ADV Films // 2006 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // January 11th, 2008
A ladies man he isn't...
The paranoia continues with Welcome to the NHK: Volume 2, the second installment in the strange, wonderful new anime from ADV that blends conspiracy theory, rampant personality disorders, anti-social behavior and erotic fanfare. A strange mix to be sure, but one with an undeniable charm and appeal that goes straight for the jugular on every single anime fan.
To recap: Sato is a young Tokyo college student dropout who spends his days indoors, watching television, browsing the internet and looking up pornography. He dropped out of school years ago, but still hasn't told his parents. He is a NEET...an acronym for "Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training", a slacker with deep-seeded emotional and psychological problems that prevent him from participating in society. Yeah right! That's what they'd want you to believe, buddy. In reality? Sato is the victim of a dark, deep conspiracy, perpetrated by the local television station, whose devious plan involves pumping in bad anime music into homes, enslaving those who fall under its catchy melody, and force him from leaving the house! Oh, what a dark conspiracy is this!
Four more episodes are included on this set:
Episode 5: "Welcoming to the Counseling!"
Bumping into his highschool senior Hitomi on the streets of Tokyo, Sato delves into old memories and feelings, while coming to terms with his own status in life. Much to Misaki's delight, he signs the contract, committing himself to resolve his hikikomori lifestyle once and for all.
Episode 6: "Welcome to the Classroom!"
When Sato hears from Misaki that his otaku neighbour and software partner-in-crime Kaoru has a beautiful girlfriend at college, Sato is consumed with jealousy and frustration. How can a nerd like Kaoru land an actual girl, and not Sato? Paranoid and suspicious, he trails Kaoru to his college and ends up accidentally in a video game scriptwriting class.
Episode 7: "Welcome to the Moratorium!"
Traumatized by his visit to Kaoru's college, Sato spends the next month indoors, ducking phone calls and especially Misaki. However, his hikikomori habits are soon challenged when his mother phones and announces her intention to visit her son.
Episode 8: "Welcome to the Chinatown!"
Desperate to appear normal to his mother, Sato frantically cleans his apartment and legitimizes his make-believe software company with his neighbor, complete with business cards. However, he accidentally lied to his mother, telling her he has a steady girlfriend. Misaki volunteers for the role, much to Sato's horror.
Having enjoyed Volume 1 so much, I took it upon myself to track down some of the manga for Welcome to the NHK. The original comic is definitely a lot more extreme; more hilarious, adult and mature, graphic in its depictions of sex, language and drug use, depicting the protagonist as a strung-out, drug-addled pervert of exceptional prowess, barely maintaining his grip on reality. The anime in comparison opts for a more thoughtful, melancholic vision of Sato, more gloomy and pitiful, one you feel sorry for. It definitely changes the tone somewhat, making the episodes on Welcome to the NHK: Volume Two noticeably more sober than in the previous installment. I'm okay with sobriety, but I admit I was let down by the lack of funny. I laughed my sack off last time, and was hoping to do the same again.
But alas, this is the second volume in an anime series. We're into the "character development" section of the program, ladies and gentlemen, where plot takes a back seat to flashbacks, dialogue-less sequences of characters staring moon-eyed into the horizon, ruminating on their place in life, that sort of thing. Nothing to be alarmed over -- we will return to your regularly-scheduled programming shortly. The slapstick insanity of Volume One has been tempered here somewhat, but we get a lot more background about Sato's dysfunctional behavior and his old high school senior Hitomi, who plays an important role in his past for (as of yet) unspecified reasons. We also try to get to the root of the "hikikomori" phenomenon in Japan, a peculiar phenomenon of Japanese youths withdrawing entirely from society for months on end due to combined pressures of financial, educational success and cultural self-worth.
As in the previous volume, the transfer is sharp, with solid black levels and clean colors. Edges are well-defined with minimal (but noticeable) edge artifacts. The animation style is great, full of fantastic visual gags, exaggerated and contorting explosions of wackiness and fan service -- nothing outright pornographic, mind you, but firmly and definitely on the racy side.
Both an English 5.1 (dubbed) track and a Japanese 2.0 stereo presentation are included, just like before. I am still miffed at the shortchanging of the Japanese track, but I admit the English dub is growing on me. The 5.1 surround is nice and punchy, with clear dialogue and good articulation, but still pretty rooted in the center channel. The 2.0 track feels mushier and less defined than its counterpart, but does the job well enough.
Extras suck, with only a clean opening and closing credit sequence and some trailers. Not much in the way of supplements, which is pretty cheap for a four-episode title.
So far, Welcome to the NHK hasn't let me down in terms of entertainment. We'll have to see where the show takes it from here to be sure. The best moments are the barely restrained slapstick hilarity or sexual awkwardness, not the mushy character flashbacks, which we got a lot of here in Volume 2. Hopefully in Volume 3 we'll get back to the funny stuff.
A smart, sharp, counter-culture anime for otaku fans everywhere, this one comes easily recommended. I guess there's a little bit of hikikomori in me resonating with the show's hapless hero. What can I say? It's refreshing to find an anime starring exactly the kind of person anime fans would identify with, if not outright resemble.
As for the conspiracy, the court is in recess...
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Opening Animation
* Clean Closing Animation
* Official Site