Welcome to the NHK Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, September 20, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 02, 2007



What They Say
Sato‚€™s life is going down the drain. He‚€™s dropped out of college, only goes outside once a week and sleeps sixteen hours a day. Surviving on a steady diet of internet porn sites, he finds himself falling further into a pit of despair. Then he has a sudden epiphany. Sato decides that the sinister broadcast company known as ‚€œThe NHK‚€� is trying to transform their viewers into jobless, societal recluses, and they bombard them with images of cutesy anime girls. Unable to resist the charms of such addictive programming, innocent victims like Sato are soon too busy watching TV, reading erotic comics, and playing pornographic computer games to pursue a normal life. In Sato‚€™s darkest hour, he has a chance encounter with a beautiful girl named Misaki, who claims that she can cure him of his perverse ways. Is this mysterious visitor an angel of mercy, or a devilish agent of the NHK? Will he get a job and counter the evil organization, or will he submit to his weakness and download porn all day? Swimming in a sea of corruption, Sato prepares for the battle of his life. Welcome to the NHK!


The Review!
When you don't want to blame yourself the best thing you can do is to blame the others. Thankfully the world has many of them and Sato has decided that the NHK is the blame for all his problems.

Audio:
The bilingual presentation for Welcome to the NHK is fairly standard for ADV Films. The original Japanese track is in its stereo form done at 192 kbps while the English 5.1 mix is done at a higher 448 kbps. The two are both solid mixes though the 5.1 remix wins out in having a bit more punch to it. The show is essentially a dialogue piece but it does have some bigger moments to them, at least in comparison to the rest of the show, which make out better in terms of placement and depth. The Japanese track is solid enough in its own though and makes for an engaging enough presentation. We didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Airing in the second half of 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Though a few scenes have some special filters applied to them, the show is done in a rather straightforward real world manner for the most part. That brings in a lot of basic colors that look solid here which are broken up once in awhile by some rather vibrant moments. There is quite a lot of detail to be found throughout here as the places where Sato goes to have so much to see in them, be it his apartment or the Promised Land. Colors in general have a very solid feel to them that's free of blocking and only a couple of very brief moments had some visible noise. Cross coloration and aliasing is basically non-existent which leads this transfer overall to look very solid and easy on the eyes.

Packaging:
The cover art plays up the fanservice side in a very straightforward manner with an appealing shot of a young woman in minimal attire. There's plenty of skin to be found here and plenty of titillation alongside a few key little bits throughout that point to something more. The background has some interesting symbols in it that play to a bit more of what the show is about but for the most part what the cover is selling is pure fanservice. In something of a break from most other series that ADV Films has released, there's a big plug that it's based on the manga. The back cover uses a chaotic style to it with lots of angled text, cutting line symbols and a hodgepodge of character artwork and shots from the show. In an interesting design, the technical grid has the style applied to it as well which means it shifts from oranges and yellows against a green background. It's a bit hard on the eyes and it feels like it's busier than it should be but at least everything is clean and visible. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design is nicely simple as it features a messy full screen shot of Sato's apartment with the logo on each of the four window panes. The navigation strip, slightly angled, has a wonderfully amusing little cursor to it and all of it is set to a nice vocal selection that's soft and inviting. Te layout is fairly standard so there aren't any surprises here. Access times are nice and fast with no transitional animations. The disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
The extras are a bit minimal but certainly appreciated. The clean opening and closings are good to have here while the Conspiracy Handbook 101 piece is a basic bit of liner notes. It feels like there should be more notes in there though but what we do get helps clear up a few things.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Kendi Oiwa which in turn was based on the novel by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, Welcome to the NHK is a twenty-four episode series that could make some anime or manga fans uncomfortable. The show is a fairly slow paced piece that has some wonderful moments of frantic action that revolve around a young man who has been trying to escape from life without knowing quite how or quite why he's doing all of it. Something of a growing problem in Japan, this humorous send-up of it alternates between sad, creepy and highly amusing.

The series introduces us quickly to Tatsuhiro Sato, a young man who gave up on college fairly quickly after he felt like an outcast with the way people seemingly whispered about him. Whether those whispers were really or not isn't clear but the end result is that he's locked himself away into his apartment ever since. Other than going out once a week to sit in the park late at night or to get needed supplies, he doesn't go out and doesn't have any interactions with other people. Even when his new neighbor began playing bad anime theme songs at all hours and far too loud, he doesn't have it in him to actually go outside his door and knock on theirs to complain.

Tatsuhiro's life takes a change when an older woman comes by trying to give him a free pamphlet that talks about hikikomori, a growing subculture of society that are social recluses. Not realizing that Tatsuhiro himself is one, she goes on about it and tries to get him to help out her cause. He'd normally freak out or not even open the door, but the young woman with her has enraptured him and he can't not look at her. This simple encounter has him questioning what he's been doing these last years and he actually gets up the gumption to go apply for a job at a nearby manga café. To his shock and surprise however, the young woman is there and he can barely stammer out a few words before fleeing. All of this is prelude to what the young woman is really intending however as she has a special project she wants to pursue with Tatsuhiro.

As much as he tries to deny it, it's plainly obvious that he's both a hikikomori and a NEET. The young woman named Misaki has a plan to bring such people back into society and wants to work it over with Tatsuhiro, going so far as to establish a hand written contract with some stiff penalties. Tatsuhiro has no intention of doing it but he doesn't want to scare her away since he's actually interested in her. That leads him to coming up with jobs and things he does to prove he isn't one but that only lands him in deeper and deeper trouble. Before he knows it, he's actually set himself up as a game creator and will have a finished product to show her in a month. The problem of course is that he's got no skills and no talent.

It's only luck that the otaku next door to him turns out to be an old classmate from years ago who is actually into game creation. Not quite the social outcast that Tatsuhiro is, Kaoru Yamazaki is still very much in a similar vein. His time spent in the game creating university has him feeling that everyone is inferior or lacks any real talent which is a bad sign for the future of Japanese gaming. The arrival of Tatsuhiro into his life is well timed as Tatsuhiro needs a game and Yamazaki needed the drive to really push it out there. Before you know it, the pair are involved in creating a brand new game to take the world by storm. Or at least they would be if Tatsuhiro wouldn't be drawn in so heavily first by erogames and secondly by copious amounts of internet porn.

Not unlike most other comedies out there, Welcome to the NHK can be real hit or miss depending on your tastes. With its more laid back pacing and the way it looks so carefully at the hikikomori situation before showing the erogame world in such amusing detail, it captures so many details perfectly and with a wonderful balance of reverence and criticism that it draws you in even further. While you can sympathize with Tatsuhiro for a lot of it, you also start to question how far your own tastes in fandom go an whether you might be classified as either a hikikomori or a NEET. Or possibly even both! As the characters start to come together, particularly with Tatsuhiro and Yamazaki, the show changes a bit as he becomes influenced by a lot of things. Seeing where it goes and how far he goes is half the fun right there.

In Summary:
Welcome to the NHK throws a lot at the viewers and it's hard to see what's going to stick just yet. The initial concept of the NHK being part of a conspiracy to turn everyone into social outcasts that stay at home to watch TV all the time is interesting enough but it falls off the map for awhile as Misaki has things turn in a different direction. The addition of Yamazaki takes it even further down that path. It is highly amusing however to watch all these outside forces working on Tatsuhiro and seeing how unhinged he can become if given time. It makes what we saw of him at first feel incredibly tame. Once he gets a taste of porn, all bets are off. Whether this show can sustain twenty four episodes or not is another story but I have the feeling it'll have a few more odd sharp turns before it gets much further.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Conspiracy Handbook 101,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Welcome to the N.H.K.