Biting social commentary that often takes aim at its target audience.
What They Say
Sato's life is going down the drain. A college dropout, he rarely goes outside and sleeps sixteen hours a day. Amidst his internet porn sites, he finds himself falling further into a pit of despair. Sato has now decided that a sinister broadcast company known as "The NHK" is trying to transform its viewers into jobless, societal recluses by showing cutesy anime girls. Unable to resist these charms, innocent victims like Sato are soon too busy watching TV and playing pornographic computer games to pursue a normal life.
In his darkest hour, Sato has a chance encounter with a beautiful girl named Misaki, who claims that she can cure him of his perverse ways. Is she really an angel of mercy? Or is she a devilish agent of the NHK? Swimming in a sea of corruption, Sato prepares for the battle of his life. Welcome to the NHK!
Contains episodes 1-12.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This collection features the standards: the clean opening/ending and trailers of other titles from Funimation. The end.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sato is a member of the growing hikkekemori trend. After a particularly bad panic attack, he’s closed himself up in his apartment. Going to the local convenience store is a big deal and he holds no job. He’s comfortable in his anti-social lifestyle but the introduction of Misaki into his life is going to make it hard to stay inside. Misaki has taken notice of the loner and is keen to reform him with a program she’s designed. Can she coax him back to the real world particulary when the reintroduction of former classmate/otaku Yamazaki is just as likely to worsen his condition as make it better?
I first encountered Welcome to the NHK over a year ago in manga form and was very impressed with its postmodern take on angst and a disillusioned mind. Its frankness about Japanese and otaku culture presented a work that was funny with a degree of intelligence rare in modern parody. So how close is the anime to the manga? Pretty damn close actually. The only real difference I could find was that more outlandish dream sequences are introduced right from the start in the show.
These sequences help extend the themes though and are frequently very funny if a little bizaare. Monkeylike spokesmodels for the hikkekemori trend pour into the frame to help illustrate problems with the lifestyle and the mindset spurred by it. Sato’s furniture come to life and start holding conversations with him. The best thing about these moments of fantasy is that they are rarely random and integrated into the reality of the show. A few of the more stylistic dream shots aren’t even played for comedy as shown in moments where Sato is outside and feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. The first major panic attack presents those around him as clothed black silhouettes whose only features are broad grins as they laugh at him (strangely reminiscent of the “Heaven Smile” in the game, Killer 7) while another panic attack shows him clear and crisp while everything around him is duller in color and looks underwater thanks to digital effects.
I can only say that such fantastic sequences were rare in the first volume of the manga since I never got around to picking up the rest. However, they fit the medium and the material very well and only enhance the experience. It’s actually kind of refreshing that the show is so low-key because it grounds the moments of parody and satire. Instead of the show knowingly playing into cliches, the characters and situations point out such things as the ridiculousness of some anime theme songs (“Those lyrics don’t make any sense.”, fandom, society in general and much more. The wackier stuff is kept outside of the reality of the series and it makes it much easier to get invested in the characters and their relationships.
This format allows for a broad spectrum of jokes from wordplay to sight gags to knowing satire. They’re almost all homeruns too. I probably laughed out loud more at this show than I have at any anime in a long time, and none of the jokes ever elicited a groan. It’s rare that I would recommend a parody to an audience largely ignorant of the subject matter but anyone with an open mind is sure to find something they would enjoy. Of course, the balanced parody will delight all degrees of anime fandom from the casual to the hardcore because it contains jokes about the perceptions outsiders have about the subculture as well as some of the more extreme aspects of the hobby (even removable skirts on figures).
Of course, the level of enjoyment that someone will have with this show depends on how well they like the characters –particularly Sato. I can see some who start the show getting annoyed with him very quickly. Sato is perverse, a habitual liar and often says the wrong thing. His saving grace is that this is all due to him being so far removed from society and the show is about his reformation, be it willing or not. (His heart is generally in the right place though.) Think when they tried to turn Tarzan into a gentleman, only with a lot more sex jokes. Which brings us to another point.
Welcome to the NHK is very frank in terms of sexual content and Sato’s mind seems to drift there often. The used tissue keeps piling up in his apartment and the show is not above going into some dark places for jokes. Hell, it speeds towards them with glee. Sato tries to get rid of Misaki early on by telling her he is a game developer and she wants to see an example of his work before she will leave him alone. Fortunately, his neighbor, Yamazaki is in game development and offers to help him build one: a hentai or “gal game.” Yamazaki gives him example picture sets as Sato learns the ins and outs of adult gaming and gets addicted to porn on the internet and even builds up a lolicon folder. (The most unbelievable moment in this set is probably that a closeted loner didn’t know about downloading porn in the first place.)
The next sequence starts dramatically with Sato telling Yamazaki to take picture of him so he can see how disgusting he’s become but leads into a sight gag outside of what appears to be a middle school! There is a much darker set-up later on and dramatic springboards often give way to some really dark jokes. These might turn some off but I dug how the show seemed to effortlessly weave drama and comedy on occasion.
The secondary cast is easy to get behind with minor moments giving Misaki, Yamazaki and Sato’s conspiracy-minded senpai, Hitomi an appropriate amount of depth. Their personalities are also a little less frenetic with Yamazaki probably coming in second for his bombastic behavior. The characters all play off each other well, particularly in the case of Sato and Misaki, who revolves from his bane to his savior to his love interest. All of these situations are enjoyable in their own way and while sex can still dominate conversation, most exhanges between the two still manage to be cute and somewhat heart-warming.
The only x-factor here really is Funimation’s decision to split it into two parts. There are some minor cliffhangers sprinkled throughout these twelve episodes, but the collection ends on the biggest- and a much more dramatic twist than most comedies would dare tackle. The combined price of both sets is also a little off-putting as you will be spending more for both collections than the average single boxset release. Still, it seems a shame to penalize the show too much for this because what’s here is very, very good.
Welcome to the NHK is a rare breed of show. In the strictest sense, it isn’t a parody but it still contains some witty commentary on anime, society and life in general. The decision to keep all of the over-the-top moments within dreams allows for some surprisingly genuine and complex characters. Although the regular focus on sex and anti-social behavior might bother some, those with an open mind will surely find something to love with the dramatic and romantic interludes sprinkled throughout. Those who are even a little interested should definitely pick it up, but Funimation’s decision to split the series across two sets makes it a harder sell. If you’re hurting for shelf-space or haven’t picked up the show yet, give this release a try. If you’ve already started collecting the ADV singles, you’re probably better off picking up the rest as the content seems to be nearly identical.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
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