Welcome to the NHK Novel Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Translated by:Lindsey Akashi
Adapted by:Laura Wyrick
What They Say
Twenty-two-year-old Satou, a college dropout and aficionado of anime porn, knows a little secret ? or at least he thinks he does! Believe it or not, he has stumbled upon an incredible conspiracy created by the Japanese Broadcasting Company, NHK. But despite fighting the good fight, Satou has become an unemployed hikikomori - a shut-in who has withdrawn from the world.
One day, he meets Misaki, a mysterious young girl who invites him to join her special gproject.h Slowly, Satou come out of his reclusive shell, and his hilarious journey begins, filled with mistaken identity, Lolita complexes and an ultimate quest to create the greatest hentai game ever!
Not much to complain about with TP's presentation. The book features a relatively large font for easy quick reading (242 pages took two half-hour rides on a bus the first time through). TP includes both afterwords from Takimoto and provides translator notes which break down some of the bizarre cultural terms Takimoto references in this mind-trip of a novel.
Contrary to what most might think, Welcome to the NHK is not a light novel, therefore the only example of original art that came with this book was its cover by Yoshitoshi Abe.
I have to admit, this was not a simple translation. The main character in this book is something of a sociopath. Trying to keep an edge of paranoia and loneliness while staying in context must have been tricky. Akashi and Wyrick do a fine job keeping the humor flowing while maintaining Takimoto's insane ramblings in check.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Essentially Welcome to the NHK is a modern day coming of age romance told from the perspective of a sociopath. While the setting might seem modern and unique, with its otaku references, the main theme is simple: when all seems lost a young woman gives a troubled man reason to live.
College shut-in Satou is like two million other adults who cannot deal with the cold realities of the world. To escape criticism and pressure he takes drugs and sleeps for days. Truth be told, Satou is something of a pro at this. He has been at this for two years straight. Contact with the world outside of his one room apartment is limited to late-night runs to a local convenience store and the occasional ATM run to pay bills. Life is relatively simple and that should make living tolerable for someone in Satou's state. Sadly, Satou's self-inflicted solitude is beginning to eat away at his sanity. Reality is a blur and his mind seems to be slipping from his grasp every time he wakes up.
And right when Satou begins to wonder if life was worth all the trouble it has given him, he finds hope (or more like a distraction). After speaking with some door-to-door evangelists, Satou is shamed into taking some action. He must prove those uppity religious types wrong. The first step is to break loose of the chains that tie him to his apartment safe haven and re-enter society. That will be proof that he is no longer a hikikomori, and he will no longer be considered a part of the new scorn on mankind. That first step would be the first in a systematic program to better himself... Now if he could only get the courage to not only step outside but stay outside.
Hope is one thing; taking action is another story. Satou tries to tackle his problem on his own and fails. Conflicted with fear and shame, he gives up on a job hunt and digs even deeper into his cave. The only thing that can bring him out is his last bit of humanity in the form of frustration over noisy neighbors and eventually his loneliness.
If there is a moral to this story it has to be that there is always someone else who is in worse shape. To drive yourself mad over your inadequecies will only make life seem even more miserable. So why not be a cog in the machine of society. Accept the conspiracy of life. Any contact, any relationship ultimately beats being entirely alone.
I was first introduced to Welcome to the NHK a few years back when the manga was first published by Kadokawa Shoten. With the hikikomori a popular topic in Japanese news at the time, I felt the manga did a fine job combining two elements of counterculture together - moe crazy otaku and the reclusive hikikomori. When I found out that the manga was based on a novel by the same name I had to pick up the book.
Well Takimoto's novel might not go above and beyond to present anti-social behavior like the manga (or the anime) does. But what this version does offer is a coherent tight story that does not go off subject. The novel also keeps the story extremely simple, as it focuses solely on the lives of two characters, Satou and Masaki. Their problems, their unique project and their budding relationship are all Takimoto really covers and that made for a much more enjoyable experience than the confusing (and long) anime.
From the start the novel sets a darker tone than the anime. This version is a very deep look at Satou's twisted, practically broken psyche. And since Takimoto focuses so much on Satou, he reveals so much more about his strange personality. Satou is more of a cynic in the novel and while he also seems to be something of a scatterbrain, he seems to be slightly less prone to suggestion than in the other versions. Here he is conscious of his circumstances and often thinks through his moments of self-destruction.
The moral of this story, like almost every other story, love conquers all. Satou-kun became a shut-in because of the NHK. The NHK kept him indoors away from the contact of others. The NHK prevented him from getting the affection he needed. If he had found love before, say in high school, he could have avoided watching late night anime or Tensai Teribi-kun by going on dates. But as he struggled to connect with others throughout his youth, he became the perfect subject for the NHK's huge experiment. Everyone has to go through this, but in Satou we have the perfect storm. A below average person, without much education and a weak support system to keep his life in check. Saitou struggles with what everyone else in the world has to deal with on a regular daily basis. So he escapes until he has to grow up, until his responsibilities overcome him. And then he finds his peace and the warmth he was missing from his relationship with the NHK.
Readers will experience a different Welcome to the NHK from what they are familiar with. There is no pyramid schemes or long arcs about failed dating sims. Instead we get a tightly written book about two people and how they depend on each other to stay sane in an increasingly insane world. And I thought that made the original much more enjoyable.
Mania Grade: B+
Art Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translatin Rating: A-
Age Rating: All
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Left to Right
Series: Welcome to the NHK Novel