Anime ABC’s N is for NHK ni Youkoso!

Welcome to the Depression

Image result for welcome to the nhkFor this entry in the Anime ABC’s series I’m taking a look at NHK ni Youkoso!, or Welcome to the NHK as it’s known in English. It’s a depressing story that has a positive spin in the end but man is it a long journey. This 2006 adaptation of the novel of the same title is one that offers a unique story that shouldn’t be missed by more serious anime viewers. For some, Welcome to the NHK is going to hit pretty close to home but for others it offers an interesting look into the world of hikikomoris and the dangers of social isolation taken to extremes.

You may be wondering why I recommend this show. I mean, I can’t blame you. The animation is often pretty loose, there are a ton of perverted moments, Yamazaki is obnoxious, and the story jumps from one topic to the next like each new plot point is about to go out of season. Totally fair and valid criticisms of the show. However, the story, given the chance, is one that is transformative and impactful. A big claim, I know, but it isn’t everyday that an anime accomplishes that feeling.

Let me start by saying that this story is beyond relatable to me. This review is highly personal and I am not exactly going to be giving Welcome to the NHK a balanced look. If that’s what you want, go look at one of the multitudes of other reviews that exist out there for it. I won’t even be offended. Now that you know what you are getting into, I’ll proceed.

The first thing I should mention is that this is a Gonzo production so there are a ton of bizarre choices made for adapting this show. You should all know my detailed history surrounding researching Gonzo and their various productions by now, so I’m not going to get into things too much but this anime is very much in line with what you’d expect. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a terrible Gonzo production, even the “bad” ones managed to do a lot of interesting things. This isn’t to say that NHK is bad, but I could see somebody thinking that if they hadn’t seen it before or stopped part way through.

Welcome to the NHK follows Satou, a hikikomori of four years who dropped out of college. He suffers from a lot of social anxiety and almost never leaves his house. One day, a girl named Misaki appears before Satou and tells him that she can cure him of his hikikomori disease. Thus the hijinks begin.

One major change, that works very positively for NHK, is the removal of references to illegal substances. Satou still smokes and drinks, but you never see him do drugs. This adds to scenes where he hallucinates because it paints a picture of mental illness rather than implying some other problem. Really, that’s what this show is about. It’s about a man with a mental illness who needs help.

It’s about me.

This is a serious topic and it is only going to get more serious from here on out. If that makes you uncomfortable or anything, then please do not continue reading. Look, I’m going to get real here so I just wanted you to know.

Like Satou I am plagued with doubts and various anxiety based thoughts. Just like that song, you know the one, “Puru Puru Pururin” it worms its way in and won’t leave. The thoughts are invasive, just like that.

THEY ARE LOUD.

SOMETIMES THEY DON’T STOP.

Often, the voices in my head are impossible to ignore.

Then things get quiet, and that’s the worst.

I had that thought, the one about how the show is about me, the first time I watched this while in University. I was holed up in my room. I’d only leave for class and to eat. Each Wednesday I’d go to my own version of Satou’s park in the form of Ballroom Dance Club. I wanted to be doing more, I wanted to improve my situation, but things didn’t change.

This time through it’s the same. I stay at home, I do the same things each day with little variation, and even visit “the park” on occasion. I try to get work but I haven’t been met with much success on that front. Again, I want to be doing more, I want to improve my situation, but things don’t change.

Now I know that I should be talking about how great the directing is in Welcome to the NHK, I could point out the significance to the cat analogy used, or any number of things. I did watch the show and I do understand an awful lot about it. That’s what I should be doing. I’m reviewing this, right?

An angle appears for Satou in the form of Misaki. She promises to cure him. It’s perfect!

Wait.

Is this a conspiracy? Is she trying to help him or does she have her own motives? Should he fall in love? Is it ok for someone like him to be in love?

The thoughts have raced through my head. I find happiness and then…

Trouble in paradise. Episode 11, “Welcome to the Conspiracy!” the first major sign that the story is about to tackle something serious. Snapshot of Hitomi. She’s considering to meet with some people offline. You might not be aware of this, but offline meetings used to be a pretty big deal in Japan. This isn’t the only anime to have one from around this time. With the internet, it’s never been easier.

Nobody wants to be alone.

Characters are seen self-medicating. Satou deals with his issues by isolating himself. Misaki tries to lift Satou up to bring herself up. Yamazaki drowns himself in alcohol. Hitomi takes various drugs and cries conspiracy. Everybody has problems, and I’m not just talking about the show. We all find ways to cope. I’m no exception.

Quick, before it’s too late, we need to all put our masks back on. The act for the world must not be dropped. You’re ok, things are going great! I’m ok, too! Just look.

I’m not ok.

Back to the offline meeting. Japan had an epidemic of sorts with these. From 2003 through 2006 alone there were 180 people who died in 61 reported cases of Internet-assisted group suicide in Japan (source). With the internet, it’s never been easier.

Nobody wants to be alone. Especially not in death.

Dialing it back for a moment. Episodes 11-13 are very serious episodes. Some folks may find them difficult to watch since they tackle the subject of suicide. The show is always painting things with comedic undertones (sometimes overtones) and this is no exception. These episodes aren’t handled amazingly but they send a powerful message.

Suicide is not a joke.

If you have thoughts of suicide call the hotline. Seriously.

Number’s right here:  1-800-273-8255

Asking for help is ok. Please, take a moment for yourself if you need it.

Everything works out by the end of the arc, spoilers, I guess, but this is a really important point. You aren’t alone. No matter what your thoughts are telling you or what your life situation is, you aren’t alone.

If you need to talk, please reach out to someone. That could be a friend, family member, the hotline, or even me. I know it might be a bit cliché to say this but suicide really is just a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There are people who want to help you and it is ok to ask for help.

We find in the show that everybody had a different reason for wanting to die. From the outside some of these reasons might have seen pretty petty, but when you are in a situation like that I know that isn’t how things seem at all. I have been there personally, so I’m speaking from experience.

All this time I thought there was no other way.

When a person gets caught in a single line of thinking it’s hard to imagine any other solution. There were so many different answers, so many different choices right in front of our eyes. We were just too narrow-minded to see them.

An exchange between two supporting cast members during the offline meeting

You have to take the fist step or nothing will change.

I’ll get off my soapbox now though. Let’s get back to this, “review.” Just remember the underlying message of this arc. How it is important to reach out to others when you reach this point. If you’ve seen the show, also pay attention to the imagery and how the scenes play out. That will be important for the end.

It’s a major turning point for the show. The depiction of how deeply the suicide attempt impacted various characters was also extremely important. Again, there are definite problems with parts of this arc but the overall significance of it can not be understated. 

After this arc is the weakest part of the show. Satou gets wrapped up in a pyramid scheme and the gang meets another hikikomori who plays MMO’s all day. It kind of reminded me of Recovery of an MMO Junkie a bit if it were more serious and focused on the escapism aspect more.

Despite this arc being on the weak side, it is still an important part of the series that should not be skipped. Really, the arc is fairly lackluster, largely a cooling off period from the heavier aspects that occurred and have still yet to transpire. That being said, it does have some absolutely powerful and moving statements. One of which is among the best in the show.

I’ve mentioned this already, but nothing changes if you don’t take the first step. It’s horrifying. The infinite variables of what could occur wen venturing into an unknown. For people like Satou, for people like me, that fear can be paralyzing. Deep down we know we need to change, to take that first step, and we want to, but the courage to do so is not always so easy to come by.

The arc ends with its declaration. It is never too late to take that step. You just have to do it. Even if you don’t know what will happen and you’re scared. Just do it. In the darkness of the show this is a beacon of light. This arc is a wake up call for the characters, and in turn, a wake up call for me.

Then things move back into serious territory again.

While watching this show both times I always wished I had somebody like Misaki in my life. I legitimately, even now, think my life would dramatically improve if I had a steady support like her. However, I have been a “Misaki” for some people before so I know the hidden truth behind her character.

At this point I have no idea why you would care, but spoilers.

I say, “hidden truth” but it couldn’t be more transparent in Welcome to the NHK that Misaki has a secret. She needs help more than any one else. The only thing she can do is look for someone worse than her. Someone lower than dirt. For her, that’s Satou.

Who can blame her? Like I said, I have been like her myself. Helping others is sometimes the only way to help yourself. To see somebody in a situation worse than yours and depend on you can really elevate your self-esteem. Though, this is not without its own faults.

What happens when the other person doesn’t need you any more?

I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure.
I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure.

I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure.

I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure.

I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure. I’m worthless. They hate me. I’m stupid. I’m just a failure.

It’s easy to get caught in this vicious cycle of self-doubt and hatred. To be so completely filled with despair that your soul is like that of a tumultuous sea. Never quiet, never still, stuck in a frantic panic.

Misaki’s character is shown to have some trauma from abuse. Boy is that relatable. I didn’t hardly ever get physically abused but there was lots of verbal and emotional abuse. The same little voices that tell me all those horrible things inside started on the outside. Someone else put them there, and the reality is, they will never completely go away.

So I get it. I understand her motivations and reasoning for everything she does. Again, this show is about me on many levels. It is difficult to watch but that’s what makes a show like Welcome to the NHK important. It’s so, so easy to forge about these kinds of problems people face. A solution will never be worked out if topics like these are never explored and discussed.

Ultimately, Misaki ends up feeling worthless. This is the result of everything and the truth behind the project. If just one person relied on her, told her she was needed, that she mattered then she could go on living. Sadly, Satou rejects her. Not because he doesn’t love her or need her. No, he states clearly because the way she asks for his love is empty. It is a meaningless proposition. He misses all the warning signs too but he’s also just as caught up in himself. She doesn’t deserve a guy like him; she should do better.

Of course I could go into this more. There is a lot that I haven’t even mentioned or attempted to discuss, like Misaki’s red sweatshirt as an example. Though, if you wanted a plain review, I already told you that you were in the wrong place.

Misaki tries to kill herself.

She fails the first time and then tries again. This time Satou has to rescue her. Remember how I said to pay close attention to the first-half’s conclusion? The parallels are strong here. Though the end is a happy one, nobody is really fixed. Characters are going to still struggle, they still have problems, but with one key difference:  they are there for each other.

This really goes to show that even the people that seem well put together on the outside can still have problems. Throughout the entire series Misaki seems to be like a rock. She’s grounded and stable compared to the rest of the cast. However, given what I just said, you know this isn’t true. The same goes in real life.

When I was younger, this was me. I was the same as Misaki, and I mean nearly exactly the same. I did a lot of the same things she did. I’ve never talked about this, but I’ve tried to end my own life multiple times. Nobody ever knew (I mean, how could they? I never told anybody.) but it was because I felt worthless, the exact same.

I debated a lot about including this part in here. Obviously, it is appropriate to put it in but I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable sharing it. After a lot of consideration, I decided it would be a real disservice to you if I didn’t because the show is highly impactful for me. I’m not going to dwell on this though or recount in detail, just put out that it happened and that adds to my experience with Welcome to the NHK at least.

A lot of the show is about characters finding something, anything, to fill the void within themselves. To find their proverbial missing puzzle piece if you will. For some that’s a passion, for others another person, just any kind of purpose to fill the hole inside themselves.

Speaking of puzzle pieces, that brings us to talking about the music. Let’s take a look a the opening.

I bet you are sick of this now

No, not that opening! Ok, here we go:

That’s better. What makes this opening great, aside from the music, is the visual presentation. It might not look like much but there is a lot of depth and attention put into how everything is portrayed within it. One thing of particular note, the way the credits are interwoven into the shots themselves, even interacted with, is something that more OP’s should do. It is really cool to see.

Music is a big part of Welcome to the NHK and is something to pay attention to. The obvious ones are the songs I’ve included, as well as both ED’s. The first of which being fairly humorous and perfect for what the first half is all about. As for the second ED, it is more melancholic but doesn’t really do a whole lot for an ending song. It is actually more powerful as an instrumental insert song that is used in the later episodes.

There is one particular insert song that is worthy of discussion, something a bit abnormal for me, titled, “Youkoso! Hitori Bocchi.” The song so perfectly captures the feeling of sadness and loneliness that it is depicting within the series itself. Welcome to the NHK really knew what it was doing when it came to this stuff. Another insert song that fits along similar lines is, “Hitori no Tame no Lullaby” which I encourage giving a listen to as well.

Welcome to the NHK is something that is going to make you uncomfortable while you watch it whether you relate to its characters or not. The more you relate to these characters, the stronger the reaction you’ll likely get from this show. After all, this series is about horrible people, often making poor choices. But hey, they are just trying there best.

Aren’t we all?


I hope you enjoyed reading this review. I spent nearly two months on it and I legitimately believe this is one of the best things I’ve ever written. Some of you may be asking, “Jon are you ok?” after reading this. I’m fine though. If you thought that, then I did what I was setting out to do with this review by capturing the feeling that this show brings with it.

If you would like to support the work I do here and help me make more works like this than please head over to my Ko-fi and give me a small donation. That would be greatly appreciated, especially after all the hard work I poured into this. As always, thank you so much for reading!

Image result for ko fi buy me a coffee button

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24 thoughts on “Anime ABC’s N is for NHK ni Youkoso!

  1. Good writing, man! 🙂 You do right to be proud of this one! (commenting a bit late because I wanted to watch the first five episodes again, just as a refresh). I’m sure one of the reasons NHK is at #1 on my list (and has a good chance of never moving) is its characters, and I think you exemplified that very well. In how each character has so many flaws (as we all do), and they lean on each other in these situations, even when they don’t realise they are doing so. It is a very personal show to myself too, in too many ways, like I expect it is for yourself. Though despite this, this is why I Iove it so much, and why it is so close to my heart, in so many ways. Really need to finish that post that’s been sat in my draft box for a few months now… anxious in knowing the rest of the show will probably seem a lot different now than it did four years ago. Anyway, really enjoyed reading this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed this! I worked real hard on this so very glad that people seem to resonate with this. I’ll definitely be waiting to see your post when you finish it and no worries for taking your time to read and respond 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really excellent look at Welcome to the NHK! To be honest, I kind of feel like this is one of those series where it would be more biased to discuss it *without* having mental health issues, since I feel like it’s clearly got a specific audience. I remember when I watched it there was an episode where the main character and his neighbor decided to make lewd VNs together or something (one of the first episodes I think?), and I was just like ‘oh, so that’s what the rest of the series is gonna be huh?’. Then it wasn’t that at all, which was a pleasant surprise.

    I think a really interesting companion show is Watamote. It’s significantly more comical than NHK, but the similar themes always made me think of them together. Tomoko’s tendency to push others away as a defense mechanism struck me as one of those painfully real moments that NHK excelled at.

    It’s understandable that it took you so long to write this, it can be Real Hard to figure out how to write these sorts of words! Obviously not every series is going to be a great social commentary or cover serious issues, but it’s really cool to see a review like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Autumn! 😀

      I think anybody can get something out of this, but as you say, the show definitely hides some of its more substantial points behind things that may otherwise be a turnoff for many. Even thought the Hentai game creation is something the show sticks with for a lot of its run, it is pretty far from what the actual show is about and even father from the actual focus. Glad you enjoyed the review 🙂

      As to your comment about Watamote, I’ve seen that and think it was alright. It had a lot of interesting ideas and did a handful of unique things but the handling of its material was not as good. There were a few moments that were particularly bad, namely the “rape” scene that kind of soured the whole thing for me. Definitely something that is easy to relate with but I wish it would have been more tasteful.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      Like

  3. It may truly be one of the best things I’ve read from you. Thanks for your honesty and very well put narrative – it’s far more affecting than a plain review stating “show good, go watch”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a superb show, and my response to it was very similar to what you describe above. It touched me deeply while I was watching it, and I found a lot of it painfully, painfully relatable. Ultimately I felt better after watching it, however, despite it being somewhat uncomfortable — because, oddly, it provided something of a sense of not being alone; of other people out there feeling some of the same things I’ve felt over the years, even if those people were animated characters.

    I might need to rewatch this. It’s been a few years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That definitely makes sense. Knowing you aren’t the only person with an experience or problem can help a lot.

      Rewatch could be fun, see if it still hits you the same way or not. If anything, the show is good so you’ll enjoy it at least 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great series. One of the first I reviewed on my site six years ago. 🙂

    The manga is much darker yet the anime loses nothing from omitting these moments, especially the drug addiction scenes but maybe even Japanese TV censors need something serious to do beyond hiding boobs. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Six years strong! Nice, that is great dedication there 🙂

      Each version is pretty different from what I gather. The novel is just Satou in his room for most of it, the manga has less emphasis on a lot of the supporting cast, but that just means that each is more worthwhile in its own right if you ask me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The best solution from this kind of problem is supports from family, but the problem is, if your family isn’t doing that.

    Sometimes I also feel like this, but I always try going out at least twice everyday or working out to make my mood better, being alone in a room is just making it worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, going out and doing stuff is definitely good. I unfortunately don’t get to do that too often. I agree with family being good support usually too but I don’t get a ton, so yeah.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      Like

  7. I think it’s very important for people to know that even at their darkest and most desperate moments, it’s always better to talk about it with someone then to not talk about it. It might be difficult but it’s important to let it out, even if it’s with a stranger on a helpline or an acquaintance online, talking can put things into perspective in a way you might not have even considered.

    Great post, Jon, very well written and thought out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Firstly, thank you so much for the comment and for reading. I put a lot of effort into this and was a little disappointed to see not a lot of people reading, and nobody commenting on it.

      I really wanted to sell the desperation that a negative spiral of thought/anxiety brings with it. How it is so easy to lose the perspective you mention and get lost to the vacuum of what you may view as an untenable situation.

      People don’t always realize the value of just talking to someone. Glad that came out for you and that you got something out of the post. Thanks again for stopping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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