I must admit, I went into this one not really knowing what to expect - perhaps a relatively mindless comedy that provided an easy watch, a smidgeon of slice of life, or even a romance story. As always, I'd done very little research on the anime other than the AP synopsis, and therefore was pleasantly surprised when Welcome to the NHK! shattered all preconceptions.
Addressing the idiosyncrasies of Japanese culture and presenting it in a palatable format can be an unenviable task, and the issues dealt with in NHK can be pretty challenging. The story deals with the phenomenon known as 'hikkikomori', a uniquely Japanese cultural problem that can be loosely described as being a social recluse, crossed with intense agoraphobia. The actual definitions and impacts of a hikkikomori are very complex, but NHK does extremely well in presenting the entire thing in a humorous way that nevertheless maintains a slightly sombre tone underneath all the comedy.
The story follows Tatsuhiro Satou, a young man who (sometimes proudly) describes himself as a hikkikomori and shuts himself away from the world - how he deals with this condition is a large part of the story, as he progresses and regresses, battling with his inner demons. Convinced that he is being targeted by a global conspiracy machine known as 'NHK', Satou shuts himself away to escape harm - until a young lady named Misaki Nakahara steps into his life, with a promise to cure him of his reclusive ways! With a former classmate being discovered next door, the stage is set for Satou to either sink or swim as he tries to get to grips with his newfound opportunity.
Satou regularly infuriates and amuses in equal measure, generally stumbling into wacky situations, often with the other two main characters.The anime does keep it light-hearted for the most part, although some of the underlying implications of Satou's situations are genuinely quite saddening, and the tearjerker factor ramps right up towards the end at some stages. The ending is a little frustrating, but also perfect for the anime.
On the whole, considering the complexity of the whole hikkikomori thing, I thought that the story was very engaging and well-paced. I think many viewers could see parts of themselves in Satou and his reactions, which is both heartening and saddening at different times.
The weakest score, but mainly due to my personal taste. The animation was generally consistent and fluid; production values dipped in a few episodes, but not many at all. NHK! has quite a unique style, being intensely surreal at times and razor-sharp at others, depending on the situation - Satou's random space-out moments where he envisaged the conspiracy unfolding had me convinced that someone in the design team was on the drugs. Other than feeling like I was in a Salvador Dali painting at times, the animation was crisp, with good colour and lighting effects in particular used - nothing spectacularly brilliant, but a notch above functional.
Very good, difficult to find reasons to mark this down. The seiyuu were excellent, particularly the three main characters (Satou, Yamazaki and Misaki) - they were expressive and Satou's in particular was very convincing during the entire thing. Conveying complete zaniness and then dreary despair on a routine basis cannot be easy, and he did a great job. As for the sound effects and music, they were very much suited to the anime, with the ambient noise being sparingly used to great effect, and dramatic music occasionally being drummed up to heighten the tension. The OP is fantastic (albeit weird), and both endings were pretty decent too.
Absolutely fantastic. Satou is mind-bogglingly irritating at times due to his inconsiderate attitude and inattentive nature, but despite this remains a character that you can empathise with hugely, and you'll end up cheering for him anyway. His progression (and reversals) make up the bulk of the character development, and I found myself surprisingly invested in his fate by the end. He proved to be a very intriguing character, impulsive at times and insanely downtempo elsewhere.
Misaki, by the end of the anime, had rapidly ascended to the peak of my list of 'favourite ever characters', second only to the mighty Kino. A sweet-natured young woman who seeks to 'rescue' Satou from total obscurity by implementing him within her mysterious 'project', she remains an upbeat but elusive character for most of the anime. Only as the anime progresses a little do her true intentions and past begin to be glimpsed, and we see shades of something other than bright optimism from her. Her relationship with Satou is fascinating, and more than once I wanted to throttle him due to what happens between them at varying points!
Yamazaki only enters the anime partway through, but nevertheless is given time to establish himself as a good foil to Satou, consistently driving him onward to greater things by encouraging his desire to become a 'creator'. Their relationship is explored quite thoroughly by the end, with some touching moments - it has to said that I found their insanity overwhelming at times, but generally they were great fun to watch.
The remaining characters (chief among them being Satou's former senpai, and a former classmate) are excellent to watch, and provide useful avenues to explore the anime's various issues and complexities. Even so, the focus is undoubtedly on the former three characters.
It might seem to be an odd score, but I firmly believe that NHK! deserves higher than an 8.5, but didn't quite have the quality required to edge into the 9's. A little more cutting edge and ambition when discussing the social implications of being a hikkikomori wouldn't have gone amiss, although in fairness that's more a personal desire of mine rather than something which should've necessarily been applied - the anime might have gotten too technical otherwise, and lacking the focus on character development. The numerous layers of the series (comedy, drama, slice of life, social commentary) set it apart from other series, particularly when combined with the bizarre (at times) visual style.
A fantastic effort at describing the desolate world of a hikkikomori in Japan, whilst keeping the tone light-hearted for those who'd rather just have a comedy - really, the choice is yours. And that's what makes NHK! such a worthwhile watch. You can either really have a good think about it all, or just let your mind wander and enjoy the insanity. I'll be coming back to watch this one again and again.