What They Say
Sato’s life is going down the drain. He’s dropped out of college, only goes outside once a week, and sleeps sixteen hours a day. Surviving on a steady diet of internet porn sites, he finds himself falling further into a pit of despair. Then he has a sudden epiphany. Sato decides that the sinister broadcast company known as “The NHK” is trying to transform their viewers into jobless, societal recluses, and they bombard them with images of cutesy anime girls.
Unable to resist the charms of such addictive programming, innocent victims like Sato are soon too busy watching TV, reading erotic comics, and playing pornographic computer games to pursue a normal life.
In Sato’s darkest hour, he has a chance encounter with a beautiful girl named Misaki, who claims that she can cure him of his perverse ways. Is this mysterious visitor an angel of mercy, or a devilish agent of the NHK? Will he get a job and counter the evil organization, or will he submit to his weakness and download porn all day? Swimming in a sea of corruption, Sato prepares for the battle of his life. Welcome to the NHK!
Contains episodes 1-24.
For this viewing, I mainly took in the English 5.1 track. The Japanese track is only available in 2.0. The 5.1 mix was really nice, with some good distinction out of all the channels. There was little directionality present, but the use of the rear channels helped add a little depth. There were no problems with distortion or dropout. A spot check of the Japanese track showed it to be solid, if just a little shallower without the rear. But either option is nice.
Originally airing in 2006, this title has some really nice visuals, with a solid transfer to boot. Shown in 16:9 widescreen and enhanced for anamorphic playback, the design of the series asked for it to be a little more base in coloring, but the colors were separate and distinct, and the few times it did jump to something really colorful, those were bright and vibrant. I did like the character designs, as they were fairly distinctive—especially Misaki.
I like the design for this packaging, though it is important to note that it is one of Funimation’s infamous double thinpaks. My cases arrived in good condition, but there is no guarantee they all will. The front of the box has an amalgam of a number of the covers from the singles releases. The back has some screenshots and a series summary. The individual cases each have a picture of Sato and Misaki, with a mosaic of smaller pictures showing on the inside. The design is nice, aside from the thinpak issues, of course.
The menu is pretty basic. It features a still image of Sato’s bedroom, with the text for the selections overlaid as if it were one of Misaki’s contracts. With the text in red, it might be a little difficult to read against the background on smaller sets, but it is not too difficult to navigate. I do like the “3D” shadow effect given to the text. Just a neat addition.
All there are for extras are clean versions of the opening and closings on the first and third discs. It may be worth noting that these are just offered at the bottom of the main menu rather than having an entire submenu to themselves.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
You ever feel like you spend too much time watching anime? Or playing video games? Or surfing the internet for porn? If so, then Welcome to the NHK might just be the anime for you (oh the irony!). A sometimes scathing social commentary, cleverly disguised as a romantic comedy, Welcome to the NHK takes a look, and not a few shots, at the fandom it would also count on for popularity.
Tatsuhiro Sato is a hikikomori—an introvert with such severe social anxiety that he fears ever going out in public. The only time he ever allows himself to really venture out is late Sunday evenings when he goes to the park for a little while with nobody around. Otherwise, he spends his days holed up in his tiny apartment eating instant noodles and focusing his attention on the evil NHK (Nippon Hoho Kyokai)—the TV station he is sure maliciously creates and markets programming purely designed to turn people into social introverts that never want to leave their homes (and he therefore redubs Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai—the Japanese Hikikomori Association).
This anxiety within him has been growing since high school but did not fully manifest until he moved to Tokyo and began college. His high school crush, Hitomi Kashiwa, was also a mess of anxieties, convinced that every ill in the world was a result of a conspiracy. Though Sato did not necessarily follow along with all of her beliefs, he started believing them more in Tokyo. Soon, he found himself quitting school and living entirely on the allowance his parents are still graciously sending him. And as if his staying indoors and sleeping sixteen hours-a-day was not bad enough, he has a new neighbor that insists on blasting the syrupy theme song to popular anime Pururin on a continuous loop.
But hope is not lost. Sort of. On a random encounter, Sato meets a younger girl named Misaki, and she is determined to cure him of his anxieties. At first, he tries to tell her that he is not a hikikomori and wants her to leave him alone, but she seems to know a lot more about him than she is letting on, and he eventually relents and accepts.
Her methods seems strange, but he does make progress and ventures out into the world meeting new people. Or at least, meeting old acquaintances. He runs into his old crush and senpai, Hitomi, while out one day, and it seems that she has cleaned up her act (she has not). His annoying neighbor turns out to also be an old classmate from Hokkaido, who has turned into a complete otaku himself and dreams of being a great gal game (read: hentai game) designer. Another old classmate seems determined to rope him into a pyramid scam.
And then there is Misaki, who refuses to let on why she knows so much about him, not to mention anything about her past. And most mysteriously, she also has no intention of discussing why exactly she seems so intent on helping him. If she were not so darned cute, he would quit the whole thing in an instant. He is making an effort to cure himself by getting involved with old friends who also have screwed up lives. The scary thing is that out of the lot, Sato might just be the most normal.
Welcome to the NHK is an interesting study in psychoanalysis. Being an anime, it depends on anime fandom for sales and success, but at the same time, the main character and his neighbor, Yamazaki, are so steeped in the culture that it affects their ability to function in normal society. Sato much more than Yamazaki; at least Yamazaki is able to go to school, talk to people, and even scrounge up the courage to hit on the girl that he likes.
But Welcome to the NHK plays with the Otaku stereotype so liberally that it almost delves into metafiction: it openly uses a medium addictive to some people to show the drawbacks of such an addiction. And it throws video games and porn into the mix just for some good fun. Sato bounces from one obsession to the next like a drug user who decides to give up cocaine by taking up heroin.
But the fun does not stop there as Welcome to the NHK decides to explore some other life altering issues. Though she seemingly has moved on with her life when Sato bumps into her, the truth is that Hitomi has not gotten past her obsession with conspiracies, and her insistence that the world is out to get her has made her consider joining a suicide cult. Sato’s old class president is forced to take care of her hikikomori brother, and is so gullible and deep in debt (never a good combination) that she is up to her neck in a pyramid scheme with no legitimate way out. And for all of Yamazaki’s comfort with his lifestyle, it keeps him from the girl until it is too late. And all of them always seem to make the decision that is the complete opposite of the right one.
And then there is Misaki. She is so wrapped up in curing Sato that he can never seem to ask her why she is trying to help him. And when he does, she finds a way to brush off the question. The reality is fairly sad, and despite outward appearances, she is in a far worse place emotionally than Sato could ever be. We see hints of this throughout, especially early when Sato confronts her after spying on her to learn the truth of how she knows so much about him. And when he accidentally joins the suicide cult with Hitomi, her reaction is almost heartbreaking.
But what makes Welcome to the NHK so much fun to watch is that it does all of this with just the right amount of humor. Though it is exploring some fairly serious issues, it refuses to let things get too grim before it lightens the atmosphere with some wacky hijinx that both lighten and highlight the tension in the scene. It is never too silly, nor is it ever too serious; the comedy always provides just the right touch to allow the series to be thoughtful and provoking while at the same time keep it lighthearted. My favorite example of this is when Yamazaki officially breaks it off with Nanako. It was amusing to see how he pulled it off, but I could not help feeling really sorry for her, even if she was just a very bit part. Just a fabulous job.
Welcome to the NHK is such a fascinating series; it offers some thought-provoking commentary on social isolationists, but it does it with enough humor that sometimes it can be hard to tell how serious it is trying to be with that commentary. Add in a great cast of characters, each more screwed up than the last, and Welcome to the NHK is at times funny, serious, bizarre, and completely wonderful. Basically, it is a series that is dyslexic: it is just off-kilter enough to be noticeable, but often never enough to really know why. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: D
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 25th, 2009
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System