Welcome to NHK
Sato never felt like going out. It always seemed like such a bother. A chance encounter made him realize how much he'd isolated himself. He'd become a hikikomori: a social recluse. A strange girl offers to help cure him of his condition. Will Sato engage the outside world again, or is this another conspiracy trying to trick him?
I'd heard good things about Welcome to NHK, but it didn't seem like my kind of show. I anticipated I'd quickly lose interest, but episode after episode I was hooked just enough to keep watching. Welcome to NHK is an oddball title even for the world of anime. Part social commentary, part black comedy (but don't pick it up for laughs, trust me), and a mix of drama and so forth. A tough one to recommend because it's hard to describe accurately.
Sato is what is known as a hikikomori: someone who socially withdraws from society to become a shut-in. They cut off nearly all social contact with the outside world and spend their days willingly pent up in apartments or a room in a house. There are many cultural factors causing this phenomenon, but it's a common problem in Japan. If you're not familiar with the topic, you'll want to look it up to know where this anime is coming from.
I especially liked the realistic portrayal of social withdrawal. Sato didn't have any particular trauma causing him to run away from society. Instead it was a combination of factors. He was never very social, made few (if any) friends, and often imagined others looking down on him. Over time, a cascade of events slowly led to avoiding people, until the day he realized rarely left his small apartment at all. It's a realistic approach that makes his condition so plausible. Sato isn't the only one with problems though.
Welcome to NHK explores various forms of loneliness, weirdness, and what happens to people who mis-align with society. Sato's next door neighbor is an anime otaku who doesn't get along well with people. A conspiracy obsessed classmate in high school goes on to lead a functional life, but feels alone and miserable. It's kind of heavy and depressing that way. Comedy goes in much the same direction. It's somewhat amusing that Sato can't catch a break when trying to escape his hikikomori ways, but I just as much felt bad for him. So in that way, I'm not sure I'd call Welcome to NHK a comedy.
While the characters are plausible, their strangeness makes them and their situations intriguing. I wasn't so much interested in their story as wondering what would happen to them. Would they be okay? Would things work out? It's impressive a show could keep me hooked on that alone. A few episodes did drag with little accomplished, but it generally moved at just the right pace.
There are a few things I didn't like. Sometimes the animation design degrades and looks downright crude. Sato occasionally goes into full whacked out conspiracy mode and it gets surreal which I didn't think was a good fit. (I know it was trying to show how exaggerated things were in Sato's mind; but it wasn't my thing.) Also, Sato is 24 year old male, living in an apartment by himself (which he's hardly left in four years), and suddenly discovers there's porn on the internet. Seriously? And what girl wears the same outfit for months like Misaki in every episode?
Welcome to NHK is a good watch, but it's a weird combination of factors which makes it so. It takes an interesting stance on social withdrawal, which I sometimes found hard to watch (hitting too close to home maybe). Episode after episode there was just enough to keep me hooked, making it an easy watch. There's even a bit of philosophy in this anime if you pay attention. Overall, a strong title. The dub makes a respectable showing if that's your thing.
Kaoru: All we're going to do is come right back to our stuipd everyday lives. Even if we can't return to them, we'll only have some stupid death somewhere. A dramatic death just isn't fitting for us.
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