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Welcome to the NHK PDF Print E-mail
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R2 DVD Reviews
Thursday, 22 December 2011 00:00
Welcome to the NHKWelcome to the NHK, which in this show can stand for several things, depending on your point of view - and the Japanese broadcaster isn't one of them. Sato's a shut-in with a bad sense of paranoia and a fear of crowds - a combination that would make you want to withdraw to the world. But whenever he's hauled out of his apartment and forced to deal with others, the results seem to always be dramatic...

Sato Tatsushiro's being driven slowly nuts by his new next-door neighbour, who's been playing anime theme songs loudly enough for him to hear them since he moved in, and now Sato's at the end of his tether.  He'd like to just walk next door and give his neighbour a piece of his mind - but it's been three years since he last left his apartment, and he's not about to start now.  It's the only way he can avoid falling foul of the conspiracy of the NHK (the Nihon Hikikomori Kyohai, which may or may not be a misnomer for the broadcaster) that he feels he's the centre of.  But the appearance at his door of a rather cute missionary girl could just be the push Sato needs to get his life back on track.

The girl is Misaki, and she's decided to make Sato - and more specifically, getting him back into normal society - her personal project. Which on the surface sounds like a noble thing to do, but Misaki has her own issues and may be using Sato as a way of dealing with them. Meanwhile, Sato tries to persuade Misaki that he is a useful member of society by allowing next-door-neighbour and former school friend Yamazaki to rope him into helping produce a new video game. Which just happens to be an eroge. And these are just two of the problems that poor Sato finds himself having to deal with...

Welcome to the NHK is quite a clever little series. When I first watched its opening episodes, way back when it was first being broadcast in Japan, it struck me as a series that was taking the piss out of the otaku lifestyle, pointing out the absurdities of fandom - people playing anime songs all day long, proving their lolicon credentials by taking hidden-camera photos of schoolgirls, and more situations that many people watching it would see and immediately recognise themselves in. And then feel uncomfortable about it. This time around, though, I obviously watched the whole thing - and once the opening episodes are out of the way, it soon becomes apparent that it's working on two separate levels: the otaku culture thing, which provides the comedy and the hook that gets you into watching the series in the first place; but as you get further into it, another much darker and more serious aspect of the story comes to the fore, and that's really where the real meat of the series turns out to be.

Welcome to the NHK's characters, you see, are inherently a messed-up bunch. Sato we've already mentioned - it's his inner paranoia, the fear of what other people are saying about him, that keeps him locked in his apartment. Yamazaki comes from a family that has planned his life out for him in minute detail, and he wants at least the semblance of freedom. Sato's high-school "love interest" (for want of a better description) Hitomi sees conspiracy in everything and has a deep need to be wanted; their former class rep Megumi has a hikikomori problem of her own, as well as being mired in debt and reduced to desperate measures in an attempt to find a way out. Misaki has problems of her own, but they come to the fore in a slower, more deliberate fashion that I wouldn't want to spoil (they're a bit more complex than the others, too). The one thing they all have in common is that they know Sato - who, without ever really realising it himself, turns out to be the catalyst for them all to rediscover themselves and face a brighter future because of it. Even if Sato is nearly killed a few times in the process, and even if - in true "it's always darkest before the dawn" fashion - some of them have to go through hell first.

Any series that uses suicide as a key plotline not just once but twice has clearly got a serious message, which here seems to be that there's always someone who can help you through the dark days if you'll just let them. When NHK really digs into the inner depths of its characters, it can be quite tough going - these are not pleasant places to be, especially if they're places you've been yourself - but the show keeps its sense of humour throughout and uses it to good effect, being careful to stay on the right side of a very fine line (at what point does its subject matter become something you shouldn't joke about?).

It's also smart enough not to dwell in the depths for too long at a time, and when it decides to go all-out on the humour side of things, it's great fun - especially when you get to the "yeah, I do that too..." aspects of fan culture. It's a combination that I found worked very well, and made the series compelling viewing - it took me three days to blitz my way through it, only taking a break from it when I really had to, as it's one of those shows where once it hooks you it's hard to stop.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, then, to find I rate Welcome to the NHK very highly. It's tackling difficult subjects in a surprisingly engaging way, while keeping the more humourous side of the story from taking over or feeling forced or inappropriate. GONZO have always been associated with style over substance - this is very much the opposite of that, with the look of the series being that of one done on the cheap, and the ideas coming very much to the fore to create a series that's surprisingly good. Highly recommended.

Rating - ****