Anime review: Welcome to the NHK
Status: watched complete series (24 episodes)
Welcome to the NHK is an occasionally surreal “slice of life” anime centered around Satou Tatsuhiro (pictured). Satou is a hikikomori, a shut-in, like an estimated 1 million of his countrymen. He doesn’t have a job, living off an allowance from his parents. He hardly leaves his apartment because of a morbid fear of others. And he is convinced there is a conspiracy that has turned him and people like him into hikikomori. This conspiracy is headed by a group he calls the Nipon Hikikomori Kyōkai, meaning the Japanese Shut-in Corporation (a play on the national public broadcaster Nipon Hōsō Kyōkai).
Attempting to come to Satou’s rescue is Misaki Nakahara, a young woman who’s decided to cure Satou of his hikikomori ways. This is the central plot device of the show, with Satou also managing to go on various adventures as he tries to cure himself, like meeting a suicide pact club and creating an erotic video game. But he always ends up right back where he started, which is a big part of what’s brilliant about this show.
I did something with Welcome to the NHK I’ve never done before: I watched it all at once. For 3 days straight, about 8 episodes a day. And I loved it. OK, I did occasionally yell at Satou to just sort himself out and kiss Misaki already, but it’s a major credit to the show that I could have that kind of engagement after so many hours of sitting in front of the TV.
What originally drew me to this show is all the talk right now, in the West at least, about the phenomenon of hikikomori in Japan – how many there are, the reasons for their antisocial behaviour, their effects on society. What’s great about Welcome to the NHK is that it manages to address those issues with a strong sense of humor and humanity. I feel empathy for Satou, not pity. I believe he makes unhealthy choices in his life, but I understand why. And there’s a glimpse of the broader social context that has led to this problem. I even recognize a bit of myself in Satou, although this show has reminded me of just how important a healthy social life is.
And like I said in the synopsis, Satou doesn’t really change that much from beginning to end – which is far more realistic than most live-action TV. A lot happens to Satou to give you hope that he will finally engage with life and even though you feel disappointed when he doesn’t, you still look forward to his next adventure.
Welcome to the NHK does an effortless job of mixing fun with social criticism. Highly recommended, especially for Japan-o-philes.