Welcome to the NHK! Vol. #01 - Mania.com

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  • Art Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 18 & Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 192
  • ISBN: 1-59816-678-6
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Welcome to the NHK! Vol. #01

By Robert Harris     October 26, 2006
Release Date: October 01, 2006

Welcome to the NHK! Vol.#01

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Writer: Takimoto Tatsuhiko / Artist: Oiwo Kendi
Translated by:Katherine Schilling
Adapted by:Zachary Rau

What They Say
Twenty-something-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Company N.H.K. But despite fighting the good fight, Satou has become an unemployed Hikikomori--a shut in who has withdrawn from the world...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 "project." Slowly Satou comes out of his reclusive shell, and his hilarious journey begins, filled with mistaken identity, panty shots, Lolita complexes--and an ultimate quest to create the greatest hentai game ever!

The Review
Snappy to say the least, the front cover has a great shot of Misaki in a green and yellow-striped NHK jacket. Both covers have an orange-and-silver motif, with orange serving as the background and silver outlining smaller panels of manga, the creators' names, and general bits of weirdness. It does a great job emphasizing the schizophrenic tone of the series, specifically how detailed and well-colored Misaki is in comparison to how washed out everything else is. The title is written twice going down the left-hand side of the front cover, in bold white letters on the top and a smaller white font farther down, and the volume number is written very large on the lower-right corner. Between the two is a brief paragraph written from Satou's perspective describing the manga written in some great Engrish. The rest of the cover is typical Tokyopop fare, with the white spine and ratings/genre on the back cover. The only real blemish is the parental advisory label on the front cover; it does stand out and is a little distracting. It's placed in a fairly empty location, though, and it's a compromise that's easy to accept for unedited manga. As if to make up for it, Tokyopop included the first four-color pages from the Japanese release, something I really wish more publishers would do.

Kendi's artwork in N.H.K. is, honestly, a little unrefined; there are a lot of thin lines and the backgrounds are fairly sparse. Strangely enough, it also fits perfectly. It manages to make the manga even more unsettling, and it lends a frayed, neurotic edge to the characters and the story in general. Kendi does shock and surprise moments particularly well, which is good news because Satou alone is almost constantly either taken aback or freaking out, and Kendi manages to keep these reactions from getting old or boring. Facial expressions throughout are uniformly excellent, and everything from despair to rage is portrayed very realistically and (generally) comically.

For the most part, the translation and adaptation are decent. There are a few mistakes here and there, but overall the volume reads well and seems to retain the comedy of the original. Tokyopop has even included translation notes, which isn't something they have done too frequently in the past. While a little awkward to use, the notes are much appreciated, and I hope they continue to do this for future releases. Aside from the occasional grammatical errors (at least one of which Tokyopop should never have let through; come on guys, it's 2006) the only problem I have with this release is the same problem I have with almost all of Tokyopop's releases: no translated sound effects. When you get right down to it, the impact either way is minimal, but it'd still be nice to see the effort put fourth.

N.H.K. is the story of Satou Tatsuhiro, a neurotic, semi-psychotic hikikomori who seems to be on the edge. For those that don't know, hikikomori refers to young individuals that don't work or go to school, and have essentially shut themselves away from the outside world. Satou has been a hikikomori for four years at the start of the story, and his parents have finally stopped sending him money. His social abilities have degraded to the point where he fears any human interaction, and when two missionaries come to his door he reveals just how inept he is at even basic communication. He spends his days locked in his room, taking drugs and engaging on long conversations with his appliances. It's during one of these discussions that his eyes are "opened" to a massive conspiracy; the public broadcasting station NHK (Nihon Housou Kyoukai) broadcasts anime in order to turn its viewers into reclusive otaku, whom then turn into hikikomori. Even the name of the station is a cover-up, as the real meaning of NHK is Nihon Hikikomori Kyoukai. Convinced of these truths, he goes off to fight against the evil NHK the only way he can; he'll stop being a hikikomori and thwart their scheme.

Which doesn't work of course. It's not long before he realizes that it's not so easy to shed his hikikomori lifestyle. However, a second chance meeting with one of the two missionaries from earlier, Misaki, together with his discovery that his new, annoying, anime-crazed next door neighbor is in fact his former high school underclassman Yamazaki, sparks dramatic changes in Satou's life. Misaki claims that she has a procedure for curing a hikikomori, and in an attempt to convince her he isn't one, he enlists Yamazaki's aid to make his lies a reality. And so Satou and Yamazaki embark on a collaboration to make a hentai (pornographic) computer game, while Satou's lies are eventually uncovered and he agrees to become a part of Misaki's program. Exposed to more social interaction than he's had in years, Satou's life quickly begins to change, as he's bombarded with otaku culture by Yamazaki, while at the same time has his patience continually tested with Misaki's incredibly strange program.

Throughout the volume Satou does several things that seem normal for manga " going to Akhibara for game reference material, meeting up with a former school friend, sneaking into a game design school, practicing with Misaki to fool his mother into thinking he has a girlfriend " but they're done in such an unorthodox and insane way that you never really know what to expect. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and Satou's inability to deal with even the most minor problems that arise are a constant source of hilarity. Who else could inadvertently become addicted to child pornography, to the point of taking pictures at the entrance to a middle school, or end up accusing an entire classroom of being part of the great conspiracy to make him a hikikomori? Satou's the very definition of abnormal, and constantly keeps you on your toes.

Reviewing this title is actually a little scary, because I empathize with Satou way more than I'd like to. Being an unemployed college dropout with a penchant for anime myself, there are a lot more parallels between this manga and my own life than I really comfortable with (and no, I'm not talking about the child pornography part, jeez). Perhaps that's what makes me enjoy it so much; I can relate with Satou far more than any other characters I've come across in manga or anime, which is a perpetual source of both comedy and personal horror.

All that aside, Satou really isn't a bad guy. He clearly isn't happy with the way his life turned out; he just lacks the motivation to pull himself out of his hole. In addition, his years of isolation have made him seriously unbalanced, and it's difficult to imagine him being capable of much more than sitting in his apartment talking to himself. Thankfully, he's likeable and sympathetic enough that rather than blow him off, we want to see if maybe he really can get his act together.

As for the peripheral characters, Yamazaki and Misaki both provide their own particular brand of comedy. Misaki, quite frankly, seems clueless. Her project seems more a cobbled together collection of psychology texts and random speculation than anything approaching a working cure. Satou fully realizes this, and tends to get very frustrated and dismissive with her methods; however, there are occasions where it seems like she may know more than she lets on, and we're left to wonder (with Satou) whether she's just playing naïve. Yamazaki, on the other hands, gets much more panel time, and as Satou's only friend is in a position to marvel at just how messed up he's become. An otaku so realistic it's almost frightening, he wastes no time in quickly making Satou part of a culture he once reviled (another of the parallels between us). He also serves as an excellent counterpoint to Satou; when even he has to step back from Satou and say, "whoa, that's going too far," you know things are really getting out of hand.

The one thing I haven't talked about much yet is the humor. After all, N.H.K. is billed as a comedy. Simply put, it just works. It works amazingly well. That being said, it's not for everyone. If you're the kind of person that finds the old "trip and grab a breast" move the height of comedy, or are easily offended in any way, keep on walking. This is sick, twisted, black humor, and I love it. Maybe I would find it less funny if I couldn't identify so strongly with many of these situations, but I have a feeling that's not the case. Take Satou's and Yamazaki's brainstorming session for their game heroine; that scene had me in tears, and not the kind you have to disguise as chuckling and discreetly dry when no one is looking. It is honestly impossible for me to imagine someone that isn't completely uptight not finding that scene hilarious.

N.H.K. is something that has become very rare these days: original. It offers a unique perspective on a unique protagonist in a very standard setting, and while otaku-centric manga has been on the rise lately, none have focused on such a small, disturbed subsection of that group. Conventional logic would dictate that shut-ins do not make good subjects for a manga, and if nothing else, N.H.K. spends a majority of its 192 pages giving logic of all kinds a massive beating. I mean, N.H.K. is the only manga I've ever read that mentions Linux creator Linus Torvalds, and that has to count for something. It has to.


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