Welcome to the NHK Vol. #4 - Mania.com

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Mania Grade: B+

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  • 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.

Welcome to the NHK Vol. #4

By Chris Beveridge     May 16, 2008
Release Date: May 13, 2008

Welcome to the NHK Vol. #4
© ADV Films

What They Say
What started as a romantic getaway with Hitomi, now seems to be turning into Sato's vacation of a lifetime.. and not in a good way! Fortunately, his uncharacteristic enthusiasm may be his ticket in convincing his partners in depression that life is worth living after all. But when Misaki comes to the island to admit her true feelings to him, will it be enough to save him, or literally push him over the edge? With his game demo a bust and his parents cutting his allowance in half, Sato is forced to find a part time job. Sato discovers that he can make money by selling items from online video games for real life money. Before he can turn a profit however, he must overcome his social anxiety and make "friends" with the other inhabitants of this exciting new world How far is he willing to let himself go? Can Misaki save him from the brink of self-destruction? Turn on, tune in, and find out!

The Review!
As the group gets ready to kill themselves in their 'Off' meeting, they begin to realize that just maybe they have something to live for. Which ends up depressing the hell out out of Tatsuhiro.

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.

Though this is being released in the spring, the cover artwork certainly makes you long for winter as it features Misaki and another girl in Santa lingerie that's incredibly skimpy. The truly waifish character designs make it a bit less appealing than it shold be, but it's certainly not something that's going to make a lot of younger buyers unhappy. The color design and the outfits really come together well as it stands out easily, even if it isn't really selling what the show is all about. 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 reds 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)
Welcome to the NHK moves easily into its second half as it continues to explore the life of a hikikomori who isn't quite one in some ways. While he may fit into the mold of one in a clinical sense, Tatsuhiro continues to break the mold by going out into the world and getting terribly involved in the lives of others, often through his own sense of morality. To balance this, once he realizes just how far he's gone towards the real world, he ends up swinging back the other way in a horribly strong way.

The discovery that he was actually now part of an 'Off' meeting with a group of people who are intending to kill themselves actually seemed to help him realize that it may be the right path for him. His closeness to Hitomi is only growing stronger now as she's reaching out to him in a way that he can't help but to fall for and his desire to make her happy, even if it's her death, has him going along for the ride. There's trepidation to all of it but when he has her there with her arms around him, he cannot help but to feel that this is the right thing to do. Which is terribly ironic since his presence there has caused everyone else but Hitomi to realize that their lives could be much better than they are. His influence on the group is undeniable, but at the same time there's just a general realization among most of them that they really wanted to be saved, to have someone step up and care about them.

The sequence of events that run through this particular storyline aren't bad and I actually rather enjoyed the way it put Tatsuhiro in the position of the one being envied by others for his positive outlook and almost footloose and fancy free style. A lot of that comes from him not realizing what was going on when he first made it to the island with everyone and his general hope of getting closer to Hitomi. The parallel storyline running with this about their friends and others that come to try and save them, as well as the follow-up material that takes place after everything goes down on the island, has a certain kind of realism to it that adds more weight to it all. Suicide pacts like this aren't uncommon according to media reports out of Japan so seeing the way the relatives and lay people react to their plan is very striking and honest, whether it's family or just a janitor passing by.

Once things settle down when it comes to reality, Tatsuhiro's life takes another hit as his mother informs him that they'll be cutting his living expenses allowance in half due to his father being 'restructured' recently and unable to find new employment. That puts a whole world of pressure on Tatsuhiro and the best thing he can do is dive head first into the realm of unreality. With a bit of a hint from the previous couple of episodes, he opts to try "Real Money Trading" in an online game where people sell things they acquire in quests and what not for real money. Tatsuhiro views it as easy money to make but the reality is much harder than that of course, which is what a lot of what his problems are really all about.

This sort of subplot does provide Gonzo for a great deal of fun once again as they push into the RPG world by visualizing it as Tatsuhiro sees it. The very immersive world he creates within his little apartment is a very different one from what's on the screen but it really highlights how hard he falls into something when he's trying to escape his life. With the series being very real world focused for the most part, these sort of interludes are a lot of fun as they're able to just go wild with it, within reason. Showcasing Tatsuhiro as an increasingly stronger sorcerer-wizard who teams up with a cat girl healer that has a crush on him works wonders. His self image is what is most apparent through his visualization of himself in the game, particularly with how at odds it is with how his real life is going and the lack of attention paid to his surroundings.

In Summary:
These four episodes throw a lot of things at the characters and the changes continue rather smoothly as everyone seems to be growing on some level. Hitomi and Jogasaki have some nice moments as the 'Off' meeting affects their lives while the fallout from the allowance issue impacts how Yamazaki is dealing with Tatsuhiro. Some of the best if more confusing material with these episodes involves the unusual relationship between Misaki and Tatsuhiro as he's still very angry over how she's really been watching and manipulating him. With his fantasy escape into the game world and her attempts to draw him back, it only gets worse at a time when she's needing him even more than she has before. Welcome to the NHK is a very unusual show, one that's far more biting than I would have suspected, but it's one that is also uncomfortable to watch at times as people can see themselves in it very easily. Often that's the mark of a good series as it makes you think, and I'm really wondering how all of this will wrap up without being disappointing.

Japanese 2.0 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.


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