Monday, 16 January 2012

Television Series Overview - Welcome to the NHK

This is your happy ending.

Wikipedia tells us  "in Japan, "NHK" refers to the public broadcaster Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai" - it's more or less the Japanese BBC. Sato, the main character of Welcome to the NHK, however, thinks it is more than just that. The NHK is also a conspiracy. Take a look at his life: he's unemployed, friendless and harbours an acute fear of even leaving his untidy apartment. All things which are exaggerated problems that come with being an otaku (Japanese geek), and don't the NHK show things like anime that drag people into such categories in life? Ergo, the purpose of the NHK is to turn people, most specifically Sato, into the urban hermit. One day he meets a girl and everything changes, but trust me: that sentence isn't what it sounds like.

Some more background is, perhaps, required: Sato's specific situation is actually a recognised sociological condition in Japan, affecting young men. They lock themselves away, don't seek out education or employment, and spend all their time gaming or on the internet. Romantically and socially they struggle, and often it overlaps with depression. Last year, there was an estimated 700,000 of them, wikipedia informs me.

Welcome to the NHK is an entry in the slice of life genre, a drama about the happenings of every day life of a man who suffers from this. In truth, it feels a tad disingenuous to call NHK a show about normal life: even when it's not taking into direct visual metaphors of Sato's very unusual mind, it deals with people who are suffering from rather extreme personal and social problems. Watching our maladjusted cast try to cope with life is more or less the entire premise of the show.

What the show does very well is to balance tones. Taking what is a pretty dark and cynical view on the world could have lead to a serious and frowny show, heavy with self-importance, but there's a manic energy to the show which counter balances the depressing elements. We get moments of absurdity, strange and perhaps disturbing viewings directly into Sato's mind; we get moments of comedy that give the show a sitcom-esque feel at times; we get moments of quite tenderness, where suddenly the show seems like romantic story; we get moments of drama that reveal the show's angst ridden characters. That all of these elements keeps the others in balance makes the show a real treat.

The animation and music are both top notch, and the writing is all sharp as far as I can tell - it being translated, I'm not really qualified to comment on the dialogue, but the story is certainly brilliant. The core cast are engaging in there oddness, and very much relateable because, although things are taken to an extreme, their insecurities are, on a fundamental level, something that pretty much everyone has to cope with at some point.  The perhaps predictable message that we are all screwed up on some level is well delivered and not at all forced. And the show does acknowledge that some people are definitely screwed up worse than others.

Welcome to the NHK is two opposing things at once: very cynical, yet oddly uplifting, and in that contradiction there is a humanity that is difficult to resist. It's an absurd, funny, dramatic, touching journey that is very much worth taking.

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