Welcome to the N.H.K is a comedy-drama anime based on a novel written by Takimoto Tatsuhiko. The anime adaptation came out in 2006, four years after the manga, and was developed by Gonzo. You may remember them from Basilisk, Gantz & Bakuretsu Tenshi. This will be the first time I’ve reviewed a comedic work from Gonzo. So, how do they handle a dramatic comedy?
Satou Tatsuhiro is a NEET, or a person not employed, not in education and not training. He lives as a, Hikikomori, shut up in his room without interacting with anyone else unless he absolutely has to. That all changes one day when he carelessly opens his door for a religious solicitor and her niece. The two are handing out pamphlets about Hikikomori. Rather than shut the door in their faces or openly mock them, which is what a sensible person does when strangers come to their door with religious pamphlets, Satou panics and, in his overmuch protestations to the contrary, outs himself as a Hikikomori. In the hopes of undoing the damage, Satou decides to look at life outside of his apartment and goes job hunting. When he encounters the woman’s niece by chance he once again panics and retreats. Later, he finds a letter from the young lady, Misaki, shoved through his mail slot, claiming that she can save him from his Hikikomori ways and asking him to meet her. That’s when everything starts to change for Satou.
When it comes right down to it, this anime puts the focus on outcasts of various kinds. Hikikomori, Otaku, the Depressed, Conspiracy Theorists and several other sub-cultures that are generally viewed as strange or worse by polite society. There isn’t a single major character that isn’t othered in some way. So, let’s look at what they do wrong with the concept and then look at what they do well.
There’s only one big problem with the series in terms of the story, but it is a really substantial one. The tone is all over the place. There will be episodes that are largely light-hearted and contain a lot of zany moments and then it’ll shift to incredibly serious episodes dealing with suicide. There’s even one episode that has really serious moments about suicide with bizarre comedic moments inappropriately mixed into it. The series tries to be dramatic and funny simultaneously, or shortly after each other, which ultimately undermines both aspects.
Let’s move onto the positives. While the series definitely has issues with tonal shifts, when it can successfully settle on a tone it does do some interesting things. It is also good about showing its outcasts in a light that’s comedic, but also encourages understanding. You laugh at the characters for making idiotic blunders, but you can also sympathise with them and understand why they messed up. The series also does well when it comes to keeping things realistic. About the most outlandish it gets are scenes where Satou is daydreaming or imagining things and inanimate objects talk to him. And, to be fair, that is the kind of daydream someone without much actual social interaction might have.
The cast is made up of social misfits. They’re largely portrayed as either pitiable or subjects of schadenfreude, depending on whether the tone is more serious or light-hearted at the moment. I will give the series credit for making them largely realistic in their behaviours and their reasons for those behaviours. That being said, there are times when you’ll get a group of characters all being ridiculously gullible at the same exact time and it strains believability. This is most readily apparent in the Multi-level marketing episodes. It can also get annoying when Satou repeats the same mistakes over and over and over again without actually learning anything because learning from experiences is for other people.
The art is pretty good. The characters are very expressive and there is a lot of work put into the various background details. The daydreaming scenes are appropriately surreal and fan-service, when it does come up, is appropriate for the situation. For example, it comes up in Satou’s fantasies and with Galges. Both of which are contexts where it makes sense to have that kind of imagery and it’s not particularly sexualised when it comes up. It’s largely used to show how pathetic Satou and Yamazaki are and how absurd their concept of women is. I do respect the series for taking that route as opposed to devolving into straight up sexualisation. There are a few issues with the art though. The first is that the character movements can be really awkward and stilted at times. Almost like they cut down on frames for time and ended up skipping a few hoping that no one would notice. The character designs themselves are also pretty bland.
The acting in this is mostly good. Sakaguchi Daisuke, Koizumi Yutaka & Makino Yui all give good performances. The one issue with the acting is that the series likes to exaggerate for comedic effect and they can go overboard with it at times. The music is really well thought out. They put a lot of effort into making, say, the “purin” theme sound like something that would come from an anime like that. They also do a good job of making the ambient music suit the mood. Except in those cases where the mood itself has a tonal clash.
The closest the series comes to ho-yay is Satou thinking about having Yamazaki cross dress because he told his mom that he had a girlfriend but it’s abundantly clear that that scene is a joke and that both Satou and Yamazaki like girls. So, 1.5/10.
Welcome to the NHK has some good dramatic scenes and some good comedic scenes. It also features good acting, art and it has a good level of realism. Where it runs into trouble is when the comedic and dramatic moments meet or there’s a major shift from one to the other. It also has some hiccups with both the art and acting. Furthermore, the characters can be somewhat grating. Still, it is a good series particularly if you have been an outcast in one or more of the ways experienced by the characters. As such, my final rating is a 7/10. Next week I’ll continue down the review request list with Mawaru Penguindrum.