success (as much as I love Neon Genesis, the franchise has turned to a brothel of merchandising). Yet all that pale in comparison to the most amazing, unbelievable, exceptional, mind-bogging, shocking, mesmerizing, seat-jumping, screen-gluing, jaw-dropping element of this show that has baffled psychiatrists, rocket scientists, and film critics for years. And that element is how this show is made by GONZO … and it’s actually very good. I know it is a very hard thing to accept but it is true; GONZO actually made an amazing anime for once. And I don’t give a rat’s ass if you are a hardcore fan of Last Exile, The Count of Monte Christo, Gate Keepers, or any other piece of shit they have cursed us with; I consider all those to be nothing but abominations of storytelling, full of god-ugly 3D models and distant/cold/uninteresting characters. Plus they are heavy on fantasy or sci-fi, mostly unneeded mumbo jumbo to hide their otherwise piss poor storylines and cop-out characters. Next to those, NHK is ten times cheaper to produce, twenty times more realistic, and fifty times more understandable and enjoyable. So don’t mind me showing the middle finger to anything else they have made (with a few exceptions such as Kaleido Star and Vandread).
The basic reasons GONZO didn’t screw up for a change are rather easy to figure out. First of all they decided to adapt an already very good manga WITHOUT straying away from the story to the most part and and didn’t head for random fan service BS, as they USUALLY DO. They also adopted a story that was not heavy on visual effects, a thing that for them translates to lots and lots of HORRIBLE CGI !!!
So anyways, this is the story of a bunch of mentally unstable characters who try to find a solution to their problems. Most of those solutions though end up being nothing but an excuse to escape reality or even life in general. Which is exactly what makes this show so good; it is all a big pile of messed up people trying to solve their problems the wrong way. And what makes it even greater is how all these problems are based in real life and not in some fictional universe. Drugs, eroges, pyramid scams, suicide groups, all these are existing issues in modern Japan, which is heavy on NEETs and hikikomoris. Watching this show is like learning of the problems many face in Japan or by extension in the modern world altogether.
Another thing that is sooo good in this show is how all these issues are not used in a superficial way, just as shallow colorization. For example, another show named Kamisama Memo-chu has a NEET hikikomori loli detective (lol?) in it. There is also Boku Wa Tomotachi which is about anti-social people trying to make friends. The premise in those shows is used as nothing more but a shallow excuse to sell to male NEETs and hikikomoris, and are otherwise piss-poor in everything. There is also Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei which has a hikikomori character in it and everyone practically represents a mental disorder, yet everybody there is just a non-evolving comical caricature with no real depth. I like that show a lot for its social criticism but I like NHK more for having an on-going plot and character immersion on top of all that.
Speaking of the characters, they are all interesting for the aforementioned reason; trying to find a solution to their issues, usually in a wrong way. You see the full course of what actual people involved in these shady business go through and how they are eventually destroyed or saved by them. In fact the mangaka of the original story was deeply involved in all that too at a time and this show is his way of telling how he felt first hand, including ways to get saved by them and move on with your life. So you see how everybody is not only based on real life issues but are also portrayed by someone who ACTUALLY was part of the same problem. Something akin to what Hideaki Anno did with Neon Genesis and turned out great for being honest and presented first hand. You see how the characters gradually are affected and find catharsis in a most familiar way exactly because it is based on real facts.
This makes the whole thing a very personal work, art imitating life, as well as the artist expressing himself instead of going for shallow fan catering crap (as most do). I respect that and I like it a lot. Having real life issues also makes it very easy for the viewer to sympathize with the cast or even identify with their problems, especially if he is somewhat involved himself in a similar way. I understand that eventually the characters are dealing with the issues in a rather light manner and get over them easy, as well as admitting the lead hero is NOT really a hikikomori since he is leaving his home and talks with other people instead of running away all the time. Ok, the realism part only goes up to a point, yet it is still a hundred times closer to the real thing than Kamisama Memo-chu or Boku Wa Tomotach. The show approached these issues a lot closer than anyone else and for that it stands as the best in this specific topic. Until some other show appears to get even closer, I consider NHK to be the king of this particular hill.
Beyond all that, the production values are fine for this sort of show. They have lots of quality drops at points but it’s not like the premise of the show needed great visuals to tell its story properly. The protagonist has these dilutions that make home appliances to talk about some conspiracy, a thing that makes his line of thought more understandable. The problems the characters face are also presented in a rather realistic manner and you see how people deep in trouble acting all crazy, which again makes the animation and the artwork to be part of the story and not some unrelated trippy imagery, purely for style rather than substance (I’m looking at you SHAFT). In a similar fashion, the music is also good, nice songs and dialogues directly related to the issues of the story and not random troll jokes for superficial laughing (points at SHAFT).
So there you have it, an anime that does things right. It has a very interesting topic, based on real life, it has development in its issues, it has characters relevant to those issues, it has trippy animation at times, good songs, interesting dialogues, it is cathartic, it is a personal work, it is not fan catering, and it is not heavy on GONZO CGI. It is the recipe of success.
Now go watch this anime, love it, and be very wary of your eroge collection or your fridge will suddenly say you have been targeted for termination by the Men In Black.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-made)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic and have quality drops)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (trippy)
SOUND SECTION: 9/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (corny but eventually mature)
Music Themes 4/4 (very fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 8/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 2/2 (fine)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 1/2 (goes easy on the problems but makes sense)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (everyone has some)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you dig its style)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely smart to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 10/10
Loved it for its themes alone.
People say that Welcome to the NHK! stops being funny and goes for the strictly depressing route starting 11-12 episodes in. I just think that the show changes focus a bit, to things people find easier to understand as dark. The jokes at the start leans more to "watch the character overreact in hilarious ways" and less to dark humor, but the point is that those aren't "overrations", they are an extension of how damaged he is. This show has very dark humor, and we get used to to the quirks and are forced to face it.
Many shows claim to be dark but aren't. There are plenty of shows where dark things happen, and people mix that up with a dark nature. Welcome to the NHK! has a truly dark nature. It is a delve into the psychological realm of the depressed, lonely, and paranoid underbelly of modern society. Our guide to it is a shut in, a master of self-deception and loathing, and an overall unlikable human being.
Welcome to the NHK! is funny as it breaks the viewer's heart. The dark humor hurts as much as it works, being a painfully sharp stab right at the soul of the impersonal nature of society. It deals with addiction, suicide, depersonalization, and other such cheery subjects with brutal clarity. But throughout it all, there is a message of hope as the characters struggle to make things work despite how deeply fractured they are inside.
It isn't that Welcome to the NHK! is enjoyable as much as it is cathartic. It is one of the rare shows that is fearless in digging into the dark corners of the human psyche, and as such can be excrutiating to view at times. Some people will see something of themselves exposed and poked at. A person I know couldn't get through the first three episodes because it struck too close to home. But in the end, it is rewarding like very few others.
Writing (Story and Characters):
Character driven shows, as Welcome to the NHK! most certainly is, rise and fall on the cast. When the subjects are so grim, usually the writing comes off as narcissistic and incoherent. Luckily, this is not such a case. There is a clarity of vision behind the writing that makes everything work together beautifully.
The story of Welcome to the NHK! is not perfect. The first eleven chapters are just an introduction to the characters and what makes them tick, and then it deals with issues in short arcs that don't delve quite as deep as they should into the subjects they explore. And yet, the story sets out to be a playground for the disfunctional cast, and does an admirable job at that. There is a definite lack of grace that reflects the subjects explored well, and while not perfect, it helps the characters shine.
Strongest in this series, what everything is built around, are the characters. They are at times decidedly unlikable, extremely flawed, and will make you cringe. Each one reflects a different type of broken, and very few people will not be able to identify with at least one of them. All the cast is well developed, well rounded, and goes through personal growth one way or the other. Despite everything, you will find yourself wishing them happiness.
Perhaps it is easy to say that the characters are slaves to the premise, and the story is a slave to the characters. Welcome to the NHK! has great writing that is held up by strong characterization that gives life to the themes expressed. The main character, despite all his (obvious, gargantuan) flaws, is the perfect guide for exploring the dark psychological aspects that the show walks us through.
Art (Animation and Sound):
In shows so centered around the characters, the artwork can be judged based on two questions: does it achieve what is necessary, and does it bring an added dimension to the writing. The answer to the first is an easy yes, and to the second is more of a "kinda". From an artistic perspective, Welcome to the NHK! has too many issues to be truly exceptional. It isn't that the art is bad, and there are moments where it takes creative license to showcase just how troubled (read: delusional) the main character is... but it doesn't really add to the writing much excluding those points.
Where the writing deals with dark materials, the animation is surprisingly mundane (excluding the parts in the imagination of the protagonist). This is obviously the "correct" choice for the show, but it also stops it from becoming truly exceptional. The most serious issue with the animation is that at too many points talking is a still picture with a mouth moving in an artificial manner. The character designs aren't all that either. The backgrounds are surprisingly effective, and the moments of fan service are extremely well done. Still, the animation executes things well, and by no means is subpar on any level.
Luckily enough, the audio glues the writing and the animation together with some good voice acting. The soundtrack in itself isn't unique nor particularly good, but is well used. There are moments where the effects are actually brilliant, and add an extra dimension to what is going around. All in all, this is well above average stuff, and could have been excellent had the soundtrack been better.
The audio and visual aspects combine well to bring life to Welcome to the NHK!, and despite their flaws are well done. Still, the show fails to achieve the heights it could because in too many points the artwork chose to do the easy thing rather than go outside the box. The lack of risks in playing the vast majority straight up manages to make the execution solid, but not spectacular... which is a shame, because the writing deserves the best.
Welcome to the NHK! is far more cathartic than it is enjoyable. Parts of it will be painful to watch. But it is a very good show, and well outside the norm by dealing with proper dark materials and not just "oh look, gore! how dark!". There is no violence or anything, just messed up people with messed up lives. But it is most definitely worth viewing.