Jan 22

By Jack McDonough, 2021 prospective JET

It’s all a Conspiracy! (Sato and Misaki) Art by Grace McDonough. You can find Grace’s art here!

Most anime feature protagonists who are special: characters who are brave, strong, or brilliant; think Light Yagami from Death Note or Goku from Dragon Ball. These characters either inspire you or have incredibly enviable traits.  Welcome to the N.H.K. does not have a special character: no knight in shining armor, no undefeatable hero.  This anime’s main character is lazy, pathetic, and cringy: Tatsuhiro Sato, a man who thinks he is being controlled through his TV by the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai, the Japanese Hikikomori Organization, a play on the real-life Nippon Hoso Kyokai, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation. 

Welcome to the N.H.K. is an anime adaptation of the light novel N.H.K. ni Yōkoso! by Tasuhiko Takimoto, featuring Tatsuhiro Sato, a self-proclaimed hikikomori, meaning recluse: hikikomori do not work or attend school, do not have a diagnosed mental disorder, and have been at home for six months or longer without interacting with people other than their family. Sato also calls himself a NEET: “Not in Education, Employment, or Training.” He moved to Tokyo from Hokkaido to attend university, but experienced a panic attack and dropped out of school. He binges television all day, receiving an allowance from his parents; however, the allowance shrinks throughout the show due to his father being fired from work.

Sato is surrounded by a cast of characters who all have issues: Kaoru Yamazaki, an otaku who shirks his responsibilities in Hokkaido to create video games in Tokyo; Hitomi Kashiwa, a female office worker who is depressed and obsessed with conspiracies; and Misaki Nakahara, a broken girl who is searching for someone more pathetic than herself to cling on to. 

The relationships between Sato and the rest of the cast are dysfunctional and self-serving. Hitomi uses Sato to talk about her conspiracy theories in hopes that he will care about her and alleviate her depression, while Sato tries to rekindle the physical relationship he had with her in high school. Kaoru uses Sato to help him create a video game so that he can prove his escape to Tokyo was not in vain, while Sato plans to show their game to Misaki so that he can prove he isn’t a total loser. Misaki needs Sato to prove to herself that there is someone more pathetic than she is, while Sato relies on a bevy of services Misaki provides him, e.g. buying groceries, preparing his meals, cleaning his apartment: essentially keeping him alive. Welcome to the N.H.K. is adept at portraying the complexity of its characters and relationships, and you’ll find yourself alternately rooting for and cursing at the cast in between scenes.  

Welcome to the N.H.K. will make you laugh and feel empty at the same time; you’ll find Sato’s inability to function hilarious and cringy, all while a creeping sadness envelopes you throughout the show. The emotion of the show is bolstered by the soundtrack which oscillates between screamo tracks when Sato is having a breakdown and slow, smooth guitar and synth tracks when Hitomi or Misaki are reaching out to Sato for comfort. Every element of this show just works to create a unique experience that you won’t get from any other anime: you just have to go watch and discover it for yourself. 

Writing this recommendation has been extremely difficult and I finally realize why: Welcome to the N.H.K. isn’t a TV show, it’s a sleight of hand trick. It’s a trick done right in front of your eyes, in slow-motion, and you still can’t tell how the trick is done. N.H.K. is a depressing show about hope: the hope to persevere even in the face of hopelessness. What you’ll find is that Hitomi, Kaoru, Misaki, and even Sato, are regular people: they’ve just experienced one too many little tragedies and need help to get back on their feet. At its conclusion, N.H.K. will give you the hope that you need to continue on: not the hope that things will get better, but that things can get better if you treat yourself and others with dignity and compassion. Protagonists in other anime either have god-like powers or unhealthy habits that are excused because they are the main character, but not Sato. Sato is a great protagonist because he has no powers; he doesn’t have a free pass to be a misanthrope; he is forced to live a life with consequences, just like you and me. Welcome to the N.H.K is a show that will bring you back down to earth: once you’re down there, sulk for a moment, then get back up again. 

one comment so far...

  • Maureen Novack Said on January 31st, 2021 at 9:40 am:

    This is extremely well written. Great review.

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