Review: Welcome to the N.H.K
Tatsuhiro Satou isn’t your ordinary protagonist. In fact, Welcome to the N.H.K isn’t your ordinary anime. It’s firmly based in reality, a crushing reality where things don’t work out and people are unhappy. It’s still a fun, charming and likeable show, but its characters have some serious problems and when they try and overcome them it isn’t easy. I’m not sure if there’s an opposite to Deus Ex Machina, but if there was then this would be it. Welcome to the N.H.K.
Satou is a hikikomori; a shut-in who refuses to leave his house, and hasn’t had a job in the four years since he dropped out of University. Whilst easy to dismiss as a loser, Satou is someone I think we can all see a part of ourselves in. He may be exaggerated, more stupid and less capable, but if you’re a big anime or videogame fan then his traits are familiar, if a little extreme. In the later half of the show there are some utterly terrifying scenes, and they are terrifying because of the way we perhaps fear that our own lives will end up like his.
This is the main strength of the show, and as well as Satou there are many supporting characters who also have relatable problems that they are trying to overcome. Welcome to the N.H.K sets itself a very ambitious task, and its attempt to deal with issues including suicide, extreme loneliness and addiction to online pornography is admirable, and it mostly works. In its twenty four episode run a variety of problems are faced head on, but I certainly felt that some storylines were more powerful than others. This must be a personal thing, and I think different people are going to respond to this show in different ways. For me some episodes were immensely moving, others were insightful, and a few were uninteresting.
The plot itself is generally good, but it jumps between issues quickly and its structure is unpredictable. There’s no real direction, things just happen. Sometimes it’s interesting and sometimes it’s not. Some storylines are much better than others and overall there’s a lack of consistency. The end in particular is anticlimactic, and it’s only the odd episode here and there that are truly superb.
Still, the characters are great and, for the most part, Welcome to the N.H.K kept me entertained. There are elements that were either not present or underplayed in the manga, and these in particular turned out to be some of my favourite. Some of the supporting characters that are only seen briefly are brilliant, and the storylines that accompany them are often over too soon. You could perhaps argue that the show is so grounded in reality that it can be a bit depressing, but at times it is incredibly funny, and there are moments that always put a smile on my face. Each episode throws something different at you, and you can never be sure if it’s going to try and make you laugh or cry.
In all honestly, this is a show that you really must see for yourself, and because of this it can be very difficult to put a number to it. The times when it worked for me were extremely powerful, but I also felt there were times when it didn’t, and if you identify with absolutely everything that this show throws at you then your life probably isn’t going great. However, I’m sure that everyone will see something they can relate to, and it will be something usually not addressed by a television show. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth watching. Something is going to stick, something here will haunt you.