Welcome to the NHK

Posted on by MarcusB and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

I recently watched an anime titled Welcome to the NHK, which is a series based off a famous novel of the same name by author Tatsuhiko Takimoto. Welcome to the NHK is about a 22 year old hikikomori named Satou Tatsuhiro. Hikikomori is a Japanese term used to describe socially reclusive “shut-ins” who are usually 25-35 year old NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) These hikikomori are usually thought of to have been pushed into their predicament due to societal or parental pressures to do well in school or to get good jobs. Because of these perceived pressures, hikikomori will often shut themselves in their rooms for long periods of time, sometimes even months or years, spending most of their days watching TV and roaming the internet, only coming out of their house for food or other necessities.

(Major spoilers)
Throughout the series, you watch Satou drift between the two extremes of boredom and anxiety. At the beginning, he is also approached by a girl named Misaki who is part of a government program to help NEETs, and although you see several interactions between Satou and his neighbor who makes porno games, his paranoid high school friend, and a few other characters who provide some angsty moments, most of the story is between Satou and this mysterious girl Misaki who tries to “save him” by setting up scheduled meetings with him for counseling.

Eventually, you find out that Misaki is a rather depressed and lonely girl who only helps Satou because she considers him to be worse off than him. She sets up “government contracts” (which aren’t real) for counseling because she believes that as long as Satou needs her to survive, he will never leave her.
The series culminates in Satou saving her from a suicide attempt and ends ambiguously with Misaki having another counseling session with Satou and the two discussing plans for university and high school.

If you haven’t guessed it, Welcome to the NHK is basically an anime FOR people who watch anime. I was both surprised and not surprised at how much people on communities like 4chan loved it. Most people who had seen it had some sort of resonation with the feelings of alienation and loneliness. However, my guess is that part of it had a lot to do with Misaki. As the series goes on, it becomes more and more evident that the sort of imagined relationship where Misaki needs Satou and Satou needs Misaki would become a disfunctional, codependent one.

So what I’m wondering is, are the people who really, really resonate with this wish that a Misaki could come save them, or wish that they could have a Misaki to save? Or is it the same thing, both just slightly different expressions stemming from the same loneliness?

Another thing I found interesting was that the author (who said that much of his influence came from JD Salinger) was and still is a hikikomori. There was a period after writing this that he produced no writing at all and was struggling with the problems of social isolation. 

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7 Responses to Welcome to the NHK

  1. Guy Fox says:

    A few more observations based strictly on the trailer and your description:

    1. The hikikomoris’ problem is external. There’s a force on the outside pulling the strings, making addictive products, preventing the guys from doing what they’d apparently rather do. Instead of them having to change their behaviour, the choices they make and the actions they take, they have a free pass to blame their misery on others. It’s not that the hikikomori are losers, they’re good people being subjugated to an existence as losers, even though they’re probably 31 flavours of awesome ‘deep down’. That the conspiracy seeks to keep its consumers at home, doing nothing productive to gain the means to consume, is about as likely as Skynet using people as disposable batteries.

    2. Not only is the problem external, the solution is too. A Pixie-Dream-Girl-In-Sensible-Shoes magically appears to organize therapy, so the responsibility for fixing the problem gets outsourced. Instead of having to set priorities and mustering some gumption to see them through, Misaki, i.e. mom, is bound and determined to get them out of bed and hold their hands on the road to redemption. They’re full of inner strength – they just need a confused waif to help them find it.

    3. Given that the author seems to be purging his own demons in a loose autobiography with heavy doses of wishful thinking, he could have two purposes: 1) helping his fellow hikikomori; 2) this.

    (@localhost: Now I’m implying narcissism, but not on your part, bud.)

    • MarcusB says:

      Hey Guy Fox, thanks for answering.

      I did forget to mention the whole conspiracy part. The name Welcome to the NHK comes from Satou’s paranoia of a secret organization that he thinks is out to make him into a hikikomori. I don’t think it was meant to imply anything about consumerism; I think it was just trying to show how the someone’s mind can start to consume itself in periods of isolation.

      I see what you’re saying with #2. From a lot of comments and reviews I read about NHK, a lot of people were saying (especially on 4chan, a place notorious for neckbeards) “if only I could have a Misaki.” They think the problem is that no one will ever love them, so even though they problem is internal (just get out of the damn house, fool), they make it so that they believe it is an external problem.

      This is the internet so I guess it woldn’t matter if I said this, but I’m a pretty social guy with friends. I don’t spend time in social isolation. And I don’t watch anime (except for this of course). But when I read about people who liked this anime, I was interested why people were so fixated on Misaki, despite the fact that she’s a cartoon character.

  2. rtg says:

    “So what I’m wondering is, are the people who really, really resonate with this wish that a Misaki could come save them, or wish that they could have a Misaki to save? Or is it the same thing, both just slightly different expressions stemming from the same loneliness?”

    She saves him by allowing him to save her. Despite its subject matter NHK still very much belongs to the moe trend of female character design — female characters artfully-flawed and configured specifically to allow the male viewer to conceive of himself being important to them. It’s like TLP’s action movie fairy tale; the problem must arise before the previously-marginalised protagonist’s heroic qualities will emerge. The twist with Misaki in NHK is just the catalyst for the fantasy narrative to play out; once her wretchedness is revealed, Satou can turn into the romantic hero.

    Of course, realistically such a beautiful girl would have losers lining up. Interestingly most of these anime-for-anime-fans shows don’t even bother with male protagonists these days – just groups of non-threateningly adorable girls doing light comedy sketches and inexplicably never interacting with boys, ever. It’s as if the loser-made-good narrative isn’t even necessary anymore; just present the objects and the audience will imagine themselves into the story.

    Incidentally, last year’s “The Tatami Galaxy” was a more nuanced, less indulgent take on similar subject matter to NHK.

  3. I’ve seen a lot of anime, though not this one, so a few things jump out at me.

    1. unknown female savior who is a child, or looks like a child, or acts like a child. If you’re a young boy in Japan, prospects are bleak. If you’re a young girl in Japan, prospects are bleaker, but the boys think your prospects are better. So girl= hope, vitality, power.

    2. Psychoanalysis. In NHK they meetings are little conversations/lectures about psychonanalysis, and if anyone has ever seen the chaos that was the last episode of NGE you’ll recognize the pattern.

    Interestingly, westerners tend to look at that symbology and interest as meaningful, when it’s actually not. In Full Metal Alchemist, there’s alchemy; and in NGE there’s the obvious Christian symbolism, but I read an interview with the writer of NGE, and he said he chose those symbols not because they were meaningful but because they were meaningless, weird, to a Japanese audience.

    The psychoanalysis seems used in the same way, i.e. superficial and unnecessary, but “weird” to a Japanese audience.

    Yet when westerners watch anime, they lock into these symbols as meaningful, so I would bet that the American “hikikomori” who watches anime is watching it for different reasons than the Japenese guy.

    3. Conspiracies. When you see conspiracy, think, “at least someone is in control, even if it isn’t to my benefit.” Think existential terror.

    4. Suicide. Is there an anime that doesn’t involve a character attempting suicide? Yes, many times it’s to save someone else, but I don’t mean they jump in front of the bullet, I mean they deliberately end their own life.

    5. Blurring of the self. Amidst all the alienation and conspiracy, anime features the self as vague, blurred. You were this thing, now you are this other thing, new bodies, new souls; people control your mind, etc.

    6. Non-human other. One way to bypass the reflexive scrutiny that comes from the other person in any normal human interaction is to do it with nonhumans. What others might find uncanny (sex with a robot; friendship with a familiar, etc) is easier; ultimately you control the depth.

    Which brings us to:

    7. Safe sex. Porn is ok, masturbation is ok, but you want to keep the relationships platonic, or at least lesbian. Having a non-human girlfriend solves all the problems at once.

    And so, as MarcusB points out, this is an anime that is both for and about the same thing; it provides just enough porn to be used as such, and just enough story to be used that way. It endorses porn as a solution to the problem of human sexuality.

  4. JMiller says:

    So I picked up the first disc from Netflix and watched episodes 1, 2 and 4 (3 wouldn’t play?). The monologues seem to be well-written; while I’m not the target audience, they were able to effectively convey a resonance between the lead character’s insecurities/persecution complex and me. Where it stumbles is that the lead character is — thus far — utterly inept such that his lack of confidence in dealing with the world is apparently quite well-founded (how he ever got accepted to the college from which he promptly dropped out is unclear). I wish his insecurities were all in his head, but no, he really does seem to be utterly vacuous. Where it falls — for the non-target audience, anyway — is the sympathetic delving into the “moe” trend with overt misogynous behaviors (attached to the secondary male character, brought out in ep 4 specifically, noting that I didn’t see ep 3). It’s one thing to be sympathetic to a loser hoping that something good or at least interesting will become of it, but I’m not keen on spending my time watching imaginary people I would consider despicable. So I’ve got my doubts that I’ll bother with the full series. But where it possibly succeeds is in going meta on this (as RTG almost points out but either the writer or at least the staff at Gonzo seemed fully aware of): by participating in the moe trend and sympathizing with the hikikomori, they’re (hypothetically and I hope) better able to use their anime as a mirror to the people they want to change. (Tangent: I remember seeing a claim that this was also the sort of effect that Sucker Punch was going for, except without the mirror and thus without success.)

    Anyway, to the core question posed, I’d speculate that the issue isn’t entirely a question of loneliness per se, but rather of effect. It’s easy to imagine that saving a life changes the world, and as such it endows the person who saves the life with self confidence that the world can, in fact, be changed. It is a ready-made source of value and thus identity: “I’m the guy who saved that girl’s life.” Which, I would speculate based on the lead character’s prime ineptitude and utter lack of skills — other than breaking a beer bottle with his hand, only to discover that glass shards are sharp — is the actual point: it’s wishing that they could be enough to have a tangible impact in the world, based on the subsequent fantasy that when a person can change the world, then they can change other people to be whoever they want them to be. Which sounds like an inferiority complex, real or imagined, blocking some sadism to me — but I’m not a psychoanalyst (and don’t even play one on YouTube).

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