Friday, July 8, 2016

Ten Years Later: Welcome To The NHK

"If you don't see her, you won't fall in love. If you don't fall in love, you won't get hurt."

Oh man, here we go. Welcome To The NHK! (Or NHK Ni Youkoso!) is one of those shows that wildly succeeded when no one imagined it would. Airing at a time when realism was still finding its niche cabin within the anime industry, NHK explored themes that were a little...self-parodic -- especially considering that it was parodying the exact people who would be watching the series. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of checking this out yet, Welcome To The NHK follows the life of Tatsuhiro Satou, a xenophobic NEET living off of his parents' allowance money that refuses to venture out into the real world. Satou, however, is a little different from your average day anime NEET, though. It becomes quite evident early on that, well, there's something actually wrong with him. He's shut himself away because he's afraid of everything else. It's an idea that many of us relate to...but it's also something that most of us are fortunate enough to not fall into.

One day, Satou answers his door and comes across a girl his age by the name of Misaki Nakahara. After some quick fated eye-contact between the two, Satou slams the door in her face before wandering off to imagination land, only to be greeted by more visions of the same girl. In fact, everything he does from this point on leads back to Misaki -- and it scares him half to death. That being said, when he receives a request from the girl to meet her at the park near his house in the middle of the night, he's a little...suspicious. Regardless, he summons the strength to meet her. However, once the two rejoin, Misaki has a strange request of Satou. As it turns out, she's been keeping an eye on him for a while now. She wants to "fix" him and ultimately cure him of his hikikomori lifestyle. Reluctantly, Satou winds up eventually submitting to her and the two embark on the long road to his recovery.

Without completely spoiling everything that subsequently happens from this point on, I'm just going to say that there are bumps in the road. In fact, there are a billion bumps in the road. As we watch Satou struggle to get his life back together, we're tossed in so many different directions that we forget where we even are at points. We forget who's side we're even on this first place. Part of you wants to root for Satou, part of you wants him to just get over his fear and move on. But, as many of us know, that isn't always as easily said as it is done. After all, Satou's fear stems from a long, daunting past. What NHK wants you to realize, though, is that everyone has a past like that. It's easy to get lost in fear, it's not easy to climb back out. This becomes even more apparent when we find out that Misaki is hiding something from us as well.

To flash back to something I said earlier, Welcome To The NHK's ability to prey upon its viewers is what goes on to make the series so memorable. For many people, including myself, this show hits as close to home as possible. In fact, the show hit so close to home for one of my friends that he wasn't even able to watch more than two or three episodes. The thing is, he isn't the only one that's happened to. There have been so many people who have attempted to watch this series and haven't been able to finish it due to the uncanny resemblances to actual otaku, hikikomori culture. Satou exemplifies time and time again how easy it is to get lost in fiction, and honestly, it's scary. As he hides behind masks of conspiracy (Inspired by an old senpai of his) he just starts blaming the world around him instead of himself. That inability to account for his own actions is what tore apart his life to begin with. Watching him being unable to recognize that becomes physically taxing at points.

We all have secrets to hide, we all have parts of our past we'd rather forget, and we all have different ways of dealing with that. Some people shut themselves away, some people look down on others to disguise their own pain. The point is, every character in Welcome To The NHK is hurting. Only through banding together are they able to cover up that pain. Thankfully, the series is a full 24 episodes, so our time spent with the characters makes their pain resonate within us so much more. We have time to get attached, and we have time to let our attachment feel real -- another key feature NHK demonstrates on it's way to becoming one of the most subtly psychological anime series of the 2000's.

There's a special word I reserve for shows like Welcome To The NHK -- important. Even if you aren't able to get past the art style or the sometimes painful parodies of the NEET lifestyle, the lessons there are to be learned from this series are on another level. The demographic it reached out to is just one of the many reasons it's become such a phenomenon. This is one of the few anime series with a gigantic cult following. That following is essentially the group of people that this particular series was able to change. As the show goes on, Welcome To The NHK begins to seem like less of an anime and more of a journey of self-discovery, constantly paralleling the real world for those of us that have a hard time finding our place within it, all before wrapping up in a painful wake-up call that tells us, "Sometimes, everything won't be okay."

If you haven't seen the show yet (Or if you have and don't own it), Welcome To The NHK is part of the Funimation S.A.V.E collection for a little over $20. If there is anything in that collection that you literally have to own, it's this. Welcome To The NHK was and always will be one of the most surprisingly touching series of all time. Nothing I can say about it will do it proper justice.

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