Welcome to the NHK: Complete Series Box Set
FUNimation // Unrated // $69.98 // August 25, 2009
Review by John Sinnott | posted August 23, 2009
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
The Show:
FUNimation has rescued another ADV series from oblivion: Welcome to the NHK. Teh series was first released in individual volumes by ADV (and finished by FUNimation) then FUNi put out the show in two half season sets. Now they've combined those into a nice full series collection. That's good because this is an excellent show that's different from most anime that I've seen (and I've seen a lot) and deserves more attention.  Welcome to the NHK is a slice-of-life drama that peeks into the life of a recluse, known in Japan as a hikikomori.  Sato spends all of his life in his apartment, supported by his parents and only going out late at night for groceries.  That is until Misaki knocks on his door one day.  She wants to try to cure him of his problems and tries to get him to meet her every night at the nearby park for counseling.  It's a simple story filled with genuine people who have real problems.  The best aspect however is that it offers up no simple solutions.
When Sato was in high school he was in the literature club.  It's wasn't a big organization, just he and a girl, Hitomi, and they spend most of their time playing cards.  While they play, Hitomi tells Sato of the various conspiracies in the world, covering up the existence of UFOs, political and economic cabals, and the like. 
After high school Sato moves to Tokyo to go to college, but one day while he's walking to class he becomes convinced that people are laughing at him.  Where ever he turns people are scoffing and giggling, so he runs home and doesn't leave.  He spends most of his time watching TV, and eventually realizes what has happened:  he's turned into a hikikomori, and the reason is a giant conspiracy lead by the NHK the national network.  The letters actually stand for Japanese Hikikomori Association and they are turning people into recluses so they'll watch more TV.  It all makes so much sense.
As the story starts Sato has been a hikikomori for nearly four years.  He's pitiful and pathetic, and he knows it, but leaving his apartment is way outside of his comfort zone.  One day however a pair of missionaries knocks on his door, a lady and her niece Misaki.  They give him a religious magazine but after they leave the young girl returns and leaves him a note.  She wants to meet him in the park across the street at 9 pm that evening.
Curious, he eventually shows up, only about an hour late.  She's still there waiting for him and presents him with a hand written contract.  Misaki promises to cure Sato of being a hikikomori and all he has to do is show up at the park every night for counseling.  If he fails to show up, there's a $10,000 fine.   Of course Sato thinks the girl is crazy, but he undergoes a lot of stress as a hikikomori, and being cured would be nice.  But who is this young girl and how does she know so much about him, and why does she even care?
I really enjoy movies and such that are accurately able to capture what it's like to be alive and live your life.  Movies like Lost in Translation and the comics of Harvey Pekar good examples, and so is this anime series.  There's not much action, but a lot still happens.  Sato starts to design a game with the guy who lives next door, someone he knew back in high school, who has problems of his own.  He becomes reacquainted with Hitome, who is educated, beautiful, and has a good job, but is still miserable and even a member of an on-line suicide club. 
The program does a great job of showing the pressures that young adults face and how they deal with them.  The pain from loneliness and stress that Sato feels are clearly illustrated, but he also has ambitions to someday become normal, he's just waiting for a miracle to happen.  The alienation that Hitome has to deal with is also presented in a realistic way. 
While every episode is enjoyable by itself, the one thing that sets this series apart from other anime (and films and books) is that it doesn't try to give pat answers.  Sato knows that he has to buck up and just deal with going outside, but he can't.  Even after some problems are solved, there are always other ones lurking in the shadows.  People don't go off to live happily ever after, because life isn't like that. 
That's not to say that this is a depressing show, it isn't.  It is a fascinating look into several aspects of Japanese culture that we often don't see here in the US.  You'll soon grow to empathize with the characters and click past the end credits to see what happens next.
The DVD:
All 24 episodes come on four DVDs which are housed in two thinpak cases.  The cases have an illustrated slipcase to hold them.
 The show offers viewers a choice of the original Japanese soundtrack in stereo or an English 5.1 dub track.  I listened to both, and I have to admit that I enjoyed the Englsih track a bit more.  The surround effects were used very well; doorbells ringing behind you, people talking from the rear and things like that made the show a lot of fun.  If the Japanese track was in 5.1 I'm sure I would have preferred that since the actor did a great job with their characters.  There were no audio defects and the dialog was mixed well.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image was good but not great.  The colors were solid but the blacks were a little light in some areas.  The lines were tight and the contrast was fine, but there was some minor aliasing in parts.  Overall the defects were minor and didn't adversely affect the show.
There wasn't much.  Just a clean opening and closing and some trailers.
Final Thoughts:
This is an outstanding series filled with the most three dimensional characters I've ever seen in an anime show (and better than most movies.)  This slice-of-life drama is neither sensational nor melodramatic.  It is first rate show that deserves a lot of buzz.  Highly Recommended.

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