Welcome to the NHK
Story by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and art by Kenji Ooiwa
Published in English by Viz (8 volumes, 2007)
This manga follows the drug riddled journey of Sato Tatsuhiro, a deluded hikikomori (an extreme recluse) who believes the NHK (a Japanese broadcasting network) uses its platform to brainwash him into living his toxic lifestyle. After meeting Sato one day outside his apartment, the young high school student Misaki, attempts to rid him of his disturbing lifestyle, and keep him from rotting away in his room,
Welcome to the NHK is a melting pot for the isolated. It follows the “worst” people in society (drug addicts, shut-ins, those depressed and unfaithful), as they wade through series of depressing events, discover the dangers of contemporary Japanese society and uncover a international conspiracy, all wrapped in one big delusion. As we delve into the psychological stability of our characters, it becomes apparent that their isolation from society leads to the most skewed, yet insightful conclusions about the external world.
What makes this manga standout is its exceptional story, which has no doubt inspired other angst-filled manga such as Goodnight PunPun and the Flowers of Evil. While it explores a plethora a depressing themes, such as suicide, mental health issues, adultery and so on, it has the perfect amount of humour to balance it out. A mistake that many writers of dark fiction do is removing humour from their pieces, as they believe it hinders the ability to create morbid scenes or make insightful comments about the world. However, this manga does a great job of bouncing between depressing circumstances, hilarious moments and deep thoughts. It never feels preachy or patronising. I’m not being told that society is bad or I should live a certain way. As an omnipresent being, I only watch as the characters adopt lifestyles which allow them to handle the world as best as they can.
The one thing this manga needs to be commended on is its almost perfect protagonist. Not to say that the protagonist is perfect (that would be boring), rather, he was created perfectly. Sato is weak, but he is not frustratingly hopeless. He develops at a steady pace, but has his own setbacks after traumatic circumstances. The reader empathises with him as he tries to free himself from his hikikomori lifestyle and re-enter society. It was really interesting watching him perceive his external society, rejecting, accepting and losing himself amongst a flurry of delusional thoughts. He feels so unbelievably human, with not one but multiple struggles, desires and dreams that he constantly juggles. It was such a pleasure being invited into his mind, trying to understand how this intriguing character functions.
Misaki, the most important side character, borders on this complexity, but not to the same extent. However, there were time when her actions were more annoying than enjoyable. The idea behind her character was ironic; while she attempts to help Sato deal with his troubles, she is the character most psychologically burdened. Even when you find out about her struggles, unfortunately, some of the actions the author uses for this character seem more erratic than profound, and lessen the value of her significance. She has emotional outbursts at the strangest of times, some of which are only included to shock the reader.
The other characters have a good amount of substance to them, but not as much as the protagonist. While they are great characters (especially considering how many fleshed out characters we are given in this piece), and in any other manga would be praised, due to the depth of the protagonist I had higher expectations of them. Nonetheless, I enjoyed travelling through the lower rungs of society, getting to know some of the most angsty and misled characters ever created in the medium. However, what made their depression palatable was that they all showed hope. Unlike other manga set in a world devoid of all happiness, the characters in this piece still clung to some form of optimism, making their actions seem even more powerful. A lot of characters in NHK have their unhappy moments, but they eventually snap out of it and carry on.
Their fears made them so unbelievably human, and their development was quite moving to watch. What furthered the reader’s empathy for the characters was their ability to relate to certain struggles. While not to the same extent, every person has in some way experienced societal pressure. We are forced to judge whether our beliefs, aspirations and behaviours match those set out by our society. Sometimes, the characters who reject this lifestyle feel like heroes, living a life devoid of judgments, making the reader realise the restrictions that have been put on them. It was also interesting watching characters battle against their link from society, and seeing how deep its beliefs run within us.
The art in the manga is good, but nothing to write home about. It did a great job at encapsulating the “chibi comedy” panels, and complimented some of the character’s delusional thinking. I would have liked to see some more vivd imagery to really encapsulate the paranoia Sato feels about the NHK. In fact, after watching the anime, the NHK it’s diabolical plot are very rarely mentioned in the manga. I would have liked to see a bit more about this overarching conspiracy, as it’s importance seems to waver throughout the piece. The idea that a broadcasting company as massive as the NHK would make people become shut-ins through various media was a very interesting idea, and it was never really explored. Though its main purpose was to emphasise how skewed the protagonist’s view was, blaming his lifestyle on something so ridiculous, watching him attempt to take down the company would have been both hilarious and profound simultaneously.
While the characters themselves are great, I was a bit confused about their relationships with one another. It seems that everyone is connected to Sato, but then they all just sit around alone when they’re not with him. If the characters were given stronger connection with each other, especially the ones who have been through traumatic events together (e.g. suicide packs), it would have been a more holistic experience for the reader, and created an expanded universe. I suppose considering it was a depicting various recluses, it makes a bit of sense. The ending of the manga was slightly disappointing. It felt like the creators weren’t sure how they wanted to end the series, and considering the outrageously dark content they been creating up until that point, it seemed quite lacklustre. Readers had been feeling that decline for a while, but the last five chapters really felt directionless. Though a dip in quality is apparent, it’s not the worst ending, even though I have forgotten it since.
Welcome the NHK is an exceptional piece that encapsulates the mindset of those who have fallen from the graces of society, and battle to remove its influence from their lifestyle (or vice-versa). It holds some of the most refined character development for the slice of life genre, though a disappointing ending hinders it from being perfect. I recommend this manga for anyone who wants to laugh and cry simultaneously, collecting intriguing delusions from those struggling on the lower rungs of society. It truly encapsulates the overwhelming feeling that comes with adhering to society’s expectations.
Art – 7
Story – 9
Writing – 8
Overall – 8.5/10
Image sources: https://myanimelist.net/manga/463/NHK_ni_Youkoso/pics, https://twitter.com/misakicrazyfan/status/480490869725097984, https://www.pinterest.com.au/marikaastori10/welcome-to-nhk/, http://www.basugasubakuhatsu.com/blog/2007/04/21/welcome-to-the-nhk-vol-2-manga-review/