Judge Adam Arseneau has it all figured out. It's a dark conspiracy!
It's not his fault! It's a dark conspiracy!
Sato's life is going down the drain. A twentysomething college drop-out, he had a panic attack his first day of school, and has holed himself up in a small, dingy apartment ever since, watching TV, sleeping 16 hours a day, and venturing out only for cigarettes and beer. Amidst a never-ending string of internet porn sites and magazines, his spirits fall deeper and darker until suddenly, he realizes the problem in his life: a conspiracy!
Sato has decided, spontaneously, that the singular cause of his problem resides with "The NHK," a broadcast company that beams programming non-stop into his home, forcing his attention. Targeting specifically reclusive, nerdy, jobless refugees, the cutesy anime girls in skimpy clothes manipulate Sato into playing erotic games on his computer all night, preventing him from leading a normal social life! Oh, the fiendish complexity of it all! Determined to put an end to the conspiracy once and for all, Sato vows revenge upon the NHK—at least he will, once he musters the courage to venture outside.
Worse, his hermitic ways are compromised by the chance introduction of Misaki, a beautiful teenage girl who seems to instantly recognize him for what he is, and offers her "services" in curing him of his social affliction. Sato is tempted to take her up on her offer—provided she is who she says she is! After all, why would such a beautiful girl be interested in a loser like him? Unless…she's part of the conspiracy too!
Welcome to the NHK: Volume 1 contains four episodes (what, only four?) from the anime series:
• "Episode 1: Welcome to the Project!"
• "Episode 2: Welcome to the Creator!"
• "Episode 3: Welcome to the Beautiful Girls!"
• "Episode 4: Welcome to the New World!"
The newest anime offering from ADV Films, Welcome to the NHK: Volume 1 targets itself directly at anime fans and otaku, a bold move indeed. Comprised of a never-ending string of sex jokes, masturbation jokes, pornography jokes, and fan service jokes all done in complete self-referential dysfunctional style, Welcome to the NHK is outrageously hilarious, catching this reviewer completely off guard. I've never even heard of the anime, let alone the manga from which the series is adapted. I love being surprised!
The humor is racy and borders on the distasteful, but always the distastefully hilarious, poking fun at exactly the kind of stereotypical twentysomething nerd that compromises the key demographic of such an anime. Though there is nothing outright naked or pornographic about the show, the level of maturity, humor, and subject matter referenced is definitely not for kids. Gags about otaku, doujinshi, ero games, moe, and hentai are tossed around like confetti, in a hilariously awkward embrace of the culture of naked girls. You don't need to be into that kind of thing to find the show hilarious beyond measure, but being in on the jokes makes Welcome to the NHK exponentially funnier.
Believe it or not, the anime is surprisingly profound at times, despite its over-the-top hilarity and developed sex drive. In Japan, a shocking number of young individuals, mostly males have been classified by the government as being at risk for exactly this kind of anti-social behavior. Called "NEETs" (an rough acronym for "Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training"), it is something of a lost generation in Japan, a problem of surprisingly epidemic proportions. The pressures of education and success in the career-driven country have driven large groups of individuals into their parents' basements, without seeking education or employment. The phenomenon is not unique to Japan, but Japan's distinct combination of social rigidity, cultural sense of self, high rent, and recent economic depression have created an even more die-hard variety of slacker, called "hikikomori," which Sato personifies to a tee. Essentially a form of acute social withdrawal, this is a complete withdrawal from the outside world, where individuals often remain for weeks or months (and, in rare cases, years!) completely separated from the outside world.
So far, the anime seems to be about Sato coming to terms with his status as a hikikomori, both humorously and painfully. The gags are played for great laughs, but also moments of introspective self-pity and shame, for the further he withdrawals into his imagination and universe, the less likely he is ever to emerge again. Of course, there might be a dark conspiracy in the works; a bizarre combination of events the world has set into motion to target Sato specifically, corrupting his mind with cutesy anime girls taking their clothes off, pornographic materials, and computer games, forcing him to stay indoors. Considering how weird this anime is, anything is possible.
Outrageously perverse and bizarre, Welcome to the NHK is the anime for fans of anime, a conceptual mash-up of themes, running gags, sex jokes and eccentricities that all otaku and anime fans can no doubt relate to in part. Some of the funniest gags I've seen in recent memory came from this disc, like Sato "discovering" that the Internet can be used for finding pornography, at which point he begins to pound on his keyboard like the Phantom of the Opera, cackling maniacally. In order to free up space, he deletes all unused files off his hard drive, including his operating system. This is comedy for nerds, pure and simple, but some of the funniest material around.
Visually, the transfer to DVD is solid, but not stellar. Colors are clean, detail is sharp and black levels are deep and rich. Edges are well-defined overall, though some jaggedness and edge artifacts creep in a bit. Overall, this is a solid presentation; not the best anime I've seen on DVD, but far and away above most of the competition. 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. Not sure why, but the animation in Episode Four is totally different, with a whole different fluidity and style, clearly drawn by different hands. Both styles work very well.
Both an English 5.1 (dubbed) track and a Japanese 2.0 stereo presentation are included, which irks the purist in 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 has the advantage of being in native Japanese, which is far and away the natural choice of anime fans. The soundtrack is a riot, with music that sounds straight out of Pizzicato Five's back catalog, or the Katamari Damacy videogame soundtrack. Personally, I would like to have seen the full surround treatment for the Japanese track as well, especially considering the disc only has a wimpy four episodes and barely any supplemental material to speak of. On the bright side, the English dub isn't bad, actually. Characters voices were well-cast, and it actually curses quite a lot, dropping F-bombs all over the place—something the subtitles do not do.
Extras are pretty pathetic, with only a clean opening/closing sequence, some previews, and a "Conspiracy Handbook 101," a handy on-screen dictionary translating into plain English the meaning of such nerd-slang as Akihabara, manga cafes, NEET and so on. For the initiated, this is useless, but for the non-anime hardcore nerds, a most valuable feature to have.
On the downside, Volume 1 has but a paltry four episodes on it, which is crummy. I vehemently dislike anime released in four-episode blocks, because it takes forever and a day to release the stuff; a horrible downside to being an anime fan exacerbated by lengthy gaps between volumes and small episode counts per disc. But it just might be worth it for this one.
It's been a long time since I've enjoyed myself as much watching anime for review. Welcome to the NHK is sexy, hilarious, heartwarming, and painfully awkward, dropping all pretenses and targeting directly the hardcore anime fans with in-jokes, puns, embarrassing self-referential humor, and fan service. Where the series goes from here, we will have to see, but you can bet I'll be on board to watch.
Seriously, anime fans—follow the link to the official site and watch the trailer. Mercy, I haven't laughed this hard at an anime in years. If Volume 2 keeps up this pace, Welcome to the NHK might end up my favorite anime of the season. If this one isn't acquitted, there's a conspiracy somewhere.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
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