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.
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.
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.
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.
I honestly thought that the first 10 or so episodes were boring and quite 'dragged',however now after watching the whole of the anime,it seems more in place and worth it.There were some good moments in the story which were fitting for its genre and it really didnt need any action scenes or anything and everything just fell in place nicely as far as the story goes. 6/10
Considering there was no action,it was pretty decent and the episode where the protagonist was talking with his furniture was kinda trippy and delivered well. 6/10
At first the opening was painful to go through but as the episodes went on I eased into it a bit more.The voice acting was quite generic(if thats possible?). 5/10
The main character,Sato,was definetly developed well,but with him being a hikikomori they didnt do anything 'out of the ordinary' with him.However i definately appreciated characters such as Hitomi and Yamazaki which really stuck in my mind and are really memorable.But considering Misaki who is supposedly a main character,we didnt get to see much development or any information about her until the very ending which left me disspointed :(. 7/10