Welcome to the NHK Vol. #3 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What They Say
With the Summer Comic Market just weeks away, the guys are frantically scrambling to finish their video game. Unfortunately, Sato's real-life girl troubles are transferring into the game, where Misaki keeps turning up in all sorts of cyber-sexy scenarios! Meanwhile, Yamazaki's own romantic issues are stealing valuable programming time, and it's not exactly clear whether this new fascination with "real" girls is a replacement for anime girls or some kind of bizarre research! Is a romantic getaway the solution? Not when you're certain that love is a conspiracy! Sato's paranoia continues to tell him that he's being shadowed... but is it paranoia when they really ARE out to get him? Love is a battlefield and Sato may not survive contact with the enemy in the third volume of Welcome to the N.H.K.!

The Review!
For an introverted shut in, Tatsuhiro certainly seems to get around a lot and has strong relationships with a few people, women included.

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.

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.

Misaki is definitely the regular for the covers with this series as she gets the third cover here, once again in a bikini that was used from one of the NewType USA centerfolds. Giving that half turn which lets her show off a bit of cleavage and some posterior material, there's plenty of skin here to enjoy. The background works through a pink and slightly lighter pink grid with a little nod here and there to the conspiracy side of the series. 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 pinks and yellows against a purple 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.

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.

It's a conspiracy that there's no conspiracy handbook for this volume, which means we're left with just the standard clean opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As Welcome to the NHK hits the halfway mark in its run, the show has certainly not been what I expected based off of some of the initial commentary about the conspiracy side. But as it plays out, Welcome to the NHK has been a wonderful social commentary and a bit of tweaking towards its core audience about how many of them live. And I say them since as much of an anime/manga fan as I am, I can't possibly qualify is a hikikomori. And thank goodness for that. Yet even as I'm glad about that, I have to admit that I love seeing what Tatsuhiro goes through and some of the echoes that I see from my life.
Welcome to the NHK doesn't dramatically change its pace here for the most part but there are things that are evolving as it goes along. For Tatsuhiro, his life as a hikikomori went on an unusual path when he first met Misaki. Her attempts at curing him, and his acceptance of it on any level, has turned him towards something very different. Though he's still very much an introverted guy and doesn't like anyone looking at him, he still makes it outside and spends his time working on the game with Kaoru has started to open some doors. Just seeing him make his way into the design school in previous episodes was a huge change for someone who would really only go out once a week, late at night, to a playground. His continued sessions with her, the return of Hitomi into his life and more has him making his way out into the world far more than before.

That time with Misaki is really getting to him now and he's having some very vivid dreams about her since she's regularly on his mind. Amusingly enough however, his dreams start to center around the idea that she's heavily involved in the worldwide conspiracy to turn people into hikikomori's and he starts to see her that way. Before he reaches that though, the game development has him visualizing her as the lead character which has some wonderful scenes where we see the two of them living out parts of the game. That's been an underutilized part of the series so far since it lets them step out from their normal routine and into something very different. Particularly for Tatsuhiro whose imagination seems like it gets away from him regularly.

While Tatsuhiro's dealings with Misaki are some of the basic and amusing aspects of the series, we do get some rather pleasant divergences this volume. The first one is seeing Kaoru and his relationship with Nanako get explored a bit as she starts showing something of an interest in him that's not altogether clear. Having seen some of the mild disdain she has for him previously, her calling him up out of the blue does seem odd. What it does lead to though is a bit of exploration of his past and why he has such a distrust of women that turned him towards his version of being a hikikomori. Much like Tatsuhiro, it's all so... simple and almost predictable but that in itself is sort of the point in that it is so common.

The really strange twist comes with Hitomi as she enters back into his life in a stronger fashion after she starts feeling jilted by her boyfriend who is working too much. Interestingly, Hitomi seems to be leading a dual life herself as we see she has a very different online persona that she plays with in regards to a group that is intent on killing themselves. When this segment of the show starts, Welcome to the NHK takes a decidedly odd turn with all of this but the show has done that in more minor ways since the start. This is the first time it goes very much out to left field but it does it in a way that has Tatsuhiro turn into the shining beacon of what's good about life which could be a startling realization for him at some point.

In Summary:
At the halfway point of the series, I'm still really not sure what to make of the show. What I thought it would be about wasn't what it was, but even what it seemed like it would become hasn't gone quite to what one would expect. The strange and twisted journey that these characters are on is certainly fascinating and strangely unpredictable at times which keeps you coming back for more. There are layers within layers that get exposed as it progresses, particularly with the women this time around which helps quite a lot. Both Hitomi and Misaki come across as much more interesting after this volume and it really makes me wonder where it will go from here, which is a good sign as the next volume can't get here fast enough.

Japanese 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,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.