My childhood aspiration was to… become a scientist and make contributions to humanity. Why did it turn out like this?
Our lives will always be… filled with a vague uncertainty.
A show I had heard little about, and thus did not have particularly high expectations for. However, it didn’t take long to make me realise that what I was watching was something rather special. Whenever I’m about to lose interest in anime, after watching a few samey series in a row, I discover something truly unique and it reminds me what amazing diversity and originality there is in the anime world, and why I’m still pursuing it. For a while I went through cycles of being enthralled by originality followed by boredom at cliché. This was the series that broke the cycle for me. After watching this series I started delving further into the less mainstream titles and have found a great number of gems that leave me more in love with this medium than ever.
Adapted from a novel of the same name, in short, Welcome to the NHK is about social dysfunction. The main protagonist, Satou, is a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and hikikomori, that is, a person who has chosen to isolate themself socially, sometimes showing a near inability to go out into more densely populated areas, usually caused by severe social phobia or anxiety. Whether Satou actually quite qualifies for hikikomori or not is debatable, but it makes the show no less fascinating. Following Satou, we explore many of the less glamorous elements of society, from self-destructive conspiracy theorists, to pyramid schemes, to online gaming obsession, to the dark and seedy side of anime culture itself. A huge range of themes are covered; escapism, depression, loneliness, and in particular the ups and downs of basic social interaction, as it acts to push Satou further into depression at times, but ultimately paves the path for him to move forward along. The societal issues covered are largely Japan-centric, but there’s plenty that’s relatable to for just about anyone, and the show rarely hides or glamorises, but it also rarely maligns or condescends, and this balance, or perhaps more the tone that results from this, gives a lot of strength to the narrative.
The animation is quite detailed but never really goes beyond above average, and I recall one episode where there was an animation drop to the point of being distracting for the first part of the episode. I watched the show in Japanese with subtitles, but it was easy to tell that the voice acting was exceptional. The music is always very appropriate and is never anything less than an asset to the overall mood of the scene. There are a few standouts, in particular the song “welcome to loneliness”. The first time it came on with the lyrics, at which point I was only mildly into the series, it was coupled with a particularly poignant scene if I remember correctly, and I remember thinking “holy crap, who suddenly gave you permission to start kicking arse.”
At twenty four episodes long it never really gets boring, nor does it feel particularly compressed. To qualify, I have no issue with thirteen episode series, or fifty episode series, provided it works with the subject matter, and the middle of the range twenty four worked wonderfully for this series.
Moving from the analytical back to the personal, I recently re-watched this series with my flatmates (re-watch for me, first watch for them), and it shone some new light on the insight this show holds. There is this one particular scene, where the protagonist, Satou, sits in on a tute on writing game scenarios, and the first time I saw this scene, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t particularly carry any emotional weight. Perhaps it’s a more mature perspective, or maybe it’s just because of the building guilt complex and general neuroses that have built up from Uni life, but this time around this scene made me flinch. It seriously affected me, and made me associate with the character in exactly the way an effective story should.
To elaborate, the students are challenged to write a proposal for a game scenario, and Satou, being both hopelessly naïve and hopelessly inexperienced, starts furiously writing about some horribly idealistic scenario supported by an idealistic, and what’s more theoretical, game interface. The Tutor is wandering around the class and peers over Satou’s shoulder, not being able to help himself, he snickers at Satou’s proposal, and this rockets Satou back into his usual extreme social anxiety. The part that really made me flinch though, is when, immediately following this, he glances round the room, and overhears the girls in front of him talking about how they’ve finished the proposal already, and the twists they’re putting on it etc. Naturally projecting the image to Satou of being these super-capable students he can’t compete with, while he is being laughed at by the tutor. Maybe it’s not something that everyone can associate with, I didn’t so much the first time I watched it, but the feeling that you can’t compete with the people around you, that uncontrollable neurotic urge to assume everyone is handling their life better than you are, in fact that they’re secretly laughing at or judging you, however much you realise it is illogical, is something that scene conveyed elegantly and poignantly, and perhaps now I’ve given everyone a bit TOO much insight into my twisted psyche <_<.
I could easily keep writing about how well the humour balances the dark and sometimes outright depressing subject material, about how exceptionally Satou and Yamazaki’s friendship plays out throughout, or about how it ends well for the overall tone of the series, but I think it suffices to say it is a very well-executed show exploring various fascinating aspects of the human psyche.