Welcome to the NHK Season 1 Part 2 (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Paul Gaudette
Review Date: Friday, April 17, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's a conspiracy that a show is this good!

What They Say
What started as a romantic getaway with Hitomi now seems to be turning into Sato's vacation of a lifetime... and not in a good way! Fortunately, his uncharacteristic enthusiasm may be his ticket to convincing his partners in depression that life is worth living after all. But when Misaki comes to the island to admit her true feelings to him, will it be enough to save him, or literally push him over the edge?

With his game demo a bust and his parents cutting his allowance in half, Sato is forced to find a part-time job. Sato discovers that he can make money by selling items from online video games for real-life money. Before he can turn a profit however, he must overcome his social anxiety and make "friends" with the other inhabitants of this exciting new world. How far is he willing to let himself go? Can Misaki save him from the brink of self-destruction?

Contains episodes 13-24.

The Review!
Audio:
NHK comes packaged with dual 5.1 tracks. I primarily sampled the English dub for my viewing and was very pleased with the results. Not only is there incredible depth during exterior shots and dreams but the voices don’t sit still as in 9 out of 10 anime mixes. When someone is off-camera, they are presented in the appropriate speaker and when crossing in front of the camera, they fade from one side to the other. Dialogue still remains discernible and levels seem subdued or explode at just the right moments.

Video:
NHK is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Looking back at Chris’ reviews for the ADV single releases, it seems likely that Funimation is working with the same transfer. I was blown away when I cued this up and the first scene involved a dreamscape in a snowy field with Sato dressed in blue. Contrast was crisp with all the similar hues of blue, black and white remaining self-contained, and the tiny snowflakes fluttering across the screen never appeared blurry and stayed distinct from the background. Fortunately, it just got better as the rest of the show is incredibly vibrant and detailed. The otaku, Yamazaki’s shelves seemed like they would make any fault in the transfer just scream out, but the colorful array of models and manga are so clear, you can practically make out every character and title.

Packaging:
The series is presented in an average box with an individual slimcase holding each disc. The back features an appropriate description of the material while each internal case simply presents the episode titles on the back. The colorful character designs and modest cheesecake character art fit the show to a T. Also strangely enough, the artwork of both slimline cases feature a pin-up style image which are practically invisible thanks to the black plastic used. I’m unsure if these are a carry-over from ADV’s packaging designs (as a lot of shots from their packaging are used) or if the guys at Funimation wanted to include an easter egg outside of the disc.

Menu:
The presentation of the menus much like the show itself is no-frills but well-done all the same as all the episodes are immediateley selectable as well as options for the set-up and included extras, all of which are arranged on a background from the show. The highlighted option is easy to see and access times are nearly instantaneous.

Extras:
This collection features the standards: the clean opening/ending and trailers of other titles from Funimation.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers - This especially applies to those unfamiliar with the first half of the series.)
Picking up right where the first collection let off, Sato finds himself stranded on a deserted island and accidentally part of a suicide pact with four others, one of which is his former senpai and crush, Hitomi. Meanwhile, Hitomi's boyfriend, Yamazaki and Misaki have found out and are rushing to stop this "offline meeting." Just how deep do Misaki's feelings for Sato go? If they're able to get him off the ledge, will his anti-social condition continue to improve?

In my review of the first collection, I remarked on how  nfortunate it was that the series was split after the twelfth episode due to the unusual tension of ending a comedy show with the main character embroiled in a suicide plot.  Having viewed the second half, I have to retract the statement. The show retains all the positive qualities from the first half but the first episode of this set marks a transition in the narrative.

The first and foremost change is that all characters, even secondary, are given more insightful dialogue. In fact, the in-depth portrayal of the suicidal people on the island gives the viewer a better understanding of them after three episodes than most main characters after an entire series' run. All of their reasoning is put out in the open, those that would miss them are touched upon and a one-shot character explains the consequences of their actions down to people having to stop work to look for the bodies. Even Sato's Senpai is fleshed out making her more sympathetic. Her decision to take her own life was kind of vague, but her actions are more clear here, making her seem impulsive but more believable. 

By this point, Sato is well on the road to recovery and thanks to being in the presence of several depressed people in the begininning of this set, he starts out strong.  He barely resembles the bumbling pervert that could have scared off some viewers in the beginning. (And as a result, sexual content is far less in this half.)  All this is not to say that he doesn't have moments of relapse and horrifyingly bad decisions.

The main benefit of Sato's recovery is the effect that it has on his relationship to Misaki. Racing to stop him from killing himself, she shows a lot of vulnerability and the power in the relationship shifts briefly as the tutor feels helpless, kicking off a more engaging and human romantic subplot as the power between the two flip-flops. Misaki's reasons for approaching Sato are also revealed, and their plausibility helps to strengthen her ccharacter and the relationship greatly.

The more bizaare sequences are actually cut down this time too as the main targets involve online gaming, pyramid schemes/infomercials and continuing the analysis of dispondency in modern society. (Not to fear, there's still some quick jabs and references to anime, otaku and "gal games.") Each of the main plots contain thoughtful humor infused with some creative touches such as the logo for the company related to the pyramid scheme.  The corporate logo is actually a two-tone pyramid itself with one color adding the impression of a radioactive symbol. The MMORPG plot-line also includes some very funny setpieces where Sato is depicted in the game world and falls in love with his cat-girl companion.

Drama is actually melded in better now too as all of these plots have a wealth of humor but the negative consequences are all presented in coherent backstories that are dramatic but not melodramatic. The most anatagonistic character in the show actually becomes sympathetic after explainging that she was victimized by the pyramid schemes in the exact same way she victimized others. These moments manage to not take away from any of the humor either although some dark jokes spring up ocassionally. Sato's brief stint of considering suicide is actually one of the funniest moments in the series.  
  
The only minor negatives I found with the first set are corrected here and I can't think of anything bad to say about the content (other than some complaints about feeting simplistic shots). Welcome to the NHK is impressive all-around with the way it mixes thought-provoking comedy with poignant drama.

In Summary:
The price of the show continues to make this a hard sell as the cost for both sets is much higher than what a single set would have run. However, the show was near perfection from the beginning and it only got better as it moved toward the conclusion. The insightful comedy and drama deliver a strong message on society that even those outside its target audience can appreciate. Thankfully, the subjects of parody branched out making it even more accessible. Few comedies, live-action or animated, are this off-beat and intelligent. This is probably the best show I've watched for review so even though the price tag may be high, find some way to watch it.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment

37” Olevia 16:9 LCD HDTV, Sony Playstation 3 (upconverted to 720p through HDMI), Yamaha YSP-900 Digital Sound Projector w/ YST-SW216 100 watt subwoofer

 



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A+
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 17 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Welcome to the N.H.K.