Welcome to the N.H.K. review: Not your average politically correct anime

Tatsuhiro Satou, the main character of the Welcome to the N.H.K. TV anime, is being plagued by some peculiar delusions. Pic credit: Gonzo

“Humans are organisms that lie” is probably the best, condensed description of Welcome to the N.H.K., which was uttered by the TV anime’s main character, hikikomori Tatsuhiro Satou himself.

The Welcome to the N.H.K. (N・H・Kにようこそ!, N.H.K. ni Youkoso) anime series premiered sixteen long years ago (2006). Nevertheless, it hasn’t lost any of its original appeal due to two facts. Firstly, the complex topics it deals with are depicted without any “beautifying.” Secondly, these issues are not going anywhere — if anything, they are only procreating.

There’s only one potential flaw in my book: too much unnecessary drama toward the conclusion.

Personally, I’d be much happier if every second anime didn’t depict intelligent characters — who, by the necessity of their mental fortification mandates, inevitably must be lost in the meaningless modern world that has long since abandoned any concept of moral values and justice — who would think suicide is the only way out.

It isn’t. Ask Makishima Shougo… or Kougami Shinya, for that matter.

Oh well, there has to be at least one flaw, otherwise, the review would be too biased, right?

By contrast, the hikikomori phenomenon, which Welcome to the N.H.K. depicts better than any other work I’ve seen so far, is shown through the prism of multi-layered conundrums Tatsuhiro Satou is plagued with.  

Self-reflection at its finest, with all ups and downs it portends.

A hikikomori meets Brave New World

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, hikikomori roughly translates as a “shut-in,” but keep in mind that the Japanese concept differs greatly from the usual “Western” concept. A contemporary Caucasian’s alienation stems from customary panem et circenses. A modern Japanese still reveres the sonnō jōi concept and is affected on a much deeper level.

In plain words: ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ cultures are perfectly incompatible. The superficiality of the “business as usual” doctrine is everything but ‘usual’ in East Asia. The Sinosphere has a long tradition of belief systems rooted in personal ethics and morality — the concept in direct conflict with the short-term thinking patterns seen in other, younger cultures that populate other continents.   

Misaki Nakahara, as depicted in the Welcome to the N.H.K. manga series. Pic credit: Tatsuhiko Takimoto/Yoshitoshi Abe/Kadokawa Shoten/VIZ Media

If you need an analog, Welcome to the N.H.K. sends a strong message that reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s premise that humans must learn how to be “mentally silent,” which he thought could be achieved by training in “the nonverbal world of culturally uncontaminated consciousness.”

Hikikomori may be doing exactly that but they get attributed a number of mental illnesses all the same. This is but to be expected. Historically, social recluses have ever been perceived as problematic — societies can’t forgive individuality.

Not to mention that “mental silence” is a specialty of Eastern philosophies (I’m not using the word ‘religion’ here on purpose). The hectic ways imported modern tendencies dictate are bound to result in an explosion of hikikomori.

That’s why a hikikomori shouldn’t be confused with the generalized concept of a shut-in. Keep this in mind when attempting the rollercoaster that this anime series is!

Welcome to the N.H.K. is a ReLife on steroids, with levels of complexity that can only be rivaled by titles like Steins;Gate. Or, if you’d like a plain parallel: it is on a par with Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent, except the latter deals with an outward social phenomenon and the first is on a personal level.

Political correctness flushed down the drain

What sets Welcome to the N.H.K. apart from a myriad of similar attempts at depicting the hikikomori viewpoint is its brutal sincerity, bordering on bluntness. Not your average politically correct anime, this one!

It would be unfair to overlook other recurring themes in the series, which stem from anxiety to depression to isolation to loneliness to alienation.

The three main characters of the series — Tatsuhiro Satou (a hikikomori), Misaki Nakahara (a depressed girl with an air of mystery), and Kaoru Yamazaki (an anime otaku) — make for an interesting fellowship.

Kaoru Yamazaki is an anime otaku. Pic credit: Gonzo

What’s more, as these three very different individuals get to exchange their perspectives, they learn that they may be able to help each other. Don’t expect a happy ending, though! One of the greatest qualities of Welcome to the N.H.K. is that it’s uncompromising. This anime series is, first and foremost, realistic.

I would argue that it’s exactly this element that makes Welcome to the N.H.K. stand out among other clumsy attempts at portraying complex issues of different social strata.

As such, it may not appeal to the wide masses but I doubt it was created with such a purpose anyway.

Welcome to the N.H.K. blends the finest elements and storytelling techniques of the black comedy and psychological drama genres in such a masterful way that viewers may easily find themselves cracking up at one moment and feeling existential dread at the very next.

I’ve always maintained that only the works that make you rethink your standpoints by learning about people’s different circumstances are worthy of a profound analysis. The rest is just more of the same — shallow entertainment devoid of wisdom or purpose.

In light of that premise, Welcome to the N.H.K.is not to be approached as a filler to kill some spare time before moving on to the next task. It deserves the viewers’ full attention and mental capacity. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in expanding their views and exercising their brain cells. If you’re looking for instant gratification, this anime won’t be up your alley: it doesn’t offer any!  

If anything, it serves up a “make do with your circumstances” kind of conclusion. A couple of clichés that emerge here and there are not enough to discredit it.

Overall, Welcome to the N.H.K. is a watch well worth your time. The series runs for 24 episodes and is available on Funimation.


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