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Welcome to the NHK – The Complete Series (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

September 4, 2009 by  



“’Welcome to the NHK’ features quite a number of unexpected but many highly entertaining plot twists for an anime series.  Definitely one of the most entertaining anime series I have seen in long time!  Top-notch storytelling, wonderful animation and for the most part, this anime series is highly recommended!

 

Image courtesy of © 2006 Kadokawa Shoten/Welcome to the N-H-K Partners.  All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Welcome to the NHK – The Complete Series

DURATION: 24 Episodes, 4 DVD’s (600 Minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: 16:9, English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, Japanese Stereo, English Subtitles

COMPANY: GONZO/FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV MA

Release Date: August 25, 2009

Based on a novel by Tatsuhiko Takimoto

Directed by Yusuke Yamamoto

Series Composition/Screenplay: Satoru Nishizono

Music by the Pearl Brothers

Character Design by Masashi Ishihama, Takahiko Yoshida

Art Director: Hiroshi Igaki

Chief Animation Director: Takahiko Yoshida

Anime Production: GONZO

Featuring the following voice talent:

Yutaka Koizumi/Chris Patton as Tatsuhiro Sato

Daisuke Sakaguchi/Greg Ayres as Kaoru Yamazaki

Yui Makino as Misaki Nakahara

Sanae Kobayashi/Luci Christian as Hitomi Kashiwa

Risa Hayamizu/Monica Rial as Megumi Kobayashi

Mayumi Shou/Christine Auten as Shizue Sato

Yoku Shioya as Hikikomori-Alien

Sato’s life – or what’s left of it – is a paranoid mess of conspiracy theories and social anxieties.  He’s terrified of the outside world; his apartment is overflowing with the remnants of cheap take-out food; and his retinas have been permanently scarred by a steady diet of internet porn.  But maybe it’s not all his fault.  After all, the nefarious N-H-K is out there, and they’re determined to turn society’s fringe-dwellers into a brainwashed lot of jobless, hopeless, future recluses.

Enter Misaki – a mysterious girl-next-door type who is Sato’s last chance to beat down his inner demons and venture out in the light of day.  She’s ready to help him overcome his crippling phobias, but Sato would rather cover in his existential foxhole and pretend to work on the demo for his virtual sex game.

He’s afraid to face the world.  She’s strangely desperate to fix a total stranger.  Maybe together they can be normal.

Hikikomori – A Japanese term that refers to social phenomenon when individuals who are reclusive and withdraw fro social life and live in isolation.

NEET – An acronym for “Not in Employment, Education or Training”.  A term developed in the UK but now used in Japan, China and South Korea for those who are 15-34 year-olds who are unemployed, not enrolled in school, engaged in any housework or training.

“Welcome to the NHK” is unique, fresh and for the most part, highly entertaining!  It’s a bit of everything and the overall build up to the final half of the series is surprising, captivating and just overall fantastic.

Based on the novel by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and published in Kadokawa Shoten in 2002, an anime series was created in 2006 and for the most part, has received positive reviews.  Originally released on DVD by ADV Films, the series is one of the titles transferred to FUNimation Entertainment and now the whole collection is available in one complete set.

The anime series is directed by Yusuke Yamamoto (who has worked on anime such as “Arjuna”, “Mobile Suit Victory Gundam” and “Twin Spica”), a screenplay by Satoru Nishizono (“.Hack/Legend of the Twilight”, “Hellgirl”, “MazinKaiser” and “Naruto”) and character designs by Masashi Ishihama (“Kite”, “Ninku the Movie” and “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”) and Takahiko Yoshida (“Big Windup!”, “Gad Guard” and “SaiKano”).  Anime production is by GONZO (“Samurai Girl: Real Bout High School”, “Vandread”, “Samurai 7”, “Afro Samurai”, “Gantz”, etc.).

The series “Welcome to the NHK” (aka N.H.K. ni Yokoso!) revolves around a man named Tatsuhiro Sato, a college dropout and a man who has become a “hikikomori” and a “NEET”.  He literally has been stuck in his apartment for four years as a recluse and has not had any public contact with anyone.  He knows he needs to get a job in order to pay the bills but he is so scared that everyone is talking bad about him and staring at him that he is to afraid to go out in public.  All he brings close to him is his memories of his senpai, a former student named Hitomi Kashiwa who always felt that humans were being brought down by conspiracies.  But that was then, when he was a high school student… this is now.  He’s just a recluse and now he is starting to believe his senpai’s conspiracies which he calls “Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai” (N.H.K.), those responsible for the conspiracy to turn people into hikikomori and NEET’s.

But his life starts to change when a girl named Misaki Nakahara offers him to be part of a program in order to rid him of his “hikikomori” ways and discovers that the next door neighbor that has been annoying him for over a month with his loud anime music and old acquaintance Kaoru Yamazaki.

Here is a basic summary of the main characters of “Welcome to the N.H.K.”:

  • Tatsuhiro Sato – A college dropout who has become a hikikomori and a NEET.  Has been a recluse, stuck in his apartment for four years and is afraid of society.  He imagines them all talking about him, thinking bad about him and more.  He is funded by his parents and only goes out when he needs to get food.  His life starts to change when he gains two friends…Kaoru Yamazaki and Misaki Nakahara.  But also, his old senpai from high school, Hitomi Kashiwa, when she returns back into his life.
  • Kaoru Yamazaki – A hardcore otaku who was bullied when he was in high school.  He knows Sato from a time when Sato tried to protect him from bullies (and Sato ended up getting beaten up as well).  He is game developer, attends a vocation school on game design and loves the character “Puri Purin”.  Known for his love of figurines and hentai/moe video games (eroge) and his anger towards people who don’t understand moe or otaku culture.  He teams up with Sato in order to develop a hentai video game.
  • Misaki Nakahara – A mysterious girl who befriends Sato in order to rid his “hikikomori” ways.  She creates a contract that if Sato does not complete his training, he will owe her a million yen.  But there is more to her character and that she may be the one that needs Sato more than anything.
  • Hitomi Kashiwa – Sato’s Senpai.  Always sarcastic, Hitomi believes that her life is hindered because of conspiracies.  In fact, she talks about to Sato during their time at the Literary Club of their high school (as they were the only two members).
  • Megumi Kobayashi – She was Sato’s class rep back in high school.  She is into multi-level marketing and wants to recruit Sato.  But there is more to the story of why she wants to meet up with Sato, as her brother is also a hardcore hikikomori.

“Welcome to the NHK – The Complete Series” features a total of 24 episodes on four DVD’s.  Here is a spoiler-less summary of each episode:

DISC 1:

  • EPISODE 1- Welcome to the Project! – The introduction to Sato and his first meting with Misaki Nakahara who claims that she can cure him of his hikikomori way.
  • EPISODE 2 – Welcome to the Creator! – Sato discovers that his neighbor that has driven him nuts with his loud music is his college acquaintance Kaoru Yamazaki.
  • EPISODE 3 – Welcome to the Beautiful Girls! – Yamazaki introduces Sato to erotic video games (eroge).
  • EPISODE 4 – Welcome to the New World! – Sato gets addicted to eroge and Yamazaki introduces him to Akihabara.  Sato runs to his high school senpai Hitomi Kashiwa.
  • EPISODE 5 – Welcome to the Counseling! – Sato decides to sign the Misaki’s contract and get help to cure his hikikomori way.
  • EPISODE 6 – Welcome to the Classroom! – When Sato is told by Misaki that Yamazaki has a girlfriend, it drives Sato nuts.

DISC 2:

  • EPISODE 7 – Welcome to the Moratorium! – Sato’s mother wants to check in on him and thus Sato tries to put up a facade that he has a girlfriend (played by Misaki).
  • EPISODE 8 – Welcome to a China Town! – With his mother coming to visit, both Sato and Misaki pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend.
  • EPISODE 9 – Welcome to a Summer Day! – Yamazaki tries to sell sample of their video game, meanwhile Sato thinks about Misaki.
  • EPISODE 10 – Welcome to the Dark Side! – Sato and Yamazaki think that Misaki is up to something and wonder why she is really trying to help Sato out.
  • EPISODE 11 – Welcome ot the Conspiracy! – With Sato and Yamazaki planning to showcase their finalized game at Natsucomi, Hitomi wants Sato to join her for something important on that same day.
  • EPISODE 12 – Welcome to the “Off” Meeting! – Sato thinks he’s going on mini-vacation with Hitomi to an island but discovers that the people she has joined with are part of something that could be tragic.

DISC 3:

  • EPISODE 13 – Welcome to Paradise! – Sato discovers the group that Hitomi has joined with and now gets entangled with their suicide pact.
  • EPISODE 14 – Welcome to Reality! – After the events from the last episode, the group gets to learn about themselves and who they could have hurt.
  • EPISODE 15 – Welcome to the Fantasy! – Sato’s mother has bad news…she’s cutting his allowance in half.  Now Sato is desperate to make money… by becoming an S.M.T. (gold trader) on a MMORPG.
  • EPISODE 16 – Welcome to Game Over! – Sato becomes addicted to the MMORPG and both Yamazaki and Misaki try to help him.
  • EPISODE 17 – Welcome to Happiness! – Sato receives a call from his class rep, Megumi Kobayashi from high school and she wants to meet with him.
  • EPISODE 18 – Welcome to No Future! – Having been caught up in Megumi’s multi-level marketing business known as Mouse Road, now he is stuck with all these items.  Yamazaki and Misaki try to help him out of it.

DISC 4:

  • Episode 19 – Welcome to the Blue Bird! – Megumi’s kikikomori brother has gone missing.
  • Episode 20 – Welcome to Winter Days! – Yamazaki’s father is ill and must go back to his hometown in the countryside.
  • Episode 21 – Welcome to Reset! – Due to what happened in the last episode, Yamazaki must move back to his hometown.  Thus leaving Sato all alone.
  • Episode 22 – Welcome to the God! – It’s the final test for Sato and Misaki wants him to go with her to a New Year’s eve festival where there would be many people.  But what happens when the two become separated?
  • Episode 23 – Welcome to Misaki! – Misaki comes up with a new contract and for some reason, she’s bring up discussions about popular figures who have committed suicide.  Meanwhile, Sato’s parents have cut off his allowance and with no money, Sato is forced to get a job.
  • Episode 24 – Welcome to the N-H-K! – Misaki finds a message in her book left behind in the hospital, Sato knows he must now rescue Misaki.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Welcome to the NHK” features one of the coolest animation I have seen for a television series.  Not only are the colors vibrant but there is a lot of detail in creating the environment.  May it be Sato’s messy room with empty kleenex boxes, empty beer cans and posters of young women on the walls; Yamazaki’s room filled with figurines and books; Misaki’s nice home; scenes from areas around Tokyo…there are plenty of artistic backgrounds, items that showcase the lives of the individuals and the places that they live and more.  Even during the dreamlike sequences, there is quite a bit of detail in the artwork.

This is quite uncommon to see this much in a television series.  Typically, anime series are facing tight schedules to get their episodes on television  and thus there is some skimping done on artistic backgrounds and what you would seen in the overall scene but somehow Gonzo animation went all out in making sure the world of “Welcome to the NHK” was well.

Of course, there is only one quirk that I have in the animation and that is during the series, everyone has different types of clothing but for Misaki, later on in the series, she tends to wear the same t-shirt and blue skirt almost all the time.  Even during the cold and snowy winter, I wonder why she would wear a skirt all the time.  Granted, she may be a frugal character but it’s one thing that made me wonder with all the daily changes in the other characters, why not her.

As for picture quality, the anime is presented in 16:9 and for the most part color is well-done.  Although, I did notice on my 51″, there are these marks that would show up. Not compression artifacts but something that was probably in the film.  It’s not noticeable unless you really look and it’s more evident on larger screen televisions and possibly more on a larger viewing (via a projector screen).  But for those who watch the series in a smaller set or computer screen will probably not see it.

As for the audio, the audio is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound and Japanese stereo.  I watched the series in both English and Japanese and both are very well done.  The English dub has a more mature sound as Sato and Yamazaki do use profanity which makes their situation quite believable but the Japanese version excels more in the emotional scenes of the female characters, especially Yui Makino’s Misaki.  Overall, both English and Japanese are done well.

The series is pretty much front and center channel for the 5.1 track driven due to the series being a more dialogue-driven  but for both audio, I preferred to watch the series with my receiver setting at stereo on all channels.

As for subtitles, the series is presented with English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Welcome to the NHK – The Complete Series” comes with the following special features:

DISC 1:

  • Clean Opening and Closing Animation

DISC 4:

  • FUNimation Entertainment Trailers

I can’t tell you how pleased I am with “Welcome to the NHK”.  I enjoyed this series tremendously.

I watched the first volume when the anime was first released and entertaining as it was, I thought it was your typical adult comedy style of anime series about two guys trying to work on an erotic video game series and the main plot was a hikikomori teaming up with an otaku.  How wrong I was.  This series is dramatic and although it does carry a lot of humorous-style of storylines, the series does get serious and quite deep.

From problems of people becoming hikikomori and NEET’s, excessive spending on merchandise (when one can’t really afford it), addiction to MMORPG video games  but also touching upon a major problem in Japan which is suicide.  Needless to say, there is a message in “Welcome to the NHK” and the message is that there is hope.

The way that the screenplay adaption of the novel was done and how there is a build-up in these episodes, there are just a good number of plots that takes the three main characters in interesting directions and so, this series is not exactly simple or for those expecting humorous adult humor.  This is a well-planned, well-written and most of all, a well-animated anime series.

I do feel that this series all comes down to what one is expecting.  I believe there will be a group who wants that storyline (ala “Genshiken”) about two people trying to create an erotic video game and showcase that otaku culture and be surprised (or dismayed) of how the series suddenly turns dramatic and serious in the second half.  But for me, I enjoyed every episode and the various parts of Japanese culture that is touched upon. Showing that even certain things that people enjoy can definitely become problematic when one starts to neglect their life and personal responsibilities.   And the way the show was written, the good news is that the messages were carefully intertwined with the episode’s storyline and by no means is the message preachy.

For those wondering about the TV MA rating, the series does have adult humor and situations.  There is little nudity towards the end of the series but it’s mainly adult humor and the English dub uses profanity.

As mentioned in the video and audio portion of this review, the animation on this DVD is above most television-based anime.  Where a lot of TV anime are rushed to get onto TV (and some created mere hours before they air), “Welcome to the NHK” is one of those few rare television series that manages to be vibrant, detailed and for the most part beautiful.  You can’t help but laugh at the surroundings of Sato and Yamazaki’s homes.  And both Japanese and English voice talents do an excellent job for this series.

Overall, I just felt that “Welcome to the NHK” is just a magnificent anime series.  Highly recommended!

 

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